2 – Research

Research, don’t you love it?

Mitchell Library, Sydney

Absolutely. What better way to pass a few hours, or days, than in the gorgeous surroundings of the Mitchell Library in Sydney. But how much is enough? How long should you spend researching before you begin writing? Should you begin writing before you finish researching?

The answer to the first question is there isn’t one. Research is never done. There is always more to find out. With the luxury – or ‘freedom’ – of no-deadline you could happily spend ten years or more and still be discovering new things. For six years I read nothing but Australian history, Australian novels, late 18th century English novels, novels written about the 18th century – it was pretty obsessive. Not all of it was directly productive but none of it was wasted.

The answer to the second question – Should you begin writing before you finish researching? – is yes. Firstly, if you don’t there’s the temptation to actually never get down to writing the book at all; secondly you don’t necessarily know what you need to know until you begin writing.

What about the nuts and bolts of family history research – births, marriages etc?

There are plenty of books and blogs about the basic research of BDMs (as they are called in Australia). The important thing is to check everything: never assume a newspaper announcement of anything, including a birth, marriage or death, is correct. You need to have access to primary sources, which means parish registers in the appropriate areas. The web is an excellent starting point but it is not an end point.  The Mormons for their own reasons have catalogued births around the world but a lot of it is inaccurate.


Oddly enough I only came upon this site recently. It is a mine of information, but it is not free (though you get two weeks’ free trial). You get to build your own family tree, and cite your references, and if anyone else has included the same people you can look at their trees and their references and, in some cases, contact them direct. Warning: the information on the site is only as accurate as the people who entered the information. So you need to check their sources


I never really cracked this one. Do you file something under subject-matter, specific event, time, place, people involved, or the book or source you got the information from? I don’t know if software will help with this because otherwise I can’t see any way not to repeat a lot of information in order to avoid having to hunt in different places. More on this as I learn more.

2 thoughts on “2 – Research

  1. My method for filing goes like this – Everyone has their own folder and everything associated with them goes into that. So in the case of a marriage or a photo of multiple people or electoral roll or newspaper articles or whatever, then each relavent person gets a copy into their folder. I’ve used this method for a number of years and works very well for me.

    1. Yes, that makes perfect sense. I don’t think there’s a way to avoid doubling up, or even tripling or quadrupling. Best to overdo and under!

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