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I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.

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The "QuickSheet" for Your Toughest Problems

This is one of several reviews of Genealogical.com publications, you can find the list of available reviews, here.

One of the publications Genealogical.com sent me to review is one of my very favorites.

The Historical Biographer's Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle) is a "QuickSheet." A QuickSheet is one of those two-page laminated items. That means four pages of material laminated so you can grab it and review it quickly.

I love these because they really are a quick reference. This particular one is by Elizabeth Shown Mills, creator of the term "FAN Club" which means Family, Associates, and Neighbors. The generic term is "cluster research."

A FAN club is used particularly for difficult problems where you can't seem to find the answer.

It's a time-consuming process so we don't tend to go into all the details and steps unless they are needed. However, you want to retain information you can use for your FAN club as you research, even if you don't have a difficult problem. You don't know ahead of time that a problem will be difficult and going back and re-researching to capture the FAN club isn't really practical (and sometimes isn't possible). I've written more about what a FAN club is in this post (or start with this shorter intro). Today I want to review the QuickSheet.

I actually already owned this QuickSheet before Genealogical.com sent me a complimentary copy for review. It's one of my favorites. I use cluster research constantly. It's pretty much required for southern research so I'm very familiar with it. So why would I need a QuickSheet?

It is normal in genealogy research to get tunnel vision. It's one of the reasons it often feels like hiring a professional genealogist provides "magical" results. Sometimes there is a huge gap between your skills and the professionals but sometimes it's simply having a fresh set of eyes on the problem (hint, try and trade problems with another genealogist before springing for a professional. Even if you still need to hire professional help, you'll get better results after you see your problem from someone else's point of view).

That's exactly how I use this QuickSheet. I can tell you about FAN club research off the top of my head but if I need to use it for a really hard problem, I sometimes need someone else's explanation. Sometimes I've forgotten a way to use a FAN club. Sometimes I've gotten fixated on one thing and can't seem to think of the six other options. Sometimes I just need to be sure I've really thought of everything I can do right now and need to set this problem aside and work on something else.

A QuickSheet is perfect for such situations. You don't want to read an entire book or listen to an hour-long lecture (yet). You just want a quick review of cluster research.

If you aren't used to doing cluster research or dealing with really difficult research problems, this QuickSheet is a simple item to keep next to you as you research.

I love this particular QuickSheet because it's somewhat misnamed. It is all about cluster research but it also serves to help direct you through the research process, carefully.

So many people try to rush their research. Genealogy takes time. There's no getting around it.

Because it's so much easier to access records online, today, we think we can do so much more. When you had to visit a repository, and often had to travel there, you made sure you sucked every piece of information out of a record.

Today we often think we can come back to a record. How often do we? Many people don't keep track of the sources they looked at (with a research log or other type of research tracker) so they can't even find the same source again.

You also won't remember there was more information there unless you record it in the first place. In other words, you either get every piece of information the first time around or you won't know to use that source to find that information, anyway.

The QuickSheet covers the slow and careful process on page three. I often need this reminder. If nothing else, it's like taking a deep breath and slowing down. Just because I know this is what I should do, doesn't mean I don't get caught up in quickly finding new sources and trying to rush through the process.

Seeing it spelled out reminds me I have to slow down and I'm not saving anyone any money or time by rushing. I'm just missing important clues and creating inferior notes.

There are two other ways this QuickSheet can help.
  • It will also help you if you aren't sure you've proven your case. 
  • It can help you organize a single project.
How does it help you organize? Review a problem and walk through the phases of research with this QuickSheet. If you don't know if you've done all the phases, you know you need better notes, or a log, or to find your unfiled material. This highlights gaps in your process OR gaps in your organization (your inability to find what you've already done).

Basically, if you're feeling stuck, grab this QuickSheet and see what else you need to do. It isn't the only answer but it's a quick way to decide what to do next. Your next step might be more research or learning more.

Cluster research is key to many difficult to solve genealogical problems. It takes time to learn to do it effectively but this QuickSheet is a great reminder. It has hints about cluster research (how to use it for types of problems and types of records). It also has the research process illustrated as it will most likely happen for a difficult problem (vs. the quick explanation we use to summarize it).

BTW, if you're particularly interested in the research process aspects of this QuickSheet, also consider The Historical Biographer's Guide to the Research Process, another QuickSheet that focuses only on the research process. This is my other favorite QuickSheet.