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My Genealogy Research Plan: The John Townley Case Study

Genealogy Research plans are great in theory but how do you use them? Let's apply the principles taught in the previous post (Genealogy Research Plans - An Essential Tool for Busting Brick Walls) to my Brick Wall Busting Case Study.

Outline for a Basic Genealogy Research  Plan
Genealogy Research Plan Template

Whether you use paper, Trello, Evernote, Microsoft Word, or Google Docs (shown above), you need to have a place to record all of your plans and your findings.

Complete the Research Plan Project Information

Once you have your template ready, begin filling in it with what you know.

Identify who the research plan is focusing on, their birth year and death year, relevant locations, and a simple research goal.

Sample header for genealogy research plan

Pro Tip: In my genealogy research plan on Google Docs, I put all of this information in the header section. This way the information carries to every additional page I add to my report. Keep it brief for reference purposes.

Add Background Information to Your Genealogy Research Plan

When you tackle any genealogy research question, you have to first review what you know and how you know it.

Sample background section for genealogy research plan

Your background information can be as brief or in-depth as you need. I opted for brief details for my John Townley brick wall project.

I also highlighted the line I descend from. You don't need to. Highlights help remind me who is the most researched relative in this family group.

If you have a source for any of that information, you should include it.

Samples sources in genealogy research plan background section

In the background section, I identified the sources I've previously consulted. You can add more details if warranted. I added a quick footnote to indicate sources I have found (see 1850 census in image above).

Devon Noel Lee saying no with hands up. Caption don't research without this

Watch this research plan development process in action in this video.

What Questions Will Resolve My Genealogy Brick Wall?

While my overall goal is to find the parents of John Townley, I need to brainstorm all questions I have for John Townley. Then I can develop quality research questions and add them to my genealogy research plan.

I came up with these questions:

  • How can I validate John’s death?

  • Can I validate John’s birth?

  • Can I validate the relationships between his wife and children?

  • What more details can I learn about John’s life in Cincinnati?

I might have more questions as this research progresses, but for now, this is a great start.

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GET YOUR FREE Genealogy Brick Wall Guide

Add Specific Goals to Genealogy Research Plan

Following my question brainstorming session, I can add my secondary goals to my research plan.

Sample goals on a genealogy research plan

Note: The image above doesn't have the research goals written in the quality research question format for now. It wouldn't fit on the screen if I had written them correctly. You should write your questions well for your plan.

Add Sources to Search to the Genealogy Research Plan

Once you know your specific research questions, you can consider what records answer your research questions. (Get the record reference guide here.)

Sample Genealogy Research Plan with Records That Could Answer My Question

Next, consult research guides or the FamilySearch Wiki to find out records you need to search to answer your research question. Since John Townley falls into the time period that we can reliably research,

Take the suggestions and put them on your research plan. Don't create a research log separate from your plans. Plan all of the sources that you will search directly into your plan.

Put the Genealogy Research Plan in Action

Once you have developed a genealogy plan it's time to research and return and report. Every document you search will have a note added to your plan.

If your plan is digital, you can also add images, tables, clue webs, timelines, and so much more. Eventually, you can turn your plan into a research report.

Ultimately, don’t tackle a difficult family history problem without at least a basic genealogy research plan. Your plan will ensure you’ve conducted a reasonably exhaustive search.

Additional "Genealogy Research Plan" Show Notes

A reference for all blog posts and videos mentioned in the YouTube episode.

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