Why create a Research Plan? What does it look like? Would taking the time to create a Research Plan really help my research? In my experience – it’s a tremendous help!

A Research Plan is a place to organize your thoughts and to keep track of research that you have already done or hope to do in the future. It becomes my “brain” when I haven’t been able to research a certain ancestor in a significant length of time. What was I working on? Where have I looked and what did I find? What was I hoping to look at next?

My Research Plan is different from a Research Log. Go ahead and Google “Genealogy Research Log” and you’ll see what I mean. To me, the forms seems difficult to read. I need a form that works with the way that I think. What is my question, where have a looked? What did I find there? What do I still need to look for? I only have a short amount of time…what’s in the plan that I can work on quickly?

For me, the beauty of a Research Plan is being able to think about what I want to search BEFORE I actually start searching. I spend time every week surfing online for information on my ancestors, but it’s pretty rare that I get to spend a significant amount of time at the library. I know that there are things available at the library that aren’t available to me at home – including websites that the library pays for that I can use while I’m there. It’s wonderful to have a place that I can keep track of questions as they come up while I’m researching at home. It’s wonderful to have a place to keep track of which books or databases I want to look at when I DO get a chance to go to the library. And going to the library is usually a last minute, “Hey! I’ve got a free afternoon, so I’m heading to the library” kind of thing, so it’s wonderful to have a plan with book titles and call numbers that’s waiting for me so that I can jump right in as soon as I get there.

This is what one of my Research Plans looks like.


Click  here to download the file if you’d like to experiment with it as you read.

I use Excel for my Research Plan, but I don’t have the grid lines turned on for printing. That makes it look a little more like a Word doc. I use Excel instead of Word because I can have a tab for each Ancestor within the same surname group. So if I’m researching John Smith and I come across a hint for his son, George, then I can easily click over to his Plan and enter that new hint along with any questions it raises or ideas of where else I might need to look. I don’t have to stop my train of thought for my research on John, I can just enter the info in George’s form and then go back to what I was doing for John.

I use the top part of my Plan to keep track of Vital Statistics information so I don’t have to stop and look it up. Then there’s a “timeline” of counties lived in based on census records, but I can add additional information below to give some specific dates.

The Research Plan we be great for the “Genealogy Snacks” I’ll be writing about. It’s prefect to use it in short periods of free time. I keep it in my Google Drive so I can access it from anywhere, including on my iPad. I can spend time just coming up with questions. Or I can spend time making a list of resources that I want to check out when I have more time. These sources might be books that I found on my local library’s web site or they might be microfilms that are now available on the FamilySearch web site. I can even include reminders to go back and check FamilySearch if the film I want isn’t available yet. If I don’t have time to go and look for a specific record online, I can at least try to find a link to add which will take me to the record source later when I have more time.

I also love knowing that I can hide lines within the document. When I’m ready to work on a specific question, I can un-hide those lines only. This helps me to think about just 1 question at a time. Here’s how this file looks with the lines below each question hidden.


Notice the FAN list at the bottom. I can include whatever type of information that I want in the Plan. Want to have a list of links to each census record for this ancestor? Include that! Want to include a list of children and in-laws? Include that!

So let’s go over a few quick things if you aren’t familiar with Excel.

To add color to a cell (such as in the timeline at the top):


  • Click inside of the cell to highlight it.
  • From the “Home” tab, either use the color samples in the Styles section or click on the paint bucket and select a color from the drop down menu.

To hide a line (or lines):


  • Click on the number on the left side of the desired line. If you want to hide multiple lines, click on the top number and drag your cursor down to the last line you want to hide. This will highlight everything that will be hidden – in this example, I’ll hide lines 52 – 58.
  • Right click and select “Hide” from the menu.

To unhide the lines:


  • Click on the line numbers above  and below the lines you wish to reveal. In this example, I’ve clicked on line 51 and dragged my cursor to line 59.
  • Right click and  select “Unhide” from the menu.

Did you also know that you can Hide and Unhide tabs? I’m not sure why you’d want to, but it’s nice to know that you could! Just right click on a tab and use the menu that pops up. Hiding a tab is easy, but if you want to unhide it, right click on any tab and click “Unhide”. A list of all hidden tabs will pop up and you can select the tab you want to reveal from the list.

To insert a weblink:

Insert Link

  • Find the web page and copy the address at the top of the screen.
  • Click in the cell you want to add a link to. (You add links to cells, not to text.)
  • In the Insert tab at the top of the screen, click on “Link” and then paste the web address that you copied.

If you think this might help you with your research, feel free to download the file here!