My main professional development goal for 2017 is to improve my research report writing. Even though I graduated with a degree in Family History-Genealogy, and have been researching for 26 years, this is an area in which I am still weak, or at the very least inconsistent. I am determined to study, model and practice until this weakness becomes a habit and hopefully even a strength.
I have chosen for my study and model the research reports shared by a master genealogical report writer, Elizabeth Shown Mills. She has shared her work at Historic Pathways and the BCG website. I am also carefully studying chapter 18 in Professional Genealogy, written by Ms. Mills. Her work makes for an enlightening and informational study, one I am thoroughly enjoying. I have read several reports through many times; once absorbing the evidence analysis, another time noting the structure of the report, a third time noting the extra commentary, analysis, and notes in the footnotes area, maybe even a fourth reading to glean any additional details.
My practice project will be the Donohoo descendancy project that I am wrapping up this year. Undertaking this as my practice project does put things a little out of order, as I have already completed the bulk of research on this project. But, as I have attempted to bring the project to completion, I realize that something is missing, a roadblock that is keeping me from connecting all the evidence and completing my analysis. The missing thing is the research reports! Without these I am in a mess wading my way through all the details of this large project.
So, I will slow down enough to correct this mistake, and retroactively write the necessary and useful research reports. This is not to say that I haven’t written anything about my research. I have recorded my searches and written quite a lot, but not in one concise, footnoted, annotated grouping of a section of research. In the re-gathering of all these bits of notes about documents, I am picking back up on threads of evidence that coorelate with each other, but that I lost in the disjointed recording of them.
Each report is forcing my brain to articulate the threads it weaves around the bits of evidence automatically after so many years of research and write them into a coherent report that any person could pick up and follow the logic of my reasoning. I am also pleased with the “further research” list at the end of each report. Again, it is a one-stop place for all the other sources this batch of research leads to, instead of notes and questions written here and there in a database, after a transcription of a document, etc.
Confession time: The one required college class that focused specifically on research report writing wasn’t effective for me. My professor, a respected professional genealogist, taught one way and I learned another. The model reports that he gave us to learn from in the course did not flow or make sense to me. He did not enjoy my writing style, either, but I never received the type of feedback that helped me understand how to improve. So, we both just muddled through the semester and went our separate ways, and I managed to get a decent passing grade nevertheless. I didn’t “get” after that course the how and why of the professional genealogy research report.
However, in my study this time, I am finally having my epiphany about writing research reports. This isn’t EXTRA work. This is THE important record of genealogical research. This research report is where the clues from documents is coorelated and explained as evidence of the details of our ancestors’ lives. This is where all the threads of evidence reside together in a concise report that can be referenced again at any time to coorelate with new or additional evidence. This is actually going to cut down the work in my future research. I won’t have to re-address every search that I performed to pull back together all the bits I have already found. They will be easily accessible and reviewable. I don’t have to wonder how to cram all those extra bits of evidence into a genealogical program that is not formatted to accept them or use them in the way they need to be. All of those pieces will be safely recorded in the research report.
Here is a sample of one of my recently written research reports for the Donohoo project. I invite you to read it, examine it, comment on it, critique it.
Does the layout of the report flow well? Is it easy to follow along?
If you were a client and received this report, would you understand what I had researched? Did it address the objective? Would you understand the findings? Did I explain the indirect evidence in a clear and convincing way?