SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2016 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 4 May 2016.

W151, Gail Jackson Miller, CG, “Developing a Successful and Efficient Research Plan”

Reviewed by J. Mark Lowe, CG, CGL, FUGA

Gail began her approach to research planning by comparing all research to a brick wall. The solution to every project, like a brick wall, varies, as the potential answer may not be apparent. Because the bricks along a wall may contain some answers, researchers collect groups of family trees rather than attempting a research project. Gail suggested that we look at the wall as constructed from puzzle pieces instead of bricks. This requires a closer focus, thorough analysis, and planning.

Gail Jackson Miller, CG
Courtesy Scott Stewart Photography

Gail described how we often repeat bad behaviors that are rewarded. The excitement we feel as new researchers when we find any information promotes the bad habits of collecting family trees and avoiding background study and general planning. We may be found randomly wandering in libraries or online looking for related material.
The process for family research is identical to client research, Gail explained. Both have time constraints. They both begin with a question and focus on a hypothesis that can be researched. She stated that successful problem solving is the same in all research fields. She reminded us of the steps included in a plan and stated that skipping this process will result in failure.

Our plans should be focused, while identifying the names, location, and time period of the research. Preliminary knowledge is required before beginning the research. This includes knowing the physical location of needed records, available record groups, area traditions, and more. This points us toward what we want to know, where we should look first, and determining what we already know.

Using a fictional family, Gail presented basic information about a potential ancestor. She provided a general question, and a list of known facts. She added the need to formulate the question as a testable hypothesis. Potential questions addressed the possible inheritance of the farm, the fact that the family owned a farm, and a question about the crops and livestock raised. She organized the family records chronologically and examined them for missing information. She also stressed that those records should contain complete citations on properly labeled documents that are organized in a systematic method.

Gail reminded us that too often the similarity between professional researchers and family researchers is poor planning. Most poor planning is caused by inadequate knowledge about what records were created in a particular place and time, why they were created, and where they are now.

A more complex family question including two marriage records illustrated the same ideas. Gail also shared a sloppy plan and approach to research. She then showed us why this style would cause problems and prevent answers. Great examples and authentic details defined the problems created when our organizational skills fade, and showed how clear directional efforts lead to success.

As she led us through this study, Gail reminded us that we must be persistent in our efforts and repeat the good skills we develop in research planning and execution.

A recording of this lecture may be previewed and ordered from PlaybackNow.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.