A Sample Research Project

This is an article I wrote several years ago, but never posted. I think it’s finished, so here goes.

Recently on a professional genealogy research site I came across a project that a potential client had posted. Although I’m not particularly interested in this project, I decided to work some on it to keep in practice. I think the lessons learned could be useful. In this article the names and other details have been changed to protect the parties involved.

The question posed by the client was to find the official marriage record of a couple who moved from one New England state to another and then to Canada. The client provided little to go on other than the names, birth dates, and birth places of the couple and that they moved often. There were no sibling or children names given, although there were a few facts about the husband’s parents who were believed to have arrived in the country on the Mayflower. Not enough to go on, really, but enough of a start, given few facts available from the client.

The first order of business was to fact-check the information given using standard reference materials for the times and places involved. This included checking my own databases for the areas and surnames of interest; then checking a few standard materials such as those found in libraries.

The Initial Research Plan

This research plan used locally available materials, off-line, primarily, and then with a few sanity checks from on-line databases. Off-line materials included a couple of library archives. On-line databases included the reference libraries available through archive.org and books.google.com. I chose to work off-line first to see whether the data provided by the client could be backed up by existing resources and whether I could find the marriage record in a reliable source first, before getting into other resources.

In developing a first-level research plan I used my listings of locally available resources to give first-level resources. These sources include vital records, genealogies, local histories, and newspaper records. The local histories I focused on were both town and county level resources, and not at the state level, due to the area being partly under New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont jurisdiction at the time. It can be confusing to some, working with record sets created by different groups in this kind of situation since it seems that people were actually living elsewhere when they weren’t.

A second-level research plan would come after exhausting the locally available records by developing clues from them toward materials available elsewhere, such as microfilm ordered through a local LDS Family History Center. This process involved using the Family History Library catalog available on-line to develop leads to records available through the LDS church and possibly through interlibrary loan or photocopy requests, as they may prove less time-consuming and quicker. As a professional genealogist, it behooves one to lessen the costs by this means.

Reviewing the Data and Writing the Report

After reviewing the data that I found initially, I began putting together a draft report on the findings, re-stating the initially known information, integrating it into my preliminary findings, and listing the specific resources that I used. The restatement is important so that the client knows how specific the research pattern was. Also, the statement leads into the list of resources used so all parties involved know whether there was any significant information in them. Not only do I list positive findings, but also negative results. The latter is just as important to both the genealogist and the client so future research is not done in materials already checked.

The second-level research plan is primarily for future reference should the first time given for research be exhausted before the desired result is found. It provides the researcher and the client with the possibility and/or chance of finding the desired records in the future. Should the client want the genealogist to continue the research, the information is already available. Should the client want to go further on their own, the information is also available to them.

Following Through with the Client

Once the research report was written, I would have posted the report to the client. The last report includes the recommendations for future research as developed in the second-level research plan as well as the restatement of the first goal of the project, the findings, and analysis of the data.

The client should have enough time to check the findings for satisfactory work and validity of findings before embarking on the second level, so give them that time. A couple of weeks later you should follow through with a query whether to continue the research for the client or let the client do their own research with the information you provided them.


I gave myself five hours initially to do the research project. I completed the first level research plan in that time. The time used included writing up the findings of two and one half hours of real research time on-site and on-line. The first review and the report writing took up the balance of the time with about one hour for developing the first research plan and the rest for writing the real report.

Did I find the official marriage record in five hours? No, but I did find enough clues to enable the client and I to continue the research into the second-level research plan with resources that I developed in the first round. I recommended to the client another five hours of research time to continue the project by ordering microfilm from the LDS Family History Library. The client decided to do that on her own with me as a backup if she was unable to continue for some reason.

The amount of material reviewed came to about ten pages of hand-written notes and five pages of report for the client. The materials accumulated will add to the body of knowledge for future research into the family as well as for other families in the area. It was a valuable lesson in New England genealogical research using both old-fashioned research as well as new web-based resources.