Friday, May 11, 2012

How to Know What You Know

Ok, we've all been there. You find some genealogical nugget online about an ancestor you were previously stuck on, when it happens...
           a storm of clicking.
You open up all your previous records and then think, "oh, now I can check this city directory" or "I wonder what they have on this county website" or "hey, that would make a great Google search term" and on and on and on. Before you know it you have a file of random things saved on your computer, a stack of papers on your printer, too many ideas to know what to do next, AND...
           a head-ache.

So what's an overexcited genealogist to do???

This is what has been happening over the last two weeks between William and I. So I beseeched my beloved ancestor, "Where do I go next?"

The answer came to me from Emily Croom's book The Sleuth Book for Genealogists, which I will review later. At the VERY beginning of this book, Croom points out that before you can ask "What is the answer?" you must know "What is the question?". There is something to be said for genealogical spontaneity, but total randomness is almost never productive.

 Before we can start searching for what we don't know, it's important to know what we do know. So here are the steps I -and all of us- must take when starting a project, figuring out what to do next, or regrouping when we hit a brick wall. (Just so you know, Croom suggests establishing an organization system before you start this process, see her book for more.)
  1. Identify the problem: Which ancestor, family, place, etc are you working on and what's the goal? 
  2. Gather all the information you already have on the person or problem: I prefer to print it all out.
  3. Organize your sources chronologically by the date they were created.  Make sure you've properly sourced everything .
  4. Update relevant family group sheet(s). 
  5. Make a timeline of every detail of your ancestors life in chronological order with sources.
  6. Search for holes in your timeline and major record types.
  7. Identify the problem (again): What information or sources you do want to find next and where will you look for them?
  8. PUT IT IN WRITING!!! A plan isn't a plan if it isn't down in black & white
So this is my next (or first) step. I am in the process of printing all my documents I have found and creating a spreadsheet with a chronological biographical summary, AKA timeline. I will be posting it when I'm finished.

Initially it feels like we're cramping our style to stop forward motion in our research. But if we want to get serious about our genealogy research, we need to learn to think like a sleuth!

1 comment:

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