Crafting a research question

Many good genealogy programs can help you get started crafting a good research question with their to-do features. RootsMagic has a good one, illustrated below.

The questions to ask before adding a new task are:

  • Who are you going to research?
  • What do you want to learn about the person?
  • Where was the person you are researching?
  • When was the person there?

Additionally, you might ask: Why was the person there at that time? This might seem like an existential question, but it is a good idea to add context to your family history.

These five questions get you started on the way to learning more about your ancestor.

The who is simple enough. The what can include any number of items like where/when were they born, when did they immigrate, where did they emigrate to, and who did they live with/marry/divorce, and so on. Where and when are a bit more complex due to the possible lack of information.

For instance, Lydia Peirce Gorton was born on 28 January 1822. I’ve got her birth date but no birthplace. I want to know where she was born, so I ask, “Where were Lydia Peirce Gorton’s parents, Daniel and Lydia (Peirce) Gorton, when Lydia was born in 1822?” The who, what, and when parts of this question are answered, but the best part is still unanswered: “where”?

The records I’ve got so far say different things, that she was born in Massachusetts, born in New York, born in Vermont. Most likely she was born in Vermont, though. I can make this hypothesis because her older brother was born there, and a few original records say so. This leads me to focus my question even more on Vermont records. Massachusetts records are very complete for the time and there is no indication her siblings were born there. New York state records on the other hand, are problematic, so they will have to wait for a while.

In this particular question, I ask why weren’t the parents in the records for Lydia’s potential birthplace? Were they there, just not recorded anywhere? These questions lead me to ask about the area where they may have been, to find out more about possible record sources. I also learn about the culture in that area, why the records may not exist, and what the economic conditions were during that period.

The process of crafting a specific question to be answered is key to great research. Answering the question is done during the research phase of the project. I’ll write more about the research project later this month.

Thoughts?

NPM

5 Steps to Great Research

There are five related steps to take to get good results from your research. We create a specific question to be answered, a research plan using the question, a research log, and a research report. Optionally we create a biographical sketch from information in the research report.

Steps to Create a Research Question

First, we craft a question to answer. Use these four elements: who, where, when, and what, to focus on specific items that you want to learn more about. Being as specific as you can goes a long way toward getting reliable results from your research.

Steps to Create a Research Plan

Next, we examine the research question and gather more information about the subject we are interested in. We find sources relevant to the person, place, and time span involved. Sources such as locality guides, histories, and archives catalogs can provide good results for further searches.

Steps to Create a Research Log

After we have looked into each of the record types in the research plan, we can start actively searching for the best records available to us. We want to focus on relevant records that are likely to answer the research question. Prioritize the research items to gather information from the easiest to the hardest and organize your research plan accordingly.

Steps to Create a Research Report

When we have completely researched the question, we can then create the research report. I am a fan of the write as you cite method. This means when I am researching, I am also drafting parts of the research report. It is not a step back, but it is not a speedy process either. Take time to really look at the records and save time in the long run so you do not have to go back and revisit them.

Steps to Create a Biographical Sketch

The final element of great research is to make a biographical sketch. There are many ways to create a sketch. I have written a few posts about this topic, but one of the recommended ways is to use the NEHGS Register style. Whole books have been written about writing a family history sketch, so I will leave that choice to you.

Working Wednesday: Gigging at Fiverr

I just put up two gigs on Fiverr (see below) and so far, so good.

The vibe is like how GenLighten operated five years ago before it changed to a subscription model and shut down. There you were able to put up an offering for all to view and buy. At Fiverr you do the same in a comparable way.

The experience at Fiverr is much better, though, as you can see more stats about how well your offers are being received. You can also create links for marketing, which you could not easily do at GenLighten.

Right now, the competition in the Genealogy category seems all right. Most entries in the genealogy / family history section are good, and some not so much. I can’t comment on the quality of the deliverables, though, since I’m a seller, not a buyer.

Here are my two current gig listings:
Full-scale genealogy research
Obituary search

I am thinking about adding a third gig, for proofreading, editing, and writing family histories.

Thoughts?

NPM


One Way to Cite U.S. Census Images with Zotero

Using the manuscript item type, enter the Author as Last, First and then in the Archive field the City, County, State and other location information. Following that, enter the Census title in the Location in Archive field.

For example:

Author Last: Mellen

Author First: John

Date: 1752

Archive: Cambridge, Massachusetts, page 269, NARA micropublication M252, roll 20

Location in Archive: 1800 U.S. Census

The first citation will look like:

John Mellen (n.d.), 1800 U.S. Census, Cambridge, Massachusetts, page 269, NARA micropublication M252, roll 20.

The subsequent citations will be simply the surname, unfortunately. You can work around this by copy / pasting more of the citation to differentiate between different persons of the same name in the document. In the above example the result would look like

Mellen, 1800 U.S. Census, Cambridge.

Also, the “(n.d.)” field in the first citation is not necessary and can be removed with the possibility of breaking the link to the main data in Zotero. An alternative is to use the persons birth year in the Date field to differentiate similarly named persons.

NPM

Ruminations on Genealogy: Part 3

 

English: The stemma of the kings of Lazica acc...

English: The stemma of the kings of Lazica according to Toumanoff, Cyril. “How Many Kings Named Opsites?”, p. 82. A Tribute to John Insley Coddington on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the American Society of Genealogists. Association for the Promotion of Scholarship in Genealogy, 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

A while ago, someone posted on Fb an infographic, part of which read ‘comparisons are cliché’. It should have read ‘comparisons are passé’. The writer, reader, and re-poster got it wrong as far as genealogy goes.

 

Comparisons are not passé as far as genealogy goes. We do comparisons as part of our basic research. We compare others’ recollections to known facts to prove or disprove what is the truth of a matter about our ancestors. The only thing that is passé about comparison in this way is that it becomes old hat after a while and we don’t bother thinking such things.

 

As far as writing clichés, that’s a different thing. There are only so many ways to write a birth, death, marriage sequence of sentences in a well-defined format. Indeed, all genealogists use clichéd formulas because they work. Most genealogy programs use hackneyed phrases (The Master Genealogist is an exception) to pass off their data and genealogists need to change them to something unique.

 

These hackneyed phrases, however, are usually the best way to portray compared data. Yes, they are passé but only in the sense that they work. The writer and reader have only to let their eyes see beyond these phrases to get to the real meaning and the underlying data. Doing this allows one to create a better proof statement and research report.

 

The writer is responsible for not making the reader’s eyes glaze over with too many redundant statements of the same form.

 

NPM