Saturday, August 22, 2009

Where Is Your Research Plan?

I love research trips. I enjoy the thrill of a new courthouse, the weeds at an old cemetery - and the food at the new restaurant everyone in the town is talking about. I never go an a research trip without my research plan, a short statement of the problem and its current status and a more detailed listing of the records I planned to search. A research plan accompanied me on my recent trip to Washington, D.C., and I returned with the annotated plan and a huge stack of photocopied records, complete source citations for every document I viewed, all negative results fully described, and descriptions of a few record series new to me - the beginnings of my research report. Life was good.

I decided to begin my data entry and analysis with the Civil War pension of Abner J. Malone, who served in Company I in the 132nd Indiana Infantry. He may be the grandson of a 3xgreat-grandfather, a line I worked on very early in my research days, but very quickly hit a dead end. I was working on his death certificate, one of the pages in the pension. He died in Indianapolis in 1899 and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis; he was born in Madison, Indiana, and was the son of Abner J. Malone, born in Williamsport, Maryland, and Sarah J. Taylor, born in Maryland. What a wonderful amount of new information!

Several hours after I began work on the pension, I found myself looking at the Queen Anne's County, Maryland, land records of a completely unrelated family! How did I get here? I had wandered off in cyberspace and there were no bread crumbs around to help me find my way home. What had I done? I won't believe you if you say this has never happened to you.

I didn't panic - much, but I was really irritated with myself. Not only had I not planned my searches, I hadn't even recorded what I was doing, and I suspected some of it had been very valuable. I really needed a record of my thoughts and discoveries, so I opened up a blank Word doc and returned to the beginning, the Abner J. Malone death certificate and his person page in TMG, my genealogy program.

Okay. It looked like my first stop had been, where I had found Abner and his family in the 1880 census, and Abner with his parents in Indianapolis in the 1870 and 1860 censuses and in Madison in 1850. I had cited and transcribed each census, added the new individuals to the database and extracted all the information. So far, so good, but I didn't have anything recorded beyond these censuses.

I stewed for a minute, looking at the death certificate. Yes! He was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, and they have a burial locator on line. That's where I had gone next. Abner wasn't on the list of Malone burials, but his parents, siblings, and second wife were, all buried in two adjoining lots. I entered the link and information in my text file, along with the note to order the burial information for both lots.

The cemetery site had reminded me that the Indiana State Library has an on line index to Indianapolis newspapers. Nothing there on Abner, but there are obituary entries for his father and a sister. I entered all the information, with a note to order the obits. I also now remembered that I'd spent some extra time here researching a few other - unrelated - families. I added those names to my "search later" list, but decided that I really should stick to my plan of recovering my lost work.

What had I done next? My eyes found the "Father born in Williamsport, Maryland," notation. That was it. If Abner pere was really the brother of my Eleazer Malone, then he was the son of a William Malone. Back to's direct link to the U.S. census database. Who were the Malones in 1820 Washington County, Maryland? Oh, my! There's a William Malone in Williamsport! I entered this information in my text file, but on this trip, I also noted a James Malone and a Muncy Malone. Their information went into my notes, too, along with a couple of other relevant names I didn't remember seeing before. More notes went into the text file.

How had I gotten to Queen Anne's County land records? I remember now. I've never had any Washington County ancestors, so I had Googled "washington county" mdgenweb to find its USGenWeb site. From there, I had selected the link to the Western Maryland Historical Library. What a great site! Here was the citation for the "Washington County Taxes, 1803-1804" record I had downloaded in my earlier visit. And here was the link that reminded me of the Maryland Land Records at MDLandRec.Net. Hurrah! I love the internet! Here was William Malone's 1811 lease, but this time I copied the full citation and took the time to really read the document. From here, I had left Washington County and the Malone family and segued into Queen Anne's County, a visit I didn't make this time around. Instead, I reviewed my research notes, filled out and mailed my requests to the cemetery and the Indiana State Library, and returned to Abner Malone's Civil War pension. I kept my research text file open, just in case.

Good research practices don't change just because the research is being done at a computer instead of the state archives or county courthouse. Every time we sign in to Ancestry or Footnote, Google a surname, or visit one of RootsWeb's county sites, we're going on a research trip. We should always bring a plan along - or at least make sure we leave some bread crumbs along the trail so we don't get lost.

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