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Respected author, genealogist, educator, and speaker Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG shared this content with APG. Credit for the content of this page is hers and hers alone. For more examples, visit Ms. Mills's websites Historic Pathways and Evidence Explained.

Essential Research Reports for Genealogists: 3 Samples
by Elizabeth Shown Mills

  1. Analysis & Research Plan
    Before new research is launched, we analyze the existing data for clues, patterns, contradictions, weaknesses, misassumptions, and errors. From that analysis, we prepare a research plan that defines (a) the resources to be explored, (b) the strategies to be applied, (c) the individuals who are to be included in that search, and (d) any special circumstances that will affect the project. The working document we create in this stage can be a record analysis or a problem analysis.

  2. Research Report
    Because genealogical research is an analytical process--not just a gathering of items that carry a certain name--each block of research should be documented by a detailed Research Report. The best time and place to prepare that report is while we are conducting that search, onsite or online.

    Using the Research Plan as a foundation for the Research Report, we identify (a) each source we examine, (b) any flaws or other considerations that affect the quality of that source, and (c) all findings, negative as well as positive. For each finding, our report should include (d) an abstract or transcript of the document, (e) relevant analyses about significant details, and (f) cross-references to any image copies that we make. Because any new discovery can require us to alter the course of our research, all new findings should be analyzed as they occur, rather than postponed until the completion of a set number of hours. When the block of research ends, the Research Report should be reviewed, overall analysis added, and a new Research Plan created--one based upon the new findings.

  3. (Individual) Research Notes
    The information we accumulate across time needs to be processed in a way that advances future research and analyses. For each individual, we should maintain a set of Research Notes. Each person's notes need to (a) record all searches made, positive or negative; (b) provide transcripts or abstracts of every relevant record, being careful to preserve all details from each document; (c) include our thoughts and observations, but clearly set them apart from the abstracts or transcripts so that details in the actual records will not be adulterated by our interpretations; and (d) present all findings in a chronological time frame. These Research Notes are easily compiled, and updated with each new segment of research, through cut-and-paste from the Research Report.

    The analytical value of each person's compiled Research Notes is immense. This format spotlights gaps in each life that need to be filled. It enables us to define patterns and conflicts between records and to identify associates who are frequently present in this individual's life. Unlike the genealogical narratives created by family-history software, the format of these Research Notes preserve a clear separation between the details that actually appear in each record and the assumptions we made about that record at the time we did our data entry.

How to Cite these Reports
Reference Note Format

Analysis & Research Plan:
          Elizabeth Shown Mills, "Samuel Witter, 17th U.S. Infantry, War of 1812 Enlistment Record: An Analysis," report to Witter Research Group, 15 December 2011, [specific page number]; posted at Association of Professional Genealogists ( : [date of access]).

Research Report:
          Elizabeth Shown Mills, "Samuel Witter (1787–1876) and the War of 1812," report to Witter Research Group, 15 January 2012, [specific page number]; posted at Association of Professional Genealogists ( : [date of access]).

Research Notes:
          Elizabeth Shown Mills, "Samuel Witter (1787–1876): Research Notes," updated 5 March 2012, [specific page number]; posted at Association of Professional Genealogists ( : [date of access]).

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