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Are you writing?

If you’re preparing for a research trip, or if you’ve decided to tackle that brick wall ancestor, my suggestion to you is write! We research and collect data and add it to our online tree or database, but then what do we do with it? I’ve mentioned many times in the past, that when I’m working on a problem, researching for a client or just looking at my own family, it’s when I write that I start to see the holes in my research or logic.

In this case, I’m prepping for a research trip. I plan to do research on the King and Loughlin families of Ballymaginaghy, parish of Drumgooland in County Down. These are the ancestors of my husband’s paternal grandmother.

Step 1 - What do I have? Read every document in your files. When I started collecting information back in the early 1990s I didn’t know much about research. There are likely things in the file that, when I first saw them meant nothing to me, but today might provide a hint for further research. In the past I’ve explained my file system. I began by pulling files 8/9 Patrick Moughty/Bridget King (this follows the female line, so I double the 9); 18/19 James King/Ellen Laughlin; 36/37 John King/Mary Callan (or possibly Cawley); and 38/39 Edward (O)Laughlin and Anne Byrne. Clean up time! This gives me the opportunity to go through the files, re-reading each document, making sure I have source citations, scanning copies of civil records, and discarding extra copies of the same documents (yes I had a bunch of those). I decided I didn’t need all of the paper copies of censuses, since I now have digital copies. As I’ve gone through everything, I’ve made sure that all of the information was recorded in my genealogy database. I have used Reunion™ since 1992. I’m comfortable with it, but of course it doesn’t sync with Ancestry. Over the years, I’ve used Ancestry to find cousins, identify records and there is information there, which is not in my database. (Sigh!) I need to check my Ancestry Tree against the information in my database.

Step 2 - Get it onto paper (in other words, write). When I’m working on a research project, I’ve learned to write as I go along. Sometimes it’s just a stream of consciousness. My research question was this; I looked at these records; I found this information, which leads to these other sources; which does or does not answer the research question. I then go back and clean up my notes. Did I do an exhaustive search? Are there other records to look at? Do I have the source citations? Does the information in the records I found correlate with what I already know? Are there any conflicts to be resolved? Can I write a soundly reasoned conclusion? If not, repeat.

The process I’m using to prepare for the research trip is a bit different. I have all of this information in my database…let’s see what it looks like. My software will create a Register format report (as will most genealogical software) so starting with John King (#36), I exported out the first two generations to .docx format that can be read by Word, or in my case as a Mac user, Pages. I’ll deal with the 11 children in the third generation separately.

Step 3 - Review the report to find what’s missing. One of the key things I need to do is research the collateral relatives. There may be living relatives in Ireland that I don’t know about and they might be able to provide information that never made it to the US. In the third generation, all but one of the daughters emigrated to the US, whereas all of the sons, to the best of my knowledge remained in Ireland. When I asked the US family about the daughter who stayed in Ireland (the youngest), no one knew she existed! And no one still living knows anything about what happened to the sons. So using the comments capability of my word processor, I went through the report and made notes of what I needed. I would also indicate any conflicting information that needed to be resolved.

Step 4 - Create a research plan (above) and to do list.

This process is time consuming…especially if you’ve been collecting for a long time. But in the long run, it will help me to get organized and to use my limited time in Ireland productively. I use a spreadsheet for my to do list and constantly add to it as I'm doing research. The spreadsheet format allows me to sort the list in multiple ways, usually by repository so I can see what needs to be done at each location.

I’m always open to suggestions, so feel free to let me know if you thing this process is helpful, or if you have other suggestions. You can leave me a comment on my blog or on my Facebook page.

Happy Hunting!

Have you been viewing the lectures for the Celtic Connections Conference or attending any of the chats? I am definitely enjoying them! It's not too late to sign up. The lectures will be available until September 30th.

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