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The Fundamentals of Genealogy Research Plans

Genealogy Research plan fundamentals

Research plans, like citations, scare a lot of beginning genealogists, but they shouldn’t. Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, shared the fundamentals of genealogy research plans with us during a recent visit.

When you want to transition from being a casual genealogist to someone more serious, research plans often come into the equation.

Otherwise, we’re using the ‘hope method’ that Elissa explains as typing a name into a search box and hoping we find something.

Develop a Targeted Genealogy Research Plans

Elissa quoted Elizabeth Shown Mills that “hope is not a research plan.”

Elissa suggests we have a targeted approach that is based on a good research question. These research questions are of one of three types:

  1. questions about an identity (who was William Hill born in Ohio, as separate from other William Hills?)

  2. questions establish a relationship (who was Mary’s father?)

  3. questions that document an event (when was someone born? Where were they married?)

We’ve written more about research questions in this post, “Developing a Quality Research Question. “

A targeted research plan focuses on who you’re looking for based on the little you do know about them.

Add Searchingin a Specific Locale to Your Genealogy Research Plan

With your target research question, you can research the locale where your answer may be found. Some helpful resources are the FamilySearch Wiki. You can type in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and FamilySearch will have a list of resources you can research.

It would be best to investigate what is available in other online databases (Ancestry, Find My Past, MyHeritage, etc.) by searching their catalog lists.

When you know what is available, you can add these items to your genealogy research plan and record what you find.

Consider Additional Records for Your Genealogy Research Plan

Elissa suggests using the book, Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills as a brainstorming session. It’s known as the citation bible but can be used to generate ideas of additional resources you can search to answer your question.

Another source of record ideas is Cyndi’s List for her Source Checklist (which you can access here). Elissa likes the checklist that she can check off for resources that may answer her research question.

Add these recommendations to your genealogy research plan.

↪️ Are you looking for more genealogy resources?

Grab your copy of this FREE Genealogy Research Guide:

Fingers typing on keyboard with title 10 Online Genealogy Resources You Have to Try

Learn About Genealogy Research Methodology

Methodology sounds like a scary word, but Elissa suggests it means “how to do something.” We are the first person how has researched any of those targeted research questions. We can spend time learning how others have successfully researched their questions. Then we can use those methods to become more efficient in our research.

Those steps and strategies can be added to your genealogy research plan to track your own success.


As a side note, Elissa says that if we do nothing else, write down what you already know and pass that on as your legacy. The next generation will have an easier starting point.

VIDEO: Elisa Scalise Powell Discusses The Important of Genealogy Research Plans

Watch this video on YouTube.

Attend a Genealogy Institue

Elissa works with GRIP, the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh. It’s a week-long institute that offers many classes from beginner to intermediate to advanced and professional on topics ranging from Irish, Italian, Polish, Mid-Atlantic states, Pennsylvania, and Ohio research. Essentially, whatever courses are needed.

Elissa says that GRIP has a friendly atmosphere that is an experience that involves not only the teachers but chatting with colleagues in hallways, lunch, and more. The colleagues are not just those you work with during your classes, but those who are attending other classes at the same time you visit during breaks. You have more access to your teachers during an institute. You learn tips that can trigger just the thing to put a crack in your brick wall.

If you want to attend the Summer Camp for Genealogists, check out the immersion experience, where no one rolls their eyes at the mention of family history.

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