How to Create a Genealogy Research Plan: A 5-Step Example

By Lisa A. Alzo Premium

Get your genealogy research on track by using this model to create your own plan. Here, genealogist Lisa A. Alzo uses this method to trace the birth, marriage and death records of her paternal great-grandfather Mihaly Fenscak in five steps.

1. Establish genealogy research objective.

My objective was to find the birth, marriage and death dates for my great-grandfather.

2. List known ancestor facts.

I looked in home and family sources and wrote some notes I made during my search. I was able to determine the following from a family narrative naming Mihaly Fenscak and his wife, Illa. Other clues included:

  • Ancestral village listed as Posa, Slovakia.
  • Also mentioned time spent in Liverpool, England, and Freeland, Pa.
  • Mihaly was a widower with two children, Anna and John, when he married Illa.
  • His children with Illa were: Mary, born in Liverpool; Anna, born in Freeland; Elizabeth and Mihaly (Mike) Fenchak, both born in Slovakia.
  • Mihaly died first and Illa remarried a man named Zelenak-no date listed but story notes that she died before World War I because her daughter who was already in America returned to Slovakia to care for her mother and was unable to return to America because of the war.

From this narrative I was able to pinpoint some information to research:

  • Surnames and variations: Fenscak/Fencak/Fenchak/Finch; Alzo; Bavolar; Ceyba; Ragan; Zelenak.
  • First names and variations (Hungarian/Slovak/English): Mihaly /Michael/Mike; Illa/Ilona/Helen; Erzebet/Elizabeth; Jan/Janos/Jan; Mary; Anna.

3. Form a working hypothesis.

Here’s the hypothesis I came up with, outlining Mihlay Fenscak’s life:

Mihaly Fenscak was born in Posa, Slovakia, married there and had two children. His first wife died and then he married Illa. Their first child was born in Liverpool, England, and then they arrived in America. While in Freeland, Pa., their daughter Anna was born, and then they eventually returned to Slovakia where their final two children, Elizabeth and Michael were born. Mihaly and Illa both died in Slovakia. Their three daughters eventually settled in America, and their son in Argentina. Mihaly’s children from first wife: John settled in America; Anna stayed in Slovakia and married.

4. Identify sources.

Once I established my hypothesis, I listed records and other sources I felt would be useful based on what I learned in step 2:

  • Family narrative (original source)
  • 1910, 1920 and 1930 US Census records for Elizabeth Fenchak Alzo, Mary Fenchak Ceyba, Anna Fenchak Bavolar and John Fenchak
  • Death certificates for Elizabeth Fenchak Alzo and her sisters Anna, Mary and her brother, John
  • Ellis Island database for Port of New York passenger lists
  • Other passenger lists for other ports as needed
  • Port of departure lists (emigration) for Hamburg and Bremen, Germany (as available)
  • Cemetery tombstones in Duquesne, Pa.
  • Marriage records for Elizabeth and siblings in the United States
  • Naturalization papers/declaration of intent for Elizabeth, Anna, Mary, John
  • Search Social Security Death Index for all children of Mihaly Fenchak who settled in America. Write for SS-5 Applications.
  • Family History Library (FHL) microfilm of births, marriages and deaths in Posa, Slovakia, and 1869 Hungarian census returns for Zemplen County, Hungary

5. Implement research strategies.

Now that I had a list of records and other sources I wished to access, I came up with research strategies for each one:

  • Check online US Census records (1910, 1920, 1930) for children of Mihaly and Illa Fenchak.
  • Confirm naturalizations and confirm place of birth (1920, 1930 census); locate certificates and declarations of intent either in Pennsylvania or at the federal level using Freedom of Information Act request form.
  • Search the online Ellis Island database, the Castle Garden database and the US Immigration Collection for Anna, Mary, John and Elizabeth; also for Mihaly and Illa Fenchak.
  • Search Social Security Death Index for all children of Mihaly Fenchak who settled in America; If so, request SS-5 Applications from the Social Security Administration.
  • Check cemeteries in Duquesne, Pa., for tombstones and write for death records for Anna Bavolar, Mary Ceyba and John Fenchak.
  • Contact or visit appropriate courthouses in Allegheny County, Pa., for marriage records.
  • Find birth records for Anna (Pennsylvania), Mary (Liverpool, England) and Elizabeth, Michael and John (Slovakia).
  • Search the FHL catalog for records available for Posa, Slovakia to view online or at a Family History Center. Relevant records include church records for Posa (microfilm film numbers: 1793237, 1793238 and 1793239) and the 1869 Hungarian Census for Zemplen county film number 722769. Search films for all listings of the name “Fenscak.”

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A version of this article appeared in the January 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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