The beginning of your research will be deciding on a goal. What is it you want to learn from your genealogical research? It is very important that your goal be specific. Whether you actually want to make it a SMART goal, or just add a few parameters to it is up to you.
For example, rather than a goal of “I want to learn everything I can about my family tree”, you should set something more specific such as “I want to determine the date this great uncle passed away”. The reason for such clear goal is it keeps you from wandering off track as you conduct your research. It is so easy to get sidetracked when doing research. Your goal will keep this first and foremost in mind.
It’s perfectly OK to have long range goals, however, you need to break them up into achievable steps. Once you have the goal ask yourself questions about the goal so that you can begin to gather Go specific pieces of information for one person. Each goal may have multiple objectives/questions.
Once this step is complete you will want to list the records that you want to search to answer that question. This gets easier with experience. We recommend setting up a swipe file for this purpose. Your swipe file will be a file that contains all of the records that are possible to search. Cut and paste this into a new file and eliminate the records that will not give you the information you are seeking. While this approach takes a bit of time and effort, it will save you a lot of time in the long run. This keeps you from looking in areas that will not yield results and will waste your time.
While we’re at it, another timesaving step is to look at compiled records before you search for the original. Indexes are not the final place to search but they also help to speed up finding the originals. Check indexed records first and then you will know where to look for the original record. Then go and get that record.
Where is all of this information kept? In a research log. We have provided a couple of links to research log templates below. Use the one that makes sense to you, but be sure to use a research log. Your future self will be glad to know the places you have already looked for information.