Sometimes it’s better to concentrate on Questions more than answers
I have no doubt that the title to this little bit of advice will seem a bit confusing to those who read it. But, nevertheless it’s true, or rather it has been true for my research. Perhaps the following explanation will help to unconfuse many or most of you.
I am engaged in a single name research project. Even though this gives me some advantages over those of you who are out to discover all branches of your family, there still is a great amount of names and places whirling around in my mind when it comes to sorting out just what approaches will produce the most results in my research. There will be many times when it seems that you have exhausted all the avenues of research and it appears that you are at a dead end.
No need to give up. You probably have the solution to continued research with happy results just sitting up there in your mind without realizing it.
How many times when you are in a situation such as driving, riding, waiting for many of the services that make you just sit and get lost in thought, that you come up with a question or approach to your research that you think will produce results? Sure, many times. What happens when you get back to your typewriter or computer ready to pursue that elusive ancestor with these new thoughts? Do you come up with a blank mind? And no amount of trying to remember what it was enables you to remember. It’s happened to me dozens or more times. As a matter of fact, I have no doubt there were times when these things occurred to me and I completely forgot that I even thought of them, whatever they were. Well, about 12 years ago, I had had it with this happening to me. I started to take a pen or pencil with me wherever I went and immediately wrote down that thought, to be sure I would not forget it. This expanded to include times when I was at home and engaged in everyday things.
Soon, I had a list of things to check out that was beginning to challenge the size of my already large stack of research I had already completed. I decided to take it a step further still. I made a list of the ancestors and ancestors siblings that I was researching and compartmentalized individual questions for each of them that had occurred to me.
This allowed me to start compiling a bibliography of record sources and books that might help me solve some of those questions I had written down.
An example. During my research for ancestors in Ireland in the late 1700’s, I found that my ancestor and their siblings (probably 5 in all) had all taken out leases on the land that they lived on during the same month in the same year. Now, at first I thought that evidently their mother had died (father had died 20 years previous) and left them all an inheritance that allowed them all to purchase the leases. What else could have caused them all to make these expensive moves at the same time?
While deep in thought about my research one day while I was out, it occurred to me that this could not be the case, or rather it was not a sufficient answer to rest with. I immediately wrote this question down and when I got home I dutifully wrote it down on a yellow legal tablet and put it aside. A year or two later I was reading a book on the practices of the large land owners in Northern Ireland in the latter part of the 1700’s. Believe me, I never would have made the connection without having that as a question that I had read and reread over innumerable times, when suddenly I read that the landlord of my ancestors following the practice of his peers revamped his leasing practices and withdrew all the leases of his tenants and reissued new ones in the same 1 or 2 month period that my ancestor and his siblings took out their leases.
Now I had written this down on a yellow legal pad. This was the period before I was on a computer. Of course, you and I now must put it into the computer. Now writing in down is not the end of it. You must print out these questions and read them from time to time to cement them in your consciousness, so that when the opportunity comes up you can connect the question with the answer. The answer is not always going to be direct, but, given the advantage of having the question in the front of your mind, then even the indirect answers can expose themselves as the answers you’ve been looking for.
Beside writing down the questions as they come to you, go over your research and write down all the questions that come to you as you read. Believe me, you’ll find more than you realize and without this exercise there will be many that won’t occur to you in the midst of research. Happy hunting.