Posted by on January 30, 2014 in Ancestry.com Site
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Getting your research in focus will help you make new discoveries!

It can be fun to jump in the car for a road trip with no destination in mind. But what if you have someplace you need to go? Heading out with no plan can get you there, but probably not in the most effective way. It’s the same with our research. We can find all sorts of things without a destination, but if we have something we really want to find, we need to have a plan. We need to focus.

Anne Gillespie Mitchell and I recently talked about the importance of focusing our research. Here are the steps we came up with.

Step 1: Define Your Question
What is it you’re trying to find? “Identify Susan’s parents” is a much different question than “Find everything about Susan.”

Step 2: Review What You Already Have
Pulling out your old files and re-reading them might seem like backtracking, but it’s a crucial step. What nugget of information is hiding in there? What “meaningless” fact that you found three years ago makes sense now? Sometimes the answer to your question from step 1 is sitting there, waiting in your files.

Step 3: Identify Holes in Your Research
Take the information from your review and identify what isn’t there. Timelines are great tools for this. Do you have all of the censuses for this person? Do you have the death certificate or just an index entry?

card-catalogStep 4: Find Out How to Fill Those Holes
What records are out there that you haven’t looked at? Check out the Ancestry Card Catalog and see what collections you might have missed for the location you’re interested in. Also take a look at the Ancestry Wiki to get ideas for what other records should exist for that location.

Step 5: Research, Review and Repeat as Necessary
Now you have specific things you want to look for. Go research those! Then take that new information and compare it to what you already have. Repeat this process as necessary.

About Amy Johnson Crow

Amy Johnson Crow is a Community Manager for Ancestry.com. She's a Certified Genealogist and an active lecturer and author. Her roots run deep in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states. She earned her Masters degree in Library and Information Science at Kent State University. Amy loves to help people discover the joys of learning about their ancestors and she thinks that there are few things better than a day in a cemetery. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and No Story Too Small.

3 Comments

lydia reed crow-taylor 

hey Amy, are we related???? i just began my search, thinking of doing a DNA test…..L

January 31, 2014 at 8:06 am
Amy Johnson Crow 

Lydia – are your Crows from western Pennsylvania or southeastern Ohio?

January 31, 2014 at 1:40 pm
Anne Reeves 

Well all of this would be very nice if the website worked as we pay it to. Yesterday I kept getting the “Temporarily Unavailable” page; and so again today. What is the point?

Ancestry really needs to start getting its server capacity up-to-speed BEFORE attracting new, often non-paying, customers. But it doesn’t because the paying ones continue to stump up no matter how bad the service.

February 3, 2014 at 3:31 pm