Sooner or later every family historian hits a brick wall. Online resources, lookup sites and chatrooms may be useful here, but first you need to construct a research plan, showing what the problem is and suggesting ways to resolve it.
I use my own pro-forma research plan which shows the following:
Name (Maiden name for women, rather than married name)
Date/place of birth
Date/place of christening
Date/place of marriage
Date/place of death
Date/place of burial
Father’s name, year of birth, year of death
Mother’s name, year of birth, year of death
Spouse’s name, year of birth, year of death
Name of children, year of birth, year of death
Notes from all relevant census – place, age, martital status, occupation, date of birth.
All this information will fit quite happily on both sides of a 4″x 6″ index card, and I use cards set out like this as my main means of record keeping.
If you chose to use a sheet of A4 paper, however, you have find plenty of room to set out the problem you are trying to resolve and record your findings.
A good research plan includes brief details of the problem, details of the sources you have already investigated (with full references), the dates of your search and the result (even if the search reveals nothing – remember that many sources are constantly updated). There’s nothing more frustrating that discovering that you’ve already checked a source (for example, a parish register) and have just wasted an hour or two going over the source again.
An example of a plan from my records might read:
Death of Caleb Hartland.
Appears on 1871 census at 83 Pountney Street Wolverhampton.
1881 census: wife Jane Haynes at 6 Court Pountney Street Wolverhampton. Widow.
GRO (date): checked Hartland, Heartland, Artland, Hartlin, Artlin
NBI (date): checked Hartland, Heartland, Artland, Hartlin, Artlin
Burial Register Jeffock Road Cemetery (date): checked Hartland, Heartland, Artland, Hartlin, Artlin
Wills Calender 1871 – 1891
Wolverhampton Chronicle 1871 – 1881
What Poor Law records do Wolverhampton Archives hold?
TIP: Construct a research plan for every name in your family tree, even those that you haven’t started to investigate yet.
TIP: Use colour-coding to differentiate direct relatives. This needn’t be too complex: I indicate direct ancestors by a red felt-tip blob in the top right-hand corner of the relevant record cards/research plans.
TIP: Keep copies of any correspondence, printouts, notes etc with the research plan – then you have an exact record.
TIP: Keep your research plans up-to-date and don’t forget to cross-reference the information – if you find the date of death of Great Aunt Alice, don’t forget to show this on the plans for her parents and her husband.
TIP: Research plans are very useful in planning a visit to a Records Office: you can make a ‘shopping list’ of information you want to find.
UPDATE ADDED 18 January 2013:
Some further hints on research plans can be found on my post “It’s Pizza Weather” dated 18 January 2013.