Goal Oriented Research

by Dae Powell

Let's examine eight simple steps:


1. Set a Clearly Defined Goal

There are several methods of “researching” among which are the following . . .


What is a clearly defined goal in genealogical research?

Download my Goal-Oriented Form and use it to help keep your eyes on the prize.  It is all right to have more than one goal while researching, but list only ONE goal per form in order to keep focussed on the goal.


2. Determine which sources to research

You'll have a “snowball's chance” in Texas, if you don't know where to search for your information. Where to search is determined by the time period and the locality of each goal and they vary widely between eras and places. Although more and more information is becoming available on the Internet, not all of it is there nor will it all likely ever be there. How will you know which sources to use, then? There are several excellent books from Ancestry, Everton’s, Heritage Quest, and a few others that list the sources currently available. New sources are being located that may not have been published in earlier copies of the Red Book, the Handybook or the Source. Stay current with what is available and it will accelerate your research. One very basic idea — consider jurisdictional authorities for the information you seek.


3. Locate those sources

This means those places where you can access the records. Who has these records? Are they available to you? How can you view or copy them? The answers vary depending on where they are and who has the records. Family Search Centers are accessible to anyone, not just members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is likewise true for public libraries. Most courthouses are also available to the public. State and Federal Archives, Historical Societies, and State Libraries welcome visitors, too.


4. Search those sources

Effective searching is a science and an art. Commit to memory the science — it should remain constant. You will have to generalize and modify the art of genealogical researching, because it is not as definite and does not always apply in every situation. What worked for searching the 1880 Federal Census, which is indexed, will not work for the 1910 Federal Census. If you are to use your time wisely and reach your goal in the shortest time, you will need to know additional techniques. What you don't know can hurt you, at the very minimum in time spent.


5. Copy the information

Does this seem like a “duh” to you?  Good!  But ask yourself if you have ever forgotten to record the title and author of a book in which you've found information. I now photocopy the entire Index, too, in case something else is discovered about which the book might have information. Did you get the Soundex card, but miss the complete source record on the Federal Census? Did you neglect to copy the names of witnesses to an event, which could have led to clues to other relationships? (I raise my guilty hand, although I'm mending my ways.)


6. Analyze the facts

This is a common shortcoming among new family historians — not evaluating the data found. Here are some items worth consideration:


7. Apply the results

How do you apply the results? To find other information, of course. Also, to substantiate or refute previously collected data. Sometimes the information is right there. Sometimes there are only clues about where to look for other information. Often it is what is NOT said that is significant. Use these as a springboard to other goals.


8. Organize and Reorganize

From the newly gained information, you can make more sense of your existing facts. Put them together in context to give you a more complete picture. What happens if you find a more reliable date for an event? Do you overwrite the old one with the new, or do you add the new to your research data and give it a higher validity? A good genealogist retains conflicting information and annotates which facts have higher reliability . . . and WHY! Don't forget to write down why you think one fact is more reliable than another. This will not only help others follow your reasoning, but it will likely help you in the future — long after you've forgotten recording the information at all!


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