A Research Blueprint



25 January 2014

You’re a researcher—perhaps a research professional, a student, or a family historian—who regularly tackles a variety of subjects. How do you approach each new assignment or each new geographic area? Do you, as someone asked recently in an online forum, use a checklist of source types that you keep handy so you won’t forget to search for any critical type?

EE would suggest a different tack, one with a long track record of delivering the best results. Rather than a generic list of record types, we need a targeted resource list for that specific subject or geographic area. Numerous catalogs and guides exist online to help us, materials that are not buried behind the paywall of a commercial provider. For example:

  • The catalog of the Salt Lake City–based Family History Library, which houses microfilmed copies of original documents from around the world, is an ideal place to start building a geographic-based list.
  • The Library of Congress, WorldCat.org, and their counterparts in other nations—even Amazon.com and Google Books—offer catalogs to millions of books for subject-area, geographic, and biographical studies.
  • LOC also offers several essential catalogs to manuscript collections, including NUCMC (National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, which covers archives across America), as well as catalogs to its own vast manuscript holdings.
  • Newspaper archives, which can be found online at LOC and Google, have many of the same papers offered by commercial providers—and some those providers do not have.
  • The archives of USGenWeb.com and RootsWeb.com offer many localized records and record abstracts.
  • Cyndi’sList.com provides a vast catalog of links, arranged by subject and geographic areas.
  • National, state-level, and university archives are also putting their internal catalogs online for public use.
  • Other research guides focus on states, counties, and large metropolitan areas, pointing us to many resources not included in any of the above—including online guides such as those  provided by the Family History Library’s wiki at FamilySearch and the print- and e-book publications of the National Genealogical Society, the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and other regional and state-level counterparts.

Whatever project we work, we cannot consider our research to be "thorough" until we have done two things: (1) used these resources to build a research plan; and (2) actually studied the materials we gleaned from these catalogs and guides.

The best blueprint for research, of course, is a flexible document that can never be complete. As we proceed to study published works, their reference notes and bibliographies will expose us to new materials. The manuscripts we use will point us to other documents. New record collections, long in private hands, continue to surface. Obviously, our research can never be exhaustive. But our results will be far sounder if we start each project with a well-focused blueprint.


mhait's picture
I would also recommend

I would also recommend ArchiveGrid (http://beta.worldcat.org/archivegrid/), which is tied to WorldCat, but only searches manuscript collections and finding aids. I have found it to make locating these important records a bit easier than when searching WorldCat itself.

EE's picture
Thanks, Michael, for the

Thanks, Michael, for the addition. I definitely should have included it.


The Editor

yhoitink's picture
What a great suggestion. I

What a great suggestion. I has inspired me to start compiling a New Netherland research guide, with a range of sources that I use when working on New Netherland lines. I know it will be helpful for me to have all this infomration conveniently in one place and hope others will enjoy it too. I expect to publish it in the form of a blog post in the next month or so. That way, I can easily add new sources when I discover them. 

Yvette Hoitink, CGSM, the Netherlands
Dutch Genealogy Services

EE's picture
It's sorely needed, Yvette,

It's sorely needed, Yvette, and will be greatly valued by many.


The Editor