Plan the attack

Once you’ve been bitten by the family history bug, you’ll find that the hobby could easily take up all your time. Ironically, the more you commit to your research, the more clues you’ll find, and these will all need to be followed up. So what we want to do here is to work out how you can plan your research effectively, and use your time efficiently.

These days, now that we rely so heavily on online search engines and CD-ROMs to do the legwork for us, we need a way to filter the huge amount of information that could be of potential benefit to growing our family trees. Simply put, we need to create a research plan.

A written plan consisting of the four basic elements below – just a few notes for each is fine – will get you going in the right direction.

Setting an objective

To guide you in your research, it’s helpful to write a brief note to yourself stating what you want to discover. This will help you focus your efforts and keep your research from wandering off course. If, in the course of your research, you discover an interesting avenue, you can write a new objective for that and come back to it at another time.

Resources you’ll need

These are sources of information that will help you reach the objective. First you need to note down any information you’ve already collected, the conclusions you’ve been able to make, and books or family records you already have at home. Then you need to note down the sources that need more traditional methods of research. Thankfully, Ancestry.ca is a great place to start as it has millions of records available to search. 

This is a list of the sources that you need for your research, in the order which you’re going to use them. For this part, you’ll need to work out specific publications, databases and original records that are most likely to offer information about your objective. By working out which sources are going to be most helpful, you’ll really narrow your search.

Practical arrangements

Don’t overlook the practical aspects of the research you need to do. If you’re going to visit libraries or record offices, make note of their opening hours and also whether they allow you to bring your laptop, pens and pencils, and notepads into the archive. Will you need to pay to get in, to view certain records, or to use photocopiers and so forth? If you plan to use equipment such as fiche readers, you might need to reserve one in advance. If you are driving, check what the parking arrangements are and it’s always good to know if they have a café or restaurant in case you get peckish while you’re there. 

Once you’ve met your first objective, check over your plan and see if you can improve any of your points for the next time. It’s possible that in your search, you may not have found enough information. Or perhaps you’ll find a lot more than you were expecting, and your original plan might not take account of this. Adapting your plan might make your research smoother, as you set yourself new objectives.

Writing a plan might sound like a time-consuming detour when all you want to do is dive into your research, but taking a few minutes to give yourself some direction will be time well spent. If you’ve got a good plan to work from, you could find out two or three times the number of facts about your family in each research session.