Genealogy Research Plans - An Essential Tool for Busting Brick Walls



Genealogy Research plans can make or break the success of your family history research. If you have a genealogy brick wall, a research plan is a genealogy to-do list that will guide you step-by-step in an organized and methodical way to resolving those challenging family tree questions.


Professional genealogists use research plans to tackle family history questions for clients but also for their own research. Genealogy research plans are particularly useful when you’re tackling ancestral brick walls.


Watch the video.


Where Do You Begin When Tackling a Genealogy Problem?


We all want to start climbing our family tree quickly (and hopefully accurately). Many of us have begun using a research process to help us find our ancestors and extended family.


How many of us really know what a genealogy research plan is and why it’s important?


What is a Genealogy Research Plan?


Genealogy research plans are a recipe for making a delicious treat. In a recipe, you know your goal (what you’re trying to make), you know your ingredients, and the steps to making the treat.


Similarly, genealogy research plans have a goal, know what sources you want to explore, and plan out how you’re going to explore those sources.


As my colleague Lisa Lisson says, genealogy research plans help you

  • Stay focused

  • Stay organized

  • Be efficient

  • Manage your clues

How many of us become lost on tangents instead of staying focused? Genealogy research plans can help us have more success, particularly with our genealogy brick walls.


↪️ Are you struggling to break through your brick walls?

Grab your copy of this FREE Brick Wall Busting Guide:


When to Use a Genealogy Research Plan


Until the genealogy research process becomes second nature, using a genealogy research plan is invaluable. The plan helps guide you step-by-step to ensure you don't overlook and resources or clues to find your family.


When you have more experienced, you may typically use a genealogy research plan for your difficult projects or your genealogy brick walls.


Genealogy Research Plan Template

What Does a Genealogy Research Plan Have?


  • Specific Goals or Objectives - You outline your genealogy research questions. (Read more about developing a quality research question.)

  • Review of Previous Research - summarize all previous research. (Read more about reviewing what you know.)

  • List of Potential Sources to Search - research guides, particularly the FamilySearch Wiki, can help you develop this list.

  • Working Hypothesis - If you have a potential answer, you can add this to your research plan. The working hypothesis could be in the form of a statement or charted out using MindMup as shown in this video.

  • Strategy for Researching the Records - You might also include the order you will investigate your records. I don't typically do this. I would rather explain my reasoning after I searched a recordset as part of my note-taking step.

You can add more details to your research plan if you think it will help you stay laser-focused. (Discover more tips in The Fundamentals of Genealogy Research Plans.)


While some folks will create a research log separate from their research plan, I don't advise it. Don't create a research log separate from your plans (or one at all).


Where to Create a Genealogy Research Plan?


You have several options for your genealogy research plan. Choose the one that meets your needs.

  • Paper Forms - Check out this website for paper forms or pick up a copy of the Are You My Cousin? Research Planner.

  • Trello - This project management app and website can help you manage the flow of your research plan. This post will tell you how.

  • Evernote - You can use a file management program to organize the components of your genealogy research plan. Check out these Evernote Genealogy Research Plan Templates that you can utilize to quickly format your project.

  • Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, Google Docs - I love using Google Docs to plan out my research project, and then it can become an eventual research report.

In a future blog post, I'll walk through the steps of how to use Google Docs to make research plans. For now, you can get a copy of my Research Plan Template and print it out or use it online.




See a Research Plan in Action


This blog post is part of a series tackling how to break through brick walls. It focused on the theory of research plans. Stay tuned for the follow-up post on how I created a research plan for my brick wall ancestor, John Townley.


Additional "Genealogy Research Plans?" Show Notes


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


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