Of course, we all just want to jump right into the research. Whether it’s wandering through the cemetery, cranking through microfilm seeking that elusive ancestor or dancing through the various databases in pursuit of great-great-grandma, for most of us, the fun is in the hunt. We sometimes forget to prepare to do our research.
If you are getting online to do a bit of electronic sleuthing, prepare yourself by reviewing the family you are chasing. Recheck the vital dates that you have, as well as locations. Think about the names you are seeking. If you are looking for a Mary, remember, she might have been Molly or Polly, or even Marie! Contemplate the many ways that the names could be misspelled. Ask yourself why someone may have provided erroneous information.
When you want to go to a courthouse to research, organize what you have and know what you want to learn. Find out, in advance if possible, if the records you want exist and how to access them. For example, a courthouse fire in 1896 may have destroyed civil marriage records, so you won’t want to waste time hunting for them. However, it may occur to you that the family was, say, Catholic, so a call to the parish or to a diocesan office may guide you to church marriage records. Also, check to be sure the office you wish to visit will be open the day you plan to be there. And have a back-up plan. Power outages, plumbing problems and severe illness could result in a sudden office closing, so a tentative plan to visit a nearby cemetery or church is good to keep in mind. As you see, preparing for a research trip is always a good idea.
Seeking advice from an archivist, librarian, or another researcher can bring fresh ideas to your research, and such consultations are the best part of my job here at the Genealogy Center, but an inadequately organized query can only hinder the success of the quest. Re-evaluate your data to make sure that it follows a logical path. At age 8, that woman was too young to have given birth to your great-grandfather. And your grandmother’s uncle really wasn’t born 15 months after his father died. Reassessing the information you have may open new avenues of research.
So take a few minutes while planning your research activities to consider what you you wish to achieve, what’s impossible, and how you might make the impossible, possible.