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“Research Procedures: Preparing for Research,” by Harold Henderson

“Where do I start?” is a question often asked by inexperienced and more experienced genealogists alike. The problem is that starting off on the wrong foot can often result in time wasted or require re-visiting sources already consulted.

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“Research Procedures,” Chapter Fourteen of Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards, by Harold Henderson, CG, provides sound, straightforward advice for how to proceed in your research project. The following excerpt, “Preparing for Research,” in fact, consists of Mr. Henderson’s take on “Where do I start?”

“ . . . Once upon a time, researchers had to interrupt normal life in order to travel to the records. Now, serious research–up to a point–can be conducted from our desktop, irrespective of distance, access hours, or holiday closures. One constant still remains: Information gained “in the moment” needs to be preserved for future use. This involves numerous imperatives that overlap in many ways-particularly the need for structured work routines, for study and processing “as we go,” and for thorough citation, analysis  notetaking, and imaging.


Most genealogists work too fast–whether they are feeling the pressure of a client’s time limits or doing personal research. Skilled professionals know when to slow down and how to make haste slowly.

Chapter 13[of PROGEN PPS] has emphasized the importance of developing a research plan. When we launch our research, we methodically follow our plan–until and unless a discovery requires the plan to be revised. We study one source at a time, unless there is a specific need to compare, say, one year’s tax list against another. When we must use multiple sources or files concurrently, we take care not to commingle their materials.

As we begin our examination of each source, we first identify and analyze the source and the type of information it provides. We review any prefatory material, introduction, afterword, or other descriptions. Then we thoroughly read the record, evaluating and analyzing the content. Often one source will suggest others to consult. If so, we add those options to our planned list-either at the end or as the next step, depending upon the urgency of what we uncovered. If our experience dictates a change to the plan, then we revise the plan and note the reasoning for the revision.


The foundation for each block of research we conduct–regardless of whether we work online, onsite, or both–should  be the research report we began when we analyzed the research problem and developed our re search plan . There, we recorded the client’s specific objective and the basic biographical details for the person or persons on whom we are working, along with other background needed to conduct the research. That data now helps to ensure that our research stays on track and that no essential elements are overlooked. The research plan that we outlined in the preparation stage of the report will be our item -by item guide (or log) to the materials we will systematically examine.

Broadly conceived, our list of sources to be consulted is a flexible tool that can be worked in increments–important because our research time on any given topic is often interrupted. As we pursue each item, we will

    • make certain that we have a full identification of the source–before we begin to use it;
    • note any problems or anomalies that the source presents-as with poor legibility, missing pages in a book, or missing volumes in a series; and
    • note whether the source produced positive or negative results.

When sources yield a positive result–material whose information provides direct, indirect, or negative evidence-we will typically do the following:

    • thoroughly read the record to ensure that we understand  its content and ramifications;
    • thoroughly abstract or transcribe the record;
    • add on-the-spot reflections–analytical comments, correlations with information already known, or conjectures to pursue that might otherwise be forgotten; and
    • (possibly) image the record if it is critical to the  problem and if the facilities offer that option  . . . .”

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