How to Build a Research Plan

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Analysis might be outlined as

an in depth examine of a topic, particularly so as to uncover (new) info or attain a (new) understanding

As household historians, we’re always making an attempt to find new info and attain new understandings – it’s inherent in what we do. However how ought to we go about uncovering new info if it isn’t simply accessible within the sources that we’re acquainted with and have at hand?

With so many potential sources to select from, figuring out essentially the most related sources is not any straightforward job. To climb this hill, you have to a analysis plan.

What’s a Analysis Plan?

A analysis plan is a prioritised listing of potential sources and places which we intend to seek for info related to our analysis goal. Right here is how I’m going about writing one:

  1. Outline the Analysis Goal
    Earlier than we attempt to discover a solution, we should first have a transparent query. This ought to be as particular as potential. E.g. Discover the wedding file of individuals P and Q, most likely in or close to to location L, within the vary of years YYYY – YYYZ.
  2. Construct a Timeline of Identified Info
    A fundamental rule of family tree is to start out from the recognized and work to the unknown. Summarising what you at the moment know in regards to the goal particular person by yr and site is an enormously necessary device. It lets you simply see how a lot (or maybe how little!) you understand about your goal particular person. It lets you analyse which of your findings are constructed on appropriately strong foundations and which could require extra supporting particulars.
  3. Establish the Hole(s) within the Timeline
    Have you ever collected info on the entire very important occasions for this individual (delivery, baptism, marriage(s), births/baptisms of youngsters, dying/burial of partner(s), dying/burial of goal)? If the analysis goal lived throughout a interval during which censuses can be found, have they been traced in all accessible census years? In the event that they lived earlier than formal censuses, have you ever investigated potential census substitutes reminiscent of tax and militia data? To what stage had been they educated? Have you learnt their occupation? If male, did they undertake an apprenticeship or serve within the army? If feminine, did they apply a commerce or craft earlier than marriage? And so on.
  4. Refine Your Analysis Goal
    If there are substantial gaps, is the unique analysis goal nonetheless a wise and related query? Ought to we even try to deal with the unique goal earlier than filling in among the different gaps within the timeline? It’s okay to draft different, smaller, easier analysis questions and reply these earlier than returning to the unique goal – the place the beginning gaps are giant it’s best apply to take action.
  5. Brainstorm Sources (on-line AND in archives) which could assist meet the target
    Use card catalogues, A-Z file lists, archive catalogues, library catalogues, indexes, books, guides, on-line hyperlinks, gazetteers and Web searches to compile potential sources to go looking. That is maybe essentially the most tough step. I’ve a basic method that I exploit for British analysis which I clarify intimately within the labored instance beneath…
  6. Organise the Supply Checklist by Precedence and Bodily Location
    Kind the listing into on-line and bodily searches, then type every group in order that sources with the best likelihood of answering the query seem on the high.
  7. Write Your Plan
    Be certain that your plan is documented. A easy desk will do, outlining the supply identify, it’s kind, the URL or bodily location at which it may be discovered, and, for archive searches, add the archive reference.

    When you’ve listed all of the sources you propose to go looking then you may share and focus on your listing with others and ask for a second opinion – “Have I considered all the suitable sources and places to resolve this drawback? Is there the rest I may/ought to add?” In my expertise, genealogists are a pleasant and beneficiant bunch, greater than prepared to move on recommendation about sources they’ve used for comparable issues.

    Additionally, when you’ve got a pleasant desk with all of your deliberate searches then you may simply add an additional column and use it to log your findings – see my labored instance!

Labored Instance – Mary Harnett

Considered one of my tasks final yr was to provide an entire five-generation pedigree for my spouse. I had a ravishing A1 poster printed exhibiting the entire findings, which was framed, wrapped and put underneath the Christmas tree to make a singular present. The one problem was that I needed to analysis all 62 (2+4+8+16+32) of my spouse’s instant ancestors, leaving no gaps, and have all the pieces completed in good time to get it printed and framed.

You may guess what occurred. There was one ancestor – only one! – for whom I struggled to discover a baptism file in time, that means that I used to be unable to incorporate her mother and father within the high layer of the tree. So, after weeks of labor, there have been two “Unknown” entries within the tree and I simply didn’t have any time left to resolve the issue earlier than the deadline for printing and framing forward of Christmas. Rattling it!

My spouse (and our youngsters) cherished the present and it has taken satisfaction of place in our residence – however the presence of the 2 “unknown” entries has needled me ever since. So, for this instance of a analysis plan, I’ve chosen Mary Harnett, she of the lacking baptism.

  1. Analysis Goal

To discover a delivery/baptism file for Mary HARNETT and the names of her mother and father.

2. Construct a Timeline of Identified Info

Timeline of recognized info for Mary GIBBONS nee HARNETT

The census info for Mary is pleasingly constant, indicating that she was born round 1795-6 at Monkton in Kent.

3. Establish Gaps within the Timeline

There are a number of gaps on this timeline that would, and in the end ought to, be addressed:

  • Baptism of Mary in or close to Monkton, Kent, c.1795-6.
  • Picture of authentic marriage licence of 1817.
  • Picture of authentic marriage register entry of 1817.
  • Baptisms of Mary’s siblings (if any)
  • Baptisms of Mary’s kids:
    • Fanny c.1827
    • Jane c.1829
    • Sills Clifford c.1833
    • George c.1835
    • Elizabeth c.1837
  • Newspaper clippings referring to Mary and/or her husband John. Mary and John had been center class land homeowners, so newspapers may very well be supply.
  • Directories. As a middle-class household there’s a robust probability of discovering listing entries for them.
  • Passenger data. Eldest son Sills Clifford lived for some years in Texas, USA, the place he married his first spouse and had two kids. Did Mary ever go to her household in America?
  • GRO dying index file
  • Dying certificates
  • Probate file
  • Will

4. Refine Analysis Goal

Whereas there are important gaps within the particulars of Mary’s life from her marriage onwards, the consistency of the census particulars with respect to time and fatherland give me confidence that discovering her baptism file is a viable analysis goal.

5. Brainstorm Sources (on-line AND in archives)

Kent is a county during which I’ve carried out little earlier analysis as most of my ancestors are from the north of England, so I start this search with no preconceived views of the place finest to seek out sources. I solely know that in my rushed searches earlier than my Christmas deadline, I failed to seek out Mary’s baptism.

When researching a brand new place within the UK, I usually begin by consulting the next references:

GENUKI – This web site has a piece for every British county after which a web page for every parish. The parish of Monkton has a web page right here:
It reveals a up to date map of the world and reproduces an extract from The Nationwide Gazetteer of Nice Britain and Eire 1868, which describes Monkton and tells me that the parish’s location is on the Isle of Thanet, 7 miles from Ramsgate, and that it’s “wholly agricultural”. The embedded hyperlink for the church parish church of St Mary Magdalene,, reveals me a pleasant modern {photograph} however offers no particulars on the present location(s) of parish data. This can be a little disappointing as I’ve beforehand come to depend on GENUKI as information to file places.

FamilySearch Analysis WIKI – Like GENUKI, the FamilySearch Analysis WIKI has a web page devoted to the county of Kent:,_England_Genealogy from which I can drill all the way down to the parish of Monkton:,_Kent_Genealogy. This web page is extra profitable in summarising the recognized parish file survival and signifies that one of the best locations to entry the baptism data I’m in search of are at both FindMyPast or Kent On-line Parish Clerks (KOPC):

Having learnt this, I’ll add Discover My Previous and Kent On-line Parish Clerks to my listing of websites to verify for sources.

Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers – On web page 171 I discover that the registers of Monkton parish from 1700-1991 are deposited at Canterbury Cathedral Archives. So, I now add Canterbury Cathedral Archives to my on-line search listing.

Discover My Previous – I discover one of the best ways to analysis supply places on the massive subscription websites is to interrogate their catalogues. At Ancestry, for instance, this is called the Card Catalogue. At Discover My Previous it’s known as the A-Z of Document Units. Right here I choose England after which filter on “Kent”. It returns the next potential file units:

  • Kent Baptisms
  • Kent Burials
  • Kent County Council Parish Register Browse
  • Kent Marriages and Banns
  • Kent Registers & Information
  • Kent Wills and Probate Indexes 1328-1890
  • Kent, Canterbury Archdeaconry Parish Registers Browse

Kent On-line Parish Clerks – There are quite a few On-line Parish Clerk websites for counties within the UK, and I’ve been lucky to have benefited from using a number of of them over time. The Kent web site might be discovered right here: Navigating by their parish listing, there’s a web page for Monkton right here: This features a hyperlink to a transcript of Christenings 1700-1883.

Canterbury Cathedral Archive – The principle archive web site might be discovered right here:, the place I discover a hyperlink to a information produced by Kent Historical past and Library Centre known as “The place to seek out Parish Registers”: This information tells me that for St Mary Magdalene, Monkton:

  • Parish Registers are at Canterbury Cathedral Archive
  • Bishop’s Transcripts are at Kent Historical past and Library Centre
  • Transcripts are at Kent Historical past and Library Centre
  • “Most of the parish registers for Canterbury diocese are actually accessible at Discover My Previous”.

I’m now able to listing all of the potential sources I’ve discovered which can reference the baptism of Mary Harnett c.1795-96 in Monkton, Kent :

Recognized sources for Baptisms at St Mary Magdalene, Monkton, Kent

6. Organise the Supply Checklist by Precedence and Bodily Location

Contemplating what I’ve found about Monkton and its baptismal registers, I’ll verify the transcripts at Kent OPC first, then proceed to Discover My Previous. I do know that Monkton falls underneath the Archdiocese of Canterbury, so I’ll prioritise these data larger than Kent County Council’s holdings. If I fail to seek out the data on-line then I might want to seek the advice of the bodily archives, first at Canterbury Cathedral after which at Kent Historical past and Library Centre. So, my prioritised listing will likely be:

Prioritised Analysis Plan

Executing the Analysis Plan

I at all times attempt to carry out an entire set of on-line searches earlier than resorting to the time and expense of an archive go to. To execute the plan, all I need to do is choose the rows for on-line searches and add an additional column for search outcomes:

Empty analysis log for on-line searches of Monkton parish baptisms

At Kent OPC I used to be shortly capable of finding a transcript for Mary’s baptism, which it states happened on twenty fifth November 1795 and offers her mother and father’ names as Thomas and Elizabeth. This can be a nice outcome, however I’ve learnt that whereas transcripts are helpful, they need to at all times be backed up by sight of the unique file.

I continued the search within the Kent Baptisms assortment at Discover My Previous however was unable to seek out the baptism for Mary – or every other Harnett kids in Monkton – confirming the failure I skilled throughout my undertaking final yr. From there, I proceeded to the Canterbury Archdeaconry Parish Registers, a set of unindexed pictures of the unique registers, the place I used to be profitable find the unique file:

My analysis log for the baptism of Mary Harnett

Plainly Discover My Previous haven’t but listed the baptisms & burials register for 1792-1812. I may by no means have found this from the listed data alone as the main points of which registers have and haven’t but been listed is just not simply accessible (or at the very least I failed to seek out it).

So, right here eventually, is the picture of the baptism of Mary Harnett, which I’m assured happened on twenty sixth November 1795, not twenty fifth as acknowledged within the transcript at Kent OPC.

Baptisms (PR), England. Monkton, Kent. 26 Nov 1795. HARNETT, Mary. Assortment: Kent, Canterbury Archdeaconry Parish Registers Browse 1538-1939.


Utilizing source-finding instruments, catalogues and reference works to construct a analysis plan workouts an necessary ability for household historians. Figuring out sources on this means will:

  • save time by focusing efforts onto a small variety of the probably sources;
  • cease you taking place rabbit holes, chasing the “vivid shiny objects” pushed at you by the massive subscription websites;
  • enhance your probabilities of success.

The extra that we plan and construction our analysis, the extra acquainted we are going to turn out to be with essentially the most helpful source-finding instruments and strategies and the extra profitable we turn out to be at discovering these extra elusive ancestors.

Let me know your favorite supply discovering instruments and strategies within the feedback beneath.