Research Like a Pro Week 5: Research Planning

Here is the latest instalment in my series about the Research Like a Pro process. I’m serving as a Peer Group Leader for this study group.

Our assignment this week was to plan our research phase, including:

  1. Summary of known facts based on our timeline
  2. Background information about the locality based on our locality guide
  3. Working hypothesis
  4. Identified sources
  5. Prioritized research strategy

During research planning, I discovered that I had not included everything I knew in the timeline phase. Since the James Stokers were often confused, I knew more about Edward Stoker, the father of a James Stoker, so I returned to my timeline and added information about Edward Stoker.

Writing up these sections forces the researcher to consider how they know what they know and what is needed to answer the research question. I’ve noticed that documenting middle name origins is particularly problematic. They seem to appear out of nowhere in authored sources. In a same-name project, they could be useful if records over time demonstrate consistent use. 

Writing a working hypothesis creates a tension between confirmation bias and keeping an open mind. It’s more likely that researchers do have a bias, so writing the hypothesis is one way to get it in the open. Since hypotheses are meant to be disproven, writing is the safest step for the researcher and a good reason to have peer review of finished products.

Prioritizing is valuable because it avoids the distractions that genealogical research so often inspires! I am not always certain of which sources will most efficiently answer my question and appreciate thinking that step through.

Research Like a Pro Week 4: Locality Research

A locality guide is an annotated list of records available for a particular region. It might be a state or a county. For this project, I chose to focus on Bourbon County, Kentucky, where my Stoker ancestor married in 1822 and where the other James Stokers also resided.

This part of the research process builds from the prior steps, particularly creating the timeline of known facts. Creating a locality guide guides the next phase (research planning) since record availability influences the research priorities. This phase of the process is a good reminder to research smarter and strategically. 

Locality guides are living documents, constantly being updated. A comprehensive locality guide is built over time, so I limited the time I spend on my locality guide to six hours. I also limited it to 1800-~1850 because that is the time period when the three James Stokers appear to have been simultaneously in Bourbon County. I also concentrated mostly on online sources.

I was grateful to discover there are tax books for all of the years I am interested in, wills are available online, and there may be newspapers available at the Kentucky Historical Society.  

I am using a GoogleDoc template provided through the course. I began using GoogleDocs a few years ago and also use GoogleSheets. I am growing to appreciate the formatting and accessibility of GoogleDocs.

Even though I am eager to start researching, the time spent on the locality guide will help me focus my research plan.