Saturday, August 8, 2009

Research Trip: How Do You Prepare?

Why do you use a genealogy software program? One of my main requirements for my program is the ability to help me track my research. Does it help me store and retrieve all those "What if . . ." and "I wonder . . ." ideas we all get as we analyze our data? Does it allow me to quickly prepare a to-do list tailored to a particular repository, family, or record type? If you're using The Master Genealogist (TMG), the answer to these questions is, "Yes." I've been using TMG since it's beta days, so I'm not sure my methods are as up-to-date as those allowed by the program now, but those methods did allow me to prepare a manageable list of tasks, complete with all the information I needed to request records, in a very efficient manner.

Here is a screen shot showing one of my research tasks. I create one every time I have one of those "I wonder . . ." moments. My task name always begins with the main surname of interest. My keywords always include the repository, the record type, relevant surname(s), and relevant residence(s). The comments field always includes my thoughts or the information necessary to order the record. With only three research days available on this trip, I limited my repositories to the National Archives (keyword: NARA). This gave me a list of about 600 tasks. I wasn't completing that in three days! I then excluded most of the microfilmed record types. I wanted to concentrate on NARA's text records. The list was now reduced to about 300 tasks. Still not manageable, so I limited it to tasks designed since 1 January 2008. Those would cover my most current projects. The final list comprised about sixty tasks. I might not finish this list, but it was now manageable. The list was printed in Task Name order, so all my major families of interest were grouped together, and the information in the Comments field allowed me to fill out NARA request forms the minute I walked into the research room.

As you're all aware, as each task is completed and the record is analyzed, you're likely to come up with new research ideas. I did add several possibilities to my list in the first two days, and I didn't complete nine of those on the original list, but I made significant progress. Given the fact that some of the records I investigated would have required hiring a researcher, I estimate that all my photocopies would have cost about $3000 if I'd been doing long-distance research. There was one problem. An eight-inch stack of photocopies weighs quite a bit and takes up a lot of space. I had to buy a new carry-on to bring my records home!

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