I have been working on my Kinship Determination Project (KDP) for the past 2 weeks (no, I am 4th from left, not second!). The KDP is a component of my portfolio for certification and has to prove the relationships between three generations of a family. Many days I put in 8-12 hours of work. Other days, I muster 6 hours. The reality is usually somewhere in-between. I have developed some thoughts about the process of the KDP. These thoughts were encouraged by my hostess here in Tucson, a Ph.D. in Business.
We are taught at institutes etc. about research records sets and how to access and use them. We are introduced to the Genealogical Proof Standard which is a road map for solution of problems but…
…we are not taught how one actually does qualitative research, the research of interviews, observations and documents. Nor are we trained in how to organize that data so it is retrievable when needed.
How should we start?
First off–I think I approached my KDP all wrong! This doesn’t mean my output will be unacceptable, just that my process might have been smoother if I thought about it differently. Recently there was an engaged discussion about the similarities–or not–of the Genealogical Proof Standard to the Scientific Process on the Transitional Genealogist list serve. (resolution: unresolved)
One thing that is very different for genealogists is that we collect sources, information and evidence over decades. The Social Scientist will devise a research problem, develop a plan and then go out and gather data, synthesize the data and report. They start with the end in mind. Often we, as genealogists, “grow” into our field–true OJT.
Another differences between my friend’s (or anyone’s) thesis and the process outlined for any KDP is the amount of collaboration that is encouraged in one and discouraged, and in fact, prevented in another. I wonder if ‘no collaboration’ is a good idea. Is the best research done in a vacuum? Is the best outcome the interpretation by one person?
Should I have started writing my KDP with a research question? Should I have developed a plan first? Should I have had a better idea of the outcome before I started? I had a theme, but could that have made me more sharply focused if it had been articluated as a question?
Here are some hints based on my sometimes successful and sometimes stumbling approach to getting my KDP written! Some of these ideas I incorporated from the beginning and other ideas came to me too late. I am, of course, assuming you have already gathered a fair amount of information about your family already.
- Use your genealogy software program religiously. Every document is an event entered. I have at least one citation (crude, admittedly) for every event. I have linked every individual involved in every event. I did a rough transcription of every entry (I didn’t know enough to do a good one, but it doesn’t matter because I go back to the original anyway.) What a time saver now!
- Test several KDP three-generation scenarios to see what might work for you. Put them up on a wall and look at them.
- Write a paragraph about each of the three-generation scenarios you identified. Make very brief notes on each of the generations for each triplet. Do you have a research question you are trying to “answer” for the reader?
- Analyze each scenario. Is there a theme running through three generations? Do you care if there is? What is the triplet that you might like to work on for months! At a minimum, you had best like the family you are writing about.
- Develop an outline of your paper; a very brief outline is fine but it’s time to get serious about the structure of the paper. Probably, at least one of your outlines will be chronological but try other organizations of the paper, perhaps thematic or some other plan. Nevertheless, you will make at least one outline for each scenario with some high-level events you wish to include in each.
- Develop your first research plan. What are you missing? What sources are you relying on that should be better? Your goal will be to keep a running research plan going at all times because as you write the document, you will continually to identify new information your are lacking to achieve Element #1 of the GPS– “a reasonably exhaustive research.” I use post-its on the wall.
- Understand your own writing pattern. Yours will not be like mine. I used snippets from my genealogy software in chrono order and then return to each snippet and develop it appropriately. Some get deleted; some get combined or expanded.
- Organize your collected data. This is the “stuff” that relates but is not event oriented. I could have used Evernote more. The ability to tag (perhaps based on your research plan or first outline?) would have been ideal. I used it but not to the extent I could have. It helped when I could use it.
- Reduce the number of places you store information. I have my content right now in about 5 places: books on my shelf; photos, e-journals etc. on my iPad; photos of content on my phone; my genealogical software; and my computer. It would have been better if it was all in one place, or at most two. The good news is that the number of places I stored my information is finite and small, so I do not have too many places to look!
- Update the outline as you go. This will keep you focused and point out the areas where you are still missing information.
- Develop a citation style sheet so your citations are VERY consistent. I made my own. Mine almost looks like a bibliography of all my sources but in full reference note form. I don’t think Zotera and other such programs work for us but if they work for you, go for it–let me know. Maybe I missed the boat here.
- Take off six weeks away from you home and use the time to write–make it Arizona if you live up north and it’s winter. I do not even have a cat to pet! I recommend this highly. 🙂
- And, finally, no excuses. Just do it!
There are three components to my KDP writing –I write the narrative; I work on citations and I re-read articles and books for content that I might have missed and which I now wish to incorporate into the paper. I cycle through the three elements all day–when I get bored/uninspired with one, I move to another.
I am not done writing my KDP. I am not even done with a first draft (closer every day), but I hope these organizational hints will help you as you go forward.
If you want more information about qualitative research as a methodology, my friend recommended two books. The second book might be helpful with the Evernote tags. I know that genealogical research is not like surveying a million people and trying to keep track of the results but if we can borrow from other academies, why shouldn’t we?
- Michael Quinn Patton, Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2002)
- Johnny Saldana, The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2009)
I think genealogy, if it is to be considered a discipline by the ones who now do not, should teach the next generation of professional genealogists about how to research, how to record qualitative work and how to retrieve that information successfully.
What I have done since my last posting: presented to the Pima County Genealogical Society on the GPS (see photo); went out to eat with relatives of my husband and wrote, wrote, and wrote some more.