How do you do research plans?

I struggle with what works and I would like to hear from you about your approach to research plans/planning.

I have come to the following conclusions:

  • what works for me, probably won’t work for you.
  • every problem is different enough that perhaps the research plan “template” varies from problem to problem
  • I want to be able to see all my investigative work together

I started out by trying to make my research plan “do too much”.  I listened to a webinar by Marion Pierre-Louis on research plans.  I thought her system might work; she had a series of forms and filled them in as she went along.  After trying her system it ended up being too cumbersome for me; every problem had four templates.  It seemed redundant to me.  I spent more time figureing which form I was to use than doing the research.  I also found that the forms do not allow for the serendipity to be recorded, i.e. the discovery you find that you didn’t plan on.  I ended up with too many pieces of paper, with very little on some and a significant number of insertions on another.  And none of which allowed me to see what I was doing in a single glance.  I am just better off writing up each problem in the following way:

  1. Name of Person (b. ____, d._____)
  2. Today’s Date
  3. What is the question I am trying to answer?
  4. What is known?
  5. What sources may help me answer the question?
  6. Where are these sources located?
  7. When pursued, what information=> evidence did these sources provide?

I admit I am still trying to figure out an approach to identifying Frederick Eilers, second husband of my Ida/Eda (van) Berg(en), b. 1811, d. 1889.  Using the approach numbered above, I discovered that though I knew very little, I did know his birth location.  This is huge.  So by writing this up, I think my next avenue is to pursue him from Germany to the US and try to see if I can work his life forward, rather than trying to work it backward….and which I was having no luck.

I think I will formally write up this research problem and see if there are any other discoveries.

This may be my last posting for a week, as I will be away with little internet access.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: finished a difficult client report for Theresa.  This took many more hours than I wanted to expend but I also do not like shortchanging reports.  I also did more clean up on the conference, watched another legacy webinar on Indirect Evidence and compiled some information for the cruise so I can be prepared whatever “extra” one-on-one I get (assuming I get one at all!) I also started working on Mary’s German (Mettendorf/Messerich) investigation.  Read an Illinois Research Guide to see if there were any clues there for how to get to Mr. Eilers. No big revelations but some leads to pursue.

What were the problems with my Case Study?

I think I have reworked my Case Study three times now, each time learning something new about how to write these.  I am using indirect evidence to prove the relationship between two women, my great grandmother and her sister.  This discovery was one that led to the breaking down of a twenty year old brick wall!

Here’s the story (and I promise to be short!):  Grietje immigrated in 1865 at age 16; I couldn’t find an immigration record for her nor her parents. She married in 1869 and shows up twice in the 1870 census.  I had her tracked from that point until her death in 1922.  Death certificate stated her parents were Boyo Wienenga and G. Kriens.  For twenty years I tried to find her village and in 2002 I attended a class on patronymic naming at a conference.  That night after the class, I compared the family names of Grietje and this woman who “hovered” around the family, Eda Eckhoff.  (pure intuition or educated luck?) Using given name naming customs it appeared that Eda Eckhoff was the sister of Grietje.  At that same conference a local expert directed me to an area of Germany called the Rheiderland and specifically the village of Weener or Bunde because that is where the family surname shows up (and yes, Ostfriesland is composed of villages where a single surname may reside for a long while).  I did some research on Eda and found that in the 1920 census the enumerator had entered the birth location  as the village name of Weener for Eda and her family!  I ordered the Weener tape from the LDS library and twenty years after I initially asked the question, I found Eda and Griejte and her twin sister Martje in the parish record! Goose bumps!  Yesterday, I received Eda’s death certificate and it lists the father with a very similar last name as was on Grietje’s death certificate. I also re-reviewed the 1870 census and enumerated with Grietje’s family was a person whose identity I had never determined.  It was Eda, before she was married, but her name was so mangled that no one would have identified it as her without already knowing the alternate spellings of the surname and some of the other clues.

Over the years, I discovered that I had to:

  • become more technically competant about genealogy to solve my personal brick wall
  • “fine tune” my “gut instincts” indicator so I knew which clues to track and which to let alone
  • ask lots of questions of lots of people to more clues
  • re-review documents for clues that I missed when I was perhaps more naive,
  • practice patience and persevere!

But, the question was how to make this into a genealogical proof case study?  What I found I was doing was putting in the many false leads and the wandering paths I had taken into the proof.  While being interesting to me, I was not being efficient with my writing.  I was very enamored with the two census enumerations which were very interesting but just didn’t add to the proof.

So I resaved the document and have been working on it the last few days to get it down to the relevant evidence.  I still struggle a bit as to whether this qualifies under the indirect evidence but I have been pouring over ESM’s classic work on the topic (see below) and am comfortable with the case and the proof process.

But, this, like the discovery of the village of Grietje and Eda, has taken a while to get here and a few wandering paths.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  attended class (lecture on newspaper research and very good discussion about our findings after reading a newspaper over a segment of time.  One of the most interesting classes to date.  1 woman looked at pamphlets of the 1600’s!), also turned in my assignment, which will be my work for my friend on Jens T. Dahle.  reworked the case study, again!

Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Working with Historical Evidence: Genealogical Principles and and Standards,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 87 (September 1999) 165-183.

So, where am I with BCG certifcation?

I had gotten so engrossed in the development of the client report (perhaps too much so) and the class assignments, I had lost track of where I was in the certification process.  So, this is my check in on my progress.

I have taken a list of the materials that are needed for the portfolio and described where I am with each:

  1. Genealogist’s Code:  While this is “just” a signature on a piece of paper, it is actually a contract for ethical behavior in all that you do as a genealogist. It is a commitment no matter whether you are working for someone else for pay (or barter), or working on your own family for satisfaction.  I consider myself a highly ethical person so I do not find myself in conflict with the Code in my past or present work.
  2. Background Resume:  I have a draft of this roughly laid out but do not like what I have done at all.  I need to work on this.
  3. Document Work (BCG-supplied Document): The BCG supplies you with a document in the area of your interest to transcribe and develop a research plan. BDG does not send this until one actually applies, which I have not yet done.  I have decided I am going to declare my era/area of interest to be the 19th century Midwest.
  4. Document Work (Applicant-supplied Document): I did this work prior to starting this blog.  I consider the transcription to be in final draft form.  The Research Plan is very weak and needs a lot of work.
  5. Research Report prepared for a Client:  I have been working on this for some time as you know.  I have the lineage report in maybe final draft form.  I have the narrative portion just about ready to start the citation process (30% complete).
  6. Case Study: Conflicting or Indirect Evidence: I have this pretty close to final draft form.  I will want to revisit this again before saying it is in final draft form.
  7. Kinship Determination Project:  I have this close to final draft form.  I will want to revisit this again.

Wow!  I am further along than I thought.  Lots more to do, but I think it is possible that I will be requesting the application in February or March of 2012 and then doing the final submission in April or May of 2012.  That would be pretty cool!

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  worked on the list of assignments for my class (see next post); attended the UW women’s basketball game which we won,

Part 1: How do you keep track of information that does not yet rise to a level of “proof”?

I thought it might be interesting to you to hear how i work with my data and the sequence of thought.

When I do the data gathering, I am continuously entering information into my database; I do not hold information for later entry.  In my personal research I trace all children, their spouses and their children.  If we have a gene in common, I will work the line.  That theory means I do not trace ancestors of people who marry into the family, but I do trace descendants.  Since I have 11K people in my database using the above theory, I am going to stick with it.  I am not interested in “people collecting” as some are.

I use my software program to handle “work in progress”, particularly if I am faced with indirect evidence that is just not conclusive.  I will gather snippets of information and enter it into the database.   Some examples are:  people I think might be related but I need more evidence; people who I think are mine that show up in the US and I didn’t think they immigrated etc. etc.

To keep these types of investigations clear and in front of me when I want them to be, I use a tag system based on scientific inquiry.  I have tags for “Research Hypothesis”, “Research Notes”, “Research Conclusion” and “Research Records Not Found”.  I use the Hypothesis tag if I can imagine a scenario but I just do not have time to do any investigation.  I change the Hypothesis tag to Research Notes and enter what I have done, if I do any work on it and I have not come to a conclusion.  As soon as I have a conclusion….either yes, I hypothesized correctly or no, I didn’t, I change the tag to Research Conclusion and enter my proof.  I keep this tag.  Research Record not Found will continue be used when, for example, I cannot find them in the census after going through the pages the old fashioned way.  That way I do not go looking for it again.

This system has really worked for me.  What system to you use to keep track of work in progress but suspended, or conclusions reached?

Happy Hunting!


what I have done since the last post:  Progress!  I have written 2500 words on the Jens T. Dahle lineage.  I decided the footnote process was getting in the way of a smooth narrative.  So I am writing, based on the information I have.  I will then go back and add footnotes or change what I have written to align with the information I have.  I also got a great book “Civil War Nurse: The Diary and Letters of Hannah Ropes”.  this woman was a true ground breaker in the hospitals of the Civil War and died for her endeavors in 1863.  This might form a backbone of my class project.  I’ll keep you informed.

Can I accept help from others?

Based on my reading and the content of several videos by the experts, even the hiring of a professional genealogist is allowed as long as you are doing the interpretation of the information.  (remember the ESM graphic where she describes how our SOURCES supply us with INFORMATION which we interpret (or not) as EVIDENCE.)  So our genealogical “angels” may access sources that we can not and provide us with information, but we have to interpret that information to determine if it is credible evidence.  Does it support or disprove our argument (using this term as an academic would)?

A case in point:  Working on “my” Jens T. Dahle family, I was trying to push the family back another generation to his wife’s grandparents.  I find the Norwegian search engine challenging, mainly because I do not know Norwegian!  The rootsweb listserve experts helped me understand the “sogn” or parish and what “fylke” it was in so I could find the information.  They were kind enough to even test some of the features and came up with what they thought (and they were careful to say that) was “my” guy I was looking for.  A reasonably exhaustive search was conducted to find other Oles that might fulfill the criteria.  Only two survived that test….two Ole Nielson/Nilsons christened on the same day.  So which of the two  was it?  It was a case of whether the indirect evidence was enough to draw a reasonable conclusion.  The “seal the deal” fact was that the mother of Ole #1 was named Randi Oldsdotter Sem.  Sem being a farm name which carried forward for two generations in this lineage with just a slight variation in spelling.

When I started working on my first major paper, the case study, I struggled with what was indirect evidence and what to write about.  I see now that almost all of our conclusions are based on indirect evidence, because we weren’t there when the event occurred.  I could write the case study on the above example, but I picked a more difficult example that used the historical naming patterns to narrow the choices.  This example would have been more straightforward.

So it’s been a good day (and the Huskies won big over Colorado!).

Happy hunting!


What I worked on since the last post:  improving my skills with the Norwegian records (this will also help me with my own family as I have a brick wall on my Norwegian line.) and completing the four generation pedigree chart for the Client Report (just a few blanks to fill in and I will have Esther’s great grandparents.  Woo hoo!  Note:  the quilt fabric arrived and my client says it is even prettier than she had thought.  She won’t get to it until after the holidays.)

What constitutes “proof”?

Good morning!

I have been working this question for a couple of days as I try to obtain information about Jens T. Dahle (b. 1839, d. 1919) in Norway.  Jens, according to the 1900 census was born March 1839 in Norway and emigrated in 1858, ending up in MN.  But where in Norway?  I found his wife very quickly.  He remained elusive.  I could not find him in the Castle Gardens passenger manifests, so I am taking an enumerator’s “word” for the birth month and year and his year of immigration.  I did look at for others that might have posted information about Dahle and found that Jim Larson had posted information that placed him in Leikanger parish (on a deep fjord on the west coast of Norway).  Jim had given a source for the birth but there was no comment about how he knew it was “his” Jens.

Genealogy proof often relies on indirect evidence….the accumulation of consistent evidence from a wide range of sources which makes it difficult to believe that there would be someone else with that set of same facts.  Such was the case for Jens.

In Norway, people had a patronymic name but also had a farm name… “Jens” was a given name, “Dahle” is a farm name and probably the “T.” represented a patronymic name or that of his father.  Jim L. reported that the patronymic name was “Torkelson” for his father, Torkel.  So now I needed to if there was a Jens, born in March of 1839 with a father of Torkel in the Leikanger parish records.  Sure enough, a Jens was born 25 March 1839 in Leikanger parish, the same date that the Findagrave website recorded.  Now, the question was, “Did Jens Torkelson emigrate in 1858?”  Sure enough, Jens Torkelson emigrated from the parish to North America in April of 1858 with a small group of others.

Is that enough?

It would be great if I could state that I found Jens Torkelson in the passenger manifests but to date I haven’t been able to find him.  Perhaps I will if I keep looking, especially since I suspect he traveled with the others.  I might be able to find the others and find that the record/search engine transcription is grossly misspelled, not an uncommon event.

So, do I think that this is enough “proof” even if I cannot find the immigration record?  What we have:

  • an consistency on birth date, day, month and year
  • an consistency on emigration year, which is early for emigration from this area
  • a consistency of name with traditional naming practices
  • what we do not have: Jens did not name his children using the traditional Norwegian naming pattern for given names (i.e. first male child named after father’s father, etc.)

My conclusion is that Jim Larson got it right because the number of Jens T.’s that would emigrate from Norway at 19 years of age in 1858 would be relatively small.

I suspect that more information will reveal itself over time and will either confirm or deny this conclusion.  It will be important that I outline this in the report to the client so she is aware that there is a chance, ever decreasing that I found the wrong one.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  worked on the research of Jens T. Dahle in the US and finding him in the Norwegian Digitalarkivet, an on line data base of digital images of original parish records of Norway (and it’s free!).  It’s fun to do the research after writing papers about what I have found for the past couple of weeks.

Looking at your work dispassionately….

Well, I took my own advice and dispassionately looked at my outline and discovered that there were two things that would make the paper stronger: 1/) change the focus from Grietje my great grandmother to Eda, her sister and 2.) reconfigure the outline to align the information more tightly.  I ended up with an outline that looked like this:

I.  Introduction

Hypothesis #1: Eda Mittjus/Muniga are the same person

II. Eda Mittjus/Muniga

i. background

ii. analysis

iii. conclusion

III. Eda (nee Wienenga) Eckhoff

(same 3 subcategories)

Summary of evidence and conclusion based on hypothesis

Hypothesis #2: Eda Mittjus/Muniga/Eckhoff is the sister of Grietje (nee Wienenga) Bode

IV. Grietje (nee Wienenga) Bode

(same 3 subcategories)

Summary of evidence and conclusion based on hypothesis

Coda: next steps that provides direct evidence to the conclusions.

This outline is much tighter.  I found I needed some additional information but I now have a working draft.

Happy hunting!


what I have done since the last post:  rewritten the case study (for the third time!)  Whew!