Research Plans: a Reprise

Clock 4I recently discovered that my posts about “Research Plans” consistently get the most hits of all of my archived posts by readers using the search feature on this blog.  That indicates to me that genealogical research plans continue to be a struggle for readers to understand and to write.  I personally have come full circle about the usefulness of research plans and have a better (but not perfect) understanding of them.

It still takes longer than I would like for me to write research plans; therefore,  I suspect my skill level will continue to evolve. This post marks my personal progress.

You can read the past blogs about research plans here:
11 September 2012: How Do You Do a Research Plan?
4 October 2012: What Have I Learned Lately About Research Plans?
9 March 2013: Have You Done a Research Plan Before?
31 March 2013: Research Plans! I Have Become a Believer

CONCEPT 1:  I first struggled with the time it took to write research plans; it seemed like a waste of time.  I now see how the plan can be the outline for the research report and save time instead of “taking time.”  Research plans keep me focused and serve as a “touchstone” to return to when I veer “off track” while researching a particular problem for a client or my own genealogical questions.

CONCEPT 2: I still like the basic format of the ESM research plan I noted in a previous post and found on:

CONCEPT 3: You must have a strong research question.1  This question seeks information about identity, relationship or event.  It includes enough information to make the individual “unique in the world,” — to quote Tom Jones.  Thus, there are two parts to every research question:

  1. the identification of the person with enough identifiers to make her or him unique in the world and
  2. the interrogatory–the question you wish to have answered.

In a previous post I decided that my research question would be “What was the death date of Frederick Eilers, second husband of Eda/Ida Berg.” While this is much better than my other examples in the post, I now see that it could still be improved.  Today, I would make the question:

“What was the death date of Frederick Eilers, who married Eda Berg (1811-1889)  in 10 October 1862 in the German Reformed Church in Freeport, Stephenson County, Illinois.”

The addition of the identifiers make Eda and Frederick “more unique” than in the previously developed research question.  Unfortunately, I do not know much more about this relationship than I did back in 2013 when I wrote the research question the first time! (In my defense, I haven’t been looking either.)

CONCEPT 4: I have learned to “write as you go.” By spending time on the research plan and putting it into a format I can use for the client report, I save time in the writing of the report.  Writing client reports used to take 50% of the time allotted for the project.  By doing a research plan first  and then using the research plan as my outline for the client report, I estimate I shortened the writing of the report to about 33% of the time — and that includes the writing of the research plan! It leave more time for research, bringing better value to the client for my work.

Are my research plans perfect?  Far from it but I am getting better.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  attended a business conference in North Carolina and spent vacation time on Cape Cod with  hubby, daughter and her boyfriend.  Great fun.  Presented to the Cape Cod and Falmouth (MA) Genealogical Societies on 19th century emigrant decision making and the changing roles for women during the Civil War.  It stormed so vigorously just prior to the presentation that I was afraid we were going to lose electricity.  Luckily, it didn’t.

1 Tom Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (National Genealogy Society, 2013). See the Chapter on writing the research question.

2Photo take by the author at the Elgin Historical Museum in Elgin, Illinois in July of 2013.  They have a wonderful collection of Elgin watches.  The inclusion of the timepiece on any post indicates that the post relates to the BCG portfolio requirements for certification and is about being “on the clock.”


It’s spit and swab day at the Morelli house!

DNA EamesTomorrow starts the US Open here at Chambers Bay Golf course in Tacoma, Washington about 60 minutes south of Seattle.  What, you might ask, does that have to do with anything related to family history?  A lot–especially when you realize it means that family members are visiting and I have a problem which may be able to be solved using DNA!

I have decided to try to solve the identity problem of the grandfather of my husband.  Many steps are needed just to get to the end point.  First, I need to define my research question [done], develop a testing plan [done with the help of my friend, Karen, in Chicago] and then implement the plan.

So, tomorrow morning, two of the brothers will be swabbing and spitting to help me identify (hopefully) the name of the father of their mother.

Of course, it’s not that easy.  When the results come back, they will be analyzed.  They are taking  the autosomal DNA tests which look at the other 22 chromosomes.  This type of test can reliably identify kinship back about 3-5 generations.  While the test is accurate that far in the past, it is also possible there will be no matches.  Then, we will wait until some descendant of the father of Molly, decides to test.

So, in my lay person’s terms this is what I am doing:

  1. by testing the siblings of my husband (there are 4 sibs) we will be able to identify patterns which will show their father, Steve, and mother, Molly.  The test could also show, tho’ not predicted, if there is a non-paternity event at that generation.
  2. Steve was tested before he died for Y-DNA and mtDNA.  I need to test his autosomal, so we can identify which part of the pattern of code is attributable to Steve.  I need to get the company to run the autosomal test on Steve’s data.
  3. Molly’s DNA is composed of DNA from her mother and her (unidentified) father.  I am hoping to get Molly’s half-brother to test.  If so, we might be able to clarify which parts of the makeup of the Molly’s genome is attributable to the mother, Anna, and by default, what is attributable to the unknown father.
  4. We then “remove” the pattern that is attributable to Steve and Anna and what stands alone is that of the unknown father.
  5. Then, we check to see if there is anyone who matches the unknown father’s DNA   Hopefully, or eventually, there will be a match for the unknown father.  We will then try to find our common ancestor using the “old-fashioned” method of genealogy–doing the traditional paperwork!

We will see what happens.  It might take years.  I still have to get the half sibling to agree.  I’ll keep you posted.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: cleaned house in anticipation of company, and worked on the SGS Bulletin but didn’t get far enough along.  It won’t get published until the end of July; attended the Puget Sound-APG meeting where Claudia Breland did an excellent job of presenting on self publishing for commercial purposes.  I have been doing some additional tax record research on my Swedes.  That’s been fun and enlightening. And I have worked sporadically on my proof argument for BCG.

Photo from the Collection of Charles and Rae Eames, Library of Congress.  Used under the fair use doctrine for scholarship and non-commercial use. This is not real DNA but rather a design in a double helix pattern done by the famous architects/designers, the Eames’s.

Jamboree! Day 3

RainierGoing home! but, first….

Sunday was another good day at Jamboree….

Sunday presentations go until mid afternoon and I have found that the last day of a conference is a good one to attend lectures by speakers that I want to hear but haven’t.  I also try to attend classes of ethnic groups or topics of which I know nothing.  Two classes caught my eye  when I reviewed the app– Introduction to Jewish Genealogy and Introduction to Mexican Genealogy.  I know nothing about either but wouldn’t it be fun to know a little more than nothing?

Luckily, I also ambled through the exhibit area before it closed.  I got away without buying any books!  But, not without dropping some money (RootsMagic.)  This was an “amble” worth making.  I stopped at ArkivDigital (Swedish records) and asked the experts about how to access tax records.  The help was terrific; I found what I was looking for, but they are certainly hidden.

I attended “Intro to Jewish Genealogy” and found same genealogical principles apply to resolving the many questions one has for their Jewish genealogy. The presenter did a  good job dispelling the myths about availability of records and particularly about the myth:  “my name was changed at Ellis Island.”

I didn’t fare so well with the intro to Mexican Genealogy.  There were some technical problems and so I slipped out and went to the mapping session.  She did a nice job of presenting an overview of mapping sites but didn’t have a syllabus.  The final session I attended was Michael Lacopo’s on “Incorporating Social History into Your Genealogy.”  He had terrific examples of illustrating how the story is enhanced by finding documents other than the BMD.

This conference friendly with lots of opportunities and locations for socializing, something that the other conferences I have attended, lack.  There also seems to be built-in time to  chat with exhibitors.  While I wouldn’t put that need high on my list of priorities that last two conferences hae been good for me when those conversations could occur.  These opportunities make Jamboree seem very “California Casual.”  I urge you to consider attending next year.

My lecture schedule now has a bit of a gap but work intervenes! :-) I am off to Association of University Architects 4.5 day conference in Raleigh NC, followed by a vacation in Boston/Cape Cod with our daughter. (I will sneak in a lecture at the Cape Cod/Falmouth Genealogical Society while there!);  then I am back to Chicago for my last Society of University & College Planning conference as a board member in late July.  I am already looking forward to the Northwest Genealogical Conference (NwGC).  Some of the same folks at Jamboree will be up there–Cyndi Ingle, Linda Harms Ozasaki, Judy Russell, Lisa Alzo, etc. It will be nice to check in with friends from around the state and around the nation.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  Talked to Cyndi Ingle about how her ProGen course is going while we waited for a plane at Burbank Airport.  Said good-bye to some new friends and old including, Mike, Judy, Beverly, Paula, Janet, Emily and Lisa.

Jamboree: Day 2!

jamboree 2015I had anther great day at Jamboree filled with surprises and successes. But, in the game of “pick the best concurrent session” roulette, I did not do so well.  But, the parts of the day that were terrific included the following:

Surprise #1: Diane Young and I connected, Diane was the coordinator for the Jefferson County Genealogical Society Spring Seminar for which I was the speaker for the day.  It was great to see her again.  She is living in the Los Angeles area assisting her son and daughter-in-law with the care of their 7 week-old baby.

Surprise #2: I had a chance to talk to Randy Seaver and Thomas MacEntee and discuss blogging.  It was great fun to hear how two of the most prolific bloggers do it.

Surprise #3:  Had lunch with the ProGen folks.  As always it is good to see old friends, and meet new ones.  ProGen graduates and those who are still matriculating are some of the most impressive genealogists I know.

Surprise #4: Rev. David MacDonald, CG gave two talks, one on finding historical church records in the US even if the church has been blended with another and another on reading church records.  As usual they were stellar presentations.  He is deeply knowledgeable on church history of all religions.

Surprise #5:  I skipped one session and sat down with Mike Booth at the RootsMagic booth.  RootsMagic is a genealogical software program and Mike provided technical assistance in getting RootsMagic running on my MAC laptop.  It was a great relief to see it operational.  Thanks, Mike.  It took an hour and during that time he made just one $20 sale.  I really appreciate your tenacity.  Impressive.

Surprise #6: (Well, not really a surprise.)  I had a fun dinner with Lisa Oberg from Seattle.  We discussed a variety of topics including which speakers impressed us, Special Collections at the UW, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies conference in 2016.  We continue to try to find a way to work together on a genealogical topic.  Always fun.

Surmise #7:  My roommate and I have chats that are like the ones you had at camp when you were 8 years old–funny, informative and delightful.  Barbara Brown is terrific and I am lucky to have her for a roomie.

Tomorrow I got home, so I would be surprised if I will write again about the conference. Jamboree is one of the most fun that I attend.  It is “California Casual” and the volunteers all are so helpful and eager to assist.   Thank you, SCGS Volunteers for putting together another great conference.

Happy Hunting:


What I have done since the last posting:  See above.  Also attended two other presentations.

Jamboree! Day 1

jamboree 2015It was a great day of friends and presentations and learning!

My good day started with breakfast and sitting with people I didn’t know–for long!

I sat down and found out I was next to Dr. Tim Janzen from Portland, noted DNA expert.  We discussed the possibility of him coming to Seattle for a DNA talk and he was completely willing.  His recommendation was to schedule it at the same time in the fall as he comes up for the Mennonite group.  That seemed a very good way for the societies to split the costs and to perhaps open the opportunity for SGS to collaborate with another society, one of our recently identified goals for the society.

THEN, I was joined by two women associated with the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies which is, I found, holding its 2016 conference in Seattle (this year they are in Jerusalem!–now that’s a conference venue.)  I thought it would be interesting to  speak to the group but the Call for proposals won’t go out until 1 September.   The conference site just went live and can be found here. Janet and Emily were a delight to talk with and we ended up at the end of the day as well.

The morning did not have concurrent lectures instead had a couple of interesting events.

Jean Hibben facilitated a discussion genealogical society representatives about issues affecting them.  SGS js organizationally ahead of others in most operational items.  When I entered the room, they were talking about their publications and making their newsletter public.  Another successful tip was to distribute the newsletter to businesses in the area for pick up by their customers. More than one society rep expressed how well that had worked in pulling in attendees to the society’s programs.  A few societies paid their local speakers for presentations for their regular programs, but not a majority.

Then I was on to the global meeting.  Tables were assigned a facilitator who would lead a discussion on a topic; you could sit at any table you wanted.  The rooms was a buzz!  I sat down at the Scandinavian table to learn some of the questions that would be asked.  I wanted to make sure I covered those topics in my Overview of Scandinavian Resources.   I got a few hints that I hope to incorporate into my next presentation on the Swedes, Norwegians and the Danes.

I prepped for my presentation which I am happy to say, went very well.  I didn’t realize it would be taped and if you are terribly interested in how I did, you can buy the tape!  :-)  Note: as I am posting this, I can only link to the overall site for Jamboree and not the individuals presentations.  If you check it and cannot access the individual presentations, that will probably be linked by 13 June 2015.

Then it was my turn to take in some educational moments…

Happy hunting!



Burbank, Here I Come!

jamboree 2015I am getting ready to go to Burbank!  I am very excited. to be attending and presenting at 2015 Jamboree! sponsored by the Southern California Genealogical Society.I have attended this conference in the past and there is something to be said for the smaller venues.  NGS can be overwhelming.  Another advantage is that everyone is more relaxed and you can get to know even the headliners personally.

So here is what I have done to prepare:

I have tweaked and re-tweaked my presentation, “Using the Non-Population Censuses for Context and Evidence.”  I gave the presentation on 20 May to Fiske Genealogical Library and came away with several great comments from the audience.  I have re-timed it again and checked all the links.

I have reworked the website I prepare for the presentation.  Rather than have the attendees madly write down URLs that I have found since the submission of the syllabus to SCGS months ago, I develop the website to be the repository of all new information found.  There is only one address and there is quite a bit of new information.  If you, as a blog reader, would like to see what the site looks like, the presentation will be posted at 5:00 am on 5 June for one week at  Please check it out, but if you do-I ask only that you also comment on whether you think the website is a good idea or contribute other ideas for inclusions.

I downloaded the app.  I have never met an app I didn’t like!  You know I love convention apps and this one is no different.  But, it is not good enough to have the app on the phone, if you do not use it.  So I also review all the presentations to make sure that I have indicated my preliminary list of those sessions I would like to attend.  There is a heavy emphasis on the word “preliminary,” as I will go over this list at least 3 more times before I arrive in Burbank so i can refine my choices.

I have a roommate and she sounds delightful! I used the roommate service and talked to my new genealogy friend on the phone today.  I think we are going to get along just fine!

I checked out the volunteer opportunities, especially on Friday morning, as I think I will need a distraction before my presentation at 1:00 that same day.  Unfortunately, I missed the boat!  I looked at the form too late and the abiity to volunteer had passed.  I like to volunteer and did so at NGS.  Hopefully I will be able to do so on-site.

One thing I haven’t stated doing yet is packing–which I need to do right now!

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last positing:  worked on the SGS Bulletin, the theme of which is the winners of the Family History Writing contest.  It will be a good issue.  I ordered the new EE.  I probably should have ordered the electronic version but I didn’t.  I have worked on the Fire Insurance Maps presentation.  I am also developing a beginner series of the “Big Four” record sets for the US:  censuses, probate, vital records and land records.  I am working on censuses first.  VR is next.

NGS 2015: “Take-Aways”

I like to ask each attendee at my presentations to identify one of their “take-aways”–those ideas or thoughts which resonated strongly with them.  These “take-aways” (TA) are often just a couple of comments related to each presentation. By writing them down, the attendee will better remember something about the presentation and I can tell what portion of the presentation was important to that particular attendee.  Those thoughts give me ideas about the parts I should emphasize the next time I give it.

2015 NGS crowdSo here are some of the sessions I attended at NGS and my “take-aways.”  The non-genealogists who read this blog might find the variety of the titles interesting.  The genealogist who attended NGS this year might compare their TAs with mine. And, the genealogists who didn’t attend might want to put the NGS conference on their “bucket list” for next year (Fort Lauderdale FL, 4-7 May 2016)

“Iowa: Fields of Genealogical Opportunity” (Marieta Grissom):  a general overview of the resources of the state of Iowa presented by the writer of the NGS Series on the States.

TA: there are numerous small repositories in the state but I feel that I have exhausted most of the relevant ones; the author missed the Ostfriesen collection in Wellsburg, Iowa. And you have to love the Iowa censuses.

“Analyzing Deeds and Wills: I See What It “Says” But What Does it “Mean”?” (Elizabeth Shown Mills):

TA: One of the best presentations i attended; she wrings information out of a deed.  It gave me lots of hints about how to systematically review a deed for my portfolio.

Transcriptions, Abstraction & the Records” (David McDonald).  Transcription and abstraction is a critical skill for a genealogist.

TA: Narrow the focus of the research question associated with the document, e.g “why is the grantor selling the land?” As you do a research plan, make sure you indicate where (repository) you would probably find the information.  A “gold star” presentation.

“So You Think You Want to Get Married: Marriage Records, Laws and German Customs” (Baerbel K. Johnson):

TA: Unfortunately what I remember is that the speaker was not feeling well and coughed through the entire presentation.  The presentation was on customs of Bavaria, a much different area than Ostfriesland.  Ostfriesland’s freedoms, tho’ limited in this same time period (1800s), were more liberal than Bavaria’s, e.g. individuals had a greater ability to move around and had lesser stigma associated with illegitimacy.

“Overcoming Surprising Research Barriers: A Case Study” (Tom Jones)

TA:  another memorable session on research plans and their development; this will also be applicable to my BCG portfolio.

“Introduction to Tracing your Czech Roots” (Amy Wachs)

TA: Hubby’s background on his maternal side is Czech.  This gave me a great background of some readily available records. Unfortunately, the presenter felt compelled to treat the audience like they had never done any genealogical research and spent the first 45 min. discussing US records.  I would have appreciated a little different balance but there were probably others in the audience who felt it was very appropriate.

“A Methodology for Irish Emigration to North America” (David Rencher): Head of FamilySearch and an excellent presenter.

TA: David presented a very interesting statistical approach to determining the most likely parish within a County to investigate to find your ancestor.   I am hoping this may help my friend who does not know the parish of birth of her ancestor but knows he came from County Roscomman.

That was the first two days.  There were still two days to go!  No wonder I came back energized and exhausted.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  I have worked with about 6 or the 8 authors for the next SGS Bulletin to get documents to the editor for proofing.  I also set up the template for the Bulletin, changing what I could for this issue, etc. I want to publish before I go to a conference the end of June.  Also, realized I had forgotten to send a contract to Cape Cod/Falmouth so worked on that and I submitted my 6 proposals to Ohio Genealogical society for their 2016 conference.  Getting excited for Jamboree.

Photo: taken by the author prior to the live streaming session of Alison Hare, “A Time of Cholera: A Case Study about Context,” another gold star presentation.  Read the book about the topic: The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson.