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Research Plans and Source Documentation, Part Two

"Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop." Chapter XII, Alice's Evidence, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Document, Document, Document...

Genealogical research is akin to Scientific research. To avoid repeating searches after research gaps, you need to document the timeline of your research and your findings.

The Board for Certification of Genealogists, or BCG for short, defines documentation as “The sources supporting genealogical conclusions and proof, citations to those sources, the genealogist’s comments about them, and formatting showing the connections between the sources and specific statements and conclusions.” Readers are now thinking, I’m not a professional genealogist, and I am certainly not interested in being a certified genealogist; why does this matter? Regardless of whom we are collecting research for, family, friends, or clients, we owe it to future generations to give them the best information we have.

How do I document my research? Simple, with a basic Excel spreadsheet. In the past, I may have collected information on family group sheets or loads of legal pads. These days, I prefer to use multiple screens attached to my laptop so I can research, document, and write simultaneously. So imagine we are viewing a wide spreadsheet, looking left to right.

I’m providing the date I accessed the information, what type of document I am looking at, the date of the document, where I found the information, and the pertinent information in the record. I’ve also noted the age of Patrizio in the three records; he was somewhere between 46 and 59 years of age at the time of his death. This is a NEW research question for another day.

With a little more detail, of course, the font gets super tiny! This next column lets me explore those new research questions and annotate any new information that I come across in the document. This is supposed to help me (and you) from falling down that rabbit hole. So, I note those here and keep the research train on the tracks.

Lastly, I’m going to create a citation for my source. I recommend using the book or website Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills as a guide to writing citations that will last as long as your research. I refer to the name and spelling exactly as I found it. This is important if someone is fact-checking my research later on.

Don't forget to document those negative results as well. It is important to know where you've been so you don't go there again anticipating a new result. Unless of course, a website might be adding information to its database. I won't go into too much depth, but I do keep track of keywords, different spellings I searched for, and of course, the link to the website and when I last looked for the information.

Now, I am not a perfect researcher by any stretch of the imagination, so, while digging through this project, I fell down a classic rabbit hole.

While searching through, I found twelve articles about the sad case of Attorney Ernest Spagnoli and his one-week marriage to Muriel Ray that ended in him asking a judge for an annulment when she deserted him. This California couple (see how far we can go?) may have had the right idea, as one of the headlines read "Friendly Annulment," Spagnoli, Bride Laughed as They Filed Papers.

My initial search for my relative was negative; however, I expanded my search outside Ohio, completing a reasonably exhaustive search for evidence. This resulted in a wealth of information about someone else’s relatives. If this happens to you, note the basic information so you can go back to it when you are ready for a new research question.

I may never know where or when I found Patrizio's death date. And, yes, I had the correct information, so why does it matter? The real reason is also simple. Genealogical research builds upon itself. Good research and good source documentation lead to additional good research, while the same could be said of bad research, and no source documentation leads to more bad research.

Are you interested in having your genealogical research fact-checked? Book a Research Consultation to have me double-check your work today.

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