Many of you began your family history journey in 2020 when you had extra time during the COVID-19 quarantine. While you might not be celebrating Oshogatsu with your loved ones this year (at least not in person), it might be the perfect time to connect with those “other” family members, your ancestors.

As you move forward with your genealogy, or even if you are just getting started, think about your next steps. A thorough, well thought out plan is the hallmark of good genealogical research.

The best research plan begins with what you know:

• Summarize your work so far

• Review the documents, ephemera and family heirlooms with a fresh perspective

• Think about what it is you want to learn

The next step is to set some goals. It’s easy to have a broad goal: to learn everything about the family, to write a book, to identify all of the ancestors. However, you will be most successful if you develop some targeted research questions, such as:

• Who were the parents of (fill in the name)?

• Where was Ojichan incarcerated?

• Who were Obachan’s parents?

• Who was Auntie’s first husband?

• In the case of an adoption, who were the biological parents?

Make a list of resources you want to examine in order to answer the research questions. Start with a simple list of what to look for, and grow that list as you discover more information about your family. Your job is to evaluate the evidence and develop sound conclusions. A targeted list of resources or tasks might include:

• Searching the census for the parents of your person of interest

• Ordering birth and death certificates from the county where the person lived

• Examining maps to identify the residence or neighborhood

Sometimes you might not know where else to look in order to answer the research questions. There are lots of free educational resources online to help expand your knowledge. has an extensive selection of free tutorials available through the “wiki.” Consider taking a genealogy class. provides a calendar of genealogy events on a variety of topics. Or, schedule a consultation with a genealogist.

Once you are ready to implement the research plan, keep track of your work through a research log. A log can be as simple or complex as you want. It can be a notebook, a spreadsheet, a word document or table, or even your genealogy software. At the very least, it should include:

• The name of the document or item

• The day you searched or evaluated it

• Whether or not you made a copy

• What you did (or did not) discover

Once you begin your research, you will quickly realize that you have more data than you can possibly remember. The research log will help you to:

• Keep organized

• Correlate data

• Identify conflicts in information

• Identify additional research needs

• Avoid duplicating your efforts

It’s really easy to go down a rabbit hole, find a document, and forget to log it; weeks or months later, you start researching again and realize that you already found that document but didn’t record it. Think of your research log as an organizational tool which will save you time in the long run. If you include a summary about each document, your family history practically writes itself.

As you celebrate the new year, set those genealogy goals. There is no better time to get started than now and there is no better way to honor your ancestors than by giving them a voice through your research.

Happy 2021!

Linda Harms Okazaki is a professional genealogist who is past president of the California Genealogical Society. She specializes in Japanese American records. If you have a genealogical question which might be answered in this column, send an e-mail to The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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