Family Historian does not come with an in-built mechanism for planning (or tracking) research. The Research Planner is a collection of components that support one approach to filling that gap. (There are other approaches you may wish to consider, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, documented at the FHUG wiki page for creating work-in-progress or research to-do lists).
To plan and track your research effectively, a very few simple things are needed:
- The ability to create and track a Task identifying a single item of Research (this approach is not appropriate if you want a single to-do Fact per individual, but is designed to make managing multiple Research Tasks per Individual easier)
- The ability to associate one or more Tasks with an Individual and/or each other to construct a Research Plan
- And of course, the ability to view, edit, query and report on Tasks.
The Research Planner provides a custom Family Historian Task Fact to create Tasks, and supplements this with a Plugin for quickly creating multiple Tasks for an Individual, and with an optional set of Queries and Reports. All the elements can be used as provided, or customised to match your own way of working. Details of installing the components are here.
The Task Fact
The Research Planner depends on an Individual Task fact :
- It must be an Attribute, so that it possesses a Value which is used as the Task Title, a very brief description of what the task is intended to achieve (e.g. Locate Birth Registration, Find Burial, Search 1871 census). This Title will appear in the Facts tab, Query Results, and Reports – anywhere a Task fact is shown.
- It must have a Note, which you will use to record the progress and outcome of the Task.
Everything else is optional, but you may find some or all of these options useful:
- Specifying a more detailed Objective
- Linking a Task to Sources (and their Repositories), Media Items, and/or shared Notes.
You can create the Task fact manually, as long as it meets the minimum requirements for the Planner, but the plugin will offer to install its own Research Planner Fact Set if the Task fact doesn't exist, which may be simplest if you're not confident creating custom fact types. (You can always customise it later).
The Task fact included in the Research Planner Fact Set is described here.
Status and Priority
Every Task has a natural life cycle, moving (for example) from 'Planned' to 'In Progress' to 'Complete'. It may also detour via 'Pending' while you are waiting for something to happen before you can make more progress – for example, the arrival of a document you've ordered, or a trip to an archive location. If you're really unlucky, it will move from Completed to In Progress, when some new evidence comes in from left field to turn your conclusion upside down.
If you want to track the status of a Task, you should include the following line somewhere within the Note (for convenience, at or near the top):
It is up to you what values you use for Status.
You may decide that some Tasks are more important (or urgent) than others.
If you want to record a priority for a task, you should include the following line somewhere within the Note (for convenience, at or near the top):
It is up to you what values you use for Priority.
Displaying Status and/or Priority
If you use the Research Planner Fact Set, Status and/or Priority will be displayed in Fact Sentences and Fact Templates alongside the Task Title, wherever the Title is displayed (in the Facts tab, and Queries and Reports).
Objective and Note
Sometimes, a brief Task Title is insufficient to record what the Task is intended to achieve, or perhaps you want to add more detail – for example, you may want to constrain the possible range of birth dates that you intend to search. If you want to provide more detail about what the Task is intended to achieve, you should include the following within the Task Note:
Objective: Single multiline paragraph.
If you want to provide more paragraphs, go ahead, but the default Queries associated with the Research Planner won't display them without modification.
This (in addition to the Task Title) is the only element you cannot do without. At every point in the lifetime of a Task, you will want to record progress information, including the final outcome of your search.
The Notes section of the default Task fact lets you record (in freeform, as many paragraphs as you need) the detail of this progress, for example:
- "Ordered certificate X – not the right one– try again."
- "Searched database X on date Y – nothing found",
- "Eureka – found her birth in the XX parish records"
- "Failure – she does not appear to have been baptised in Parish A or Parish B".
The important thing is to record enough detail to avoid repeating work and/or to record why you're reached a particular conclusion.
Displaying Objective and/or Notes
If you use the Research Planner Queries, the first paragraph of any Objective will be displayed in the query results.
Links to Sources, Repositories, Media and Shared Notes
It isn't necessary to link Tasks to other records within Family Historian, but there are ways of working and circumstances in which you may find it useful.
- If you link a Task to a Source (using the Facts tab), then you can query all Tasks linked to that Source. Perhaps you only have intermittent access to a source – when you visit a library, when the online provider gives free access for a particular period, when you only subscribe for access for a limited time. If you don't want to miss the opportunity to do a piece of research linked to a specific Source, link the Task to the Source and use the query 'Task - Active by Source' to identify the work you need to do. The query only looks at the first Source linked to the Task.
- Linking a Task to a Source also helps you identify the Sources you intend to search (or have searched) as part of the Task. If a new (relevant) Source becomes available, you can add it to the Task, update the Note so say that you haven't searched it yet (and if necessary change the Task status).
- If you link Sources to Repositories as part of your routine method of working, and have linked some Facts to Sources (via the Facts tab) you can use the query'Task - Active by Repository' to identify the work you need to do at a physical Repository (say, Worcester Archives) or when you have access to a particular website (say, Ancestry). Again, the query only looks at the first Source linked to the Task.
- Do you use spreadsheets or other documents to record activity and/or progress on a Task? You can link a Task via a Media record to that file, to access it quickly from the task.
- The standard Task Note will usually be sufficient to record the progress and outcome of a Task. However, you can link a Task (via the Add Note option for the Fact on the All tab of the Properties box) to a new or existing Shared Note. You could use this to create additional Notes about the Task or for more complex research planning.
The Research Planner Task Definition
If you choose to install the Research Planner Task Set, the Task fact definition will look like this:
Note: the Sentence Template and Override Templates are identical, and are designed to display the Task Title, and (if specified) the Status and Priority of a Task wherever the Task is shown.
The Auto-Create (default) note in full is:
Status: Planned|In progress|Pending|Complete
You can customise this to reflect your chosen ordering within the Facts tab, Status and Priority system, or if you decide not to use any of the default elements.
What is Research Planning?
Family History research is not rocket science – any genealogy researcher knows that. However, the process of:
- Assessing what you already know about an individual
- Determining what else you want to discover about them
- Formulating a plan to discover new evidence
- Executing that plan
- Using any evidence found to update what you know
can be surprisingly error-prone – you forget to search a particular source; you do it twice, and don't make a note of your exact search terms so you can't be sure if you need to do it yet again; or you order the same birth certificate twice because you didn't make a note when you ordered it the first time; or you forget how to do that weird search you did 10 years ago for another individual, and for the life of you, you can't remember what website you used…
The Research Planner tries to make it easier to record what you intend to do, and how each search turned out, to avoid the common pitfalls as far as you can; and to make notes about searches you have done in case you ever need to do something similar.
What does a Plan consist of?
A plan consists of one or more Tasks, which can be as simple or as complex as you like.
- Single Task: "Locate the birth registration of of Fred Bodgit somewhere in Lincolnshire between 1870 and 1880"
- Multiple Tasks: "Mary Ann Harper was 18 when she married in 1883. She gave her father as James Harper (deceased) and subsequent census records suggest that she was born between 1860 and 1870 in Dudley. There are no birth registrations at gro.gov.uk that match those known facts. Task 1: Review other civil registration sources for Dudley to determine if there might be gaps in the GRO record. Task 2: Extend the search to adjacent registration districts."
How you create those tasks is up to you, but the Research Planner supports a few options.
Creating and Updating a Task
Even if you don't use the Research Planner plugin, you can add Tasks (using standard Family Historian facilities) via the Fast Add menu or Add Fact > More Fact Types > Task) with the minimum contents of the Task Title and Note.
As for any Fact, if you want to update it, navigate to the Facts tab for a individual and then to the relevant Fact (by default these are at the bottom of the Facts tab, but you can move them to the top.
Once you've navigated to the Task, you can update it as required.
There is often a set of searches that you will carry out for any individual – Birth, Baptism, Marriage, Death, Burial, Censuses, Children etc (and perhaps some go-to resources where you'll carry out those searches).
And sometimes there are searches you carry out very rarely, and you want to record the details of how you would do it if you ever had to do it again. (Deaths in Ohio – I've done it once, and don't want to forget all the ins-and-outs, even if I never use them again – until I find another ancestor who emigrated to Ohio in his dotage).
Task Templates provide a mechanism for planning multiple searches for an individual in a single operation (or a single Unusual search) and optionally reminding yourself about the resources you can use.
Defining a Template
There are two tabs within the Research Planner plugin:
- Manage task templates (described immediately below)
- Make Tasks
A Task Template defines a search in as much or as little detail as you wish. For a minimal approach, you need to specify:
- A Template name, which will be used when selecting Tasks to be created by the plugin; and when selecting Templates to (e.g. Copy or Delete).
- A Task Title, which defaults to the Template name.
Everything else is optional, but you can choose to specify:
- an initial Status and Priority
- an outline Objective, with a reminder for how you might constrain the search
- Notes about the resources you usually search
- a default Source
The plugin provides the ability to create New templates, select a Template for editing, and Copy, Rename and Delete templates to make maintaining a library of searches simple.
Creating a Simple Plan for an Individual
- Select an Individual. When the Plugin starts, the current individual in your Family Historian file (if any) is selected for your convenience, but you can change this
- Select one or more Task Templates from the available list.
- Click Make Tasks.
The Tasks will be created and the plugin will exit; the created Tasks will be available in Family Historian for you to modify/use as you wish.
Adding an Unusual Search
If you discover you need to carry out a 'specialised' search for an individual, you can create it manually or (if you've recorded the detail of a similar search in the Research Planner, use the Make Tasks option to select and create the single task type that is relevant.
More Complex Planning
Sometimes, a research problem involves more than one individual:
- Margaret Jones (1865-18913) was born at Fron Oleu, Llanfaglan, Caernarfonshire in December 1865. Her mother was Margaret Jones, but her birth certificate has no father's name, so she was almost certainly illegitimate. Can I identify her father?
Almost certainly, resolving this question will involve Tasks defined for two individuals: who were Margaret Jones (the mother's) Friends Associates and Neighbours? and is there anything in various records for Margaret Jones (the daughter) that might identify her father?
You can create a set of Tasks for each Individual, but you really want to view all the related Tasks (across individuals) to assess progress.
One option is to create a shared note within Family Historian, and then link that Note to all the relevant Tasks.
Family Historian doesn't make this easy but these (slightly complicated) steps should work.
1. For the first Task:
- Create a Task Fact for one of the Individuals concerned (the contents and way you create it are irrelevant).
- Navigate to that individual and open their Property Box
- Open the All tab; you will see the Task you created in that list – select it.
- Right click and select Add Note.
- You'll be offered a number of choices; choose Add Link to New Note Record. The Note will be created, but it will show up with no content.
- Edit it (still in the All Tab) to have as a minimum a custom ID (brief description of the objective) and some Note content. You can add more now or later( via the Notes Record Window). Don't forget to mark the text private if you don't want it to show up unexpectedly in reports etc.
2. For every other related Task, create it and then navigate to it in the Property Box > All Tab for the Individual
- Right click and select Add Note
- You'll be offered a number of choices; choose Add Link to Existing Note Record and choose the Shared Note you've created for this purpose.
3. When you want to assess or record progress, you have two options:
- Use the optional query Tasks- Linked to Shared Notes.
- navigate to the Notes Record Window and use the Where Used Records Link plugin (available from the Plugin Store) to locate the linked Tasks.
A Possible Future Plugin Enhancement
It may be possible to enhance the plugin to make it easier to create these Shared Notes and linking a selected set of Tasks linked to selected Individuals.
Queries and Reports
You can, if you wish, download any or all of a set of Queries and Reports to display your Tasks according to various criteria. All these queries can be customised, as the plugin does not depend on them.
This query displays all tasks within your data file, sorted by Individual and Task Title. Columns are included for Priority, Status, Objective (one paragraph), and (a single) Source.
This query displays all tasks within your data file that aren't marked Complete or Pending, sorted by Individual and Task Title. Columns are included for Priority, Status, Objective (one paragraph), and (a single) Source.
This query displays all tasks within your data file that are marked Pending (waiting for somebody else to take some action), sorted by Individual and then Task Title. Columns are included for Priority, Status, Objective (one paragraph), and (a single) Source.
Tasks- Active by Source
This query displays all tasks within your data file that are linked to the Source you specify as a parameter, sorted by Individual and then Task Title. Columns are included for Priority, Status, Objective (one paragraph), and (a single) Source. You might find this useful if you only have intermittent access to a particular source and want to make sure you don't forget to do a search when you do have access.
Tasks- Active by Repository
This query displays all tasks within your data file that are linked (via a Source) to the Repository you specify as a parameter, sorted by Individual and then Task Title. Columns are included for Priority, Status, Objective (one paragraph), and (a single) Source. You might find this useful if you're planning a visit to an Archive location.
Tasks- Linked to Shared Note
This query displays all tasks within your data file that are linked to a Shared Note you specify as a parameter, sorted by Individual and then Task Title. Columns are included for Priority, Status, Objective (one paragraph), and (a single) Source. You might find this useful if you're managing More Complex Plans.
Tasks - Individual
This query displays all individuals with one or more Tasks defined. It does not pay any attention to the contents of the Tasks, and only displays the individuals who have one or more tasks. It may be most useful in conjunction with the report Tasks- Individual.
As Family Historian does not support Task-based reporting, if you want printed output of tasks for any purpose, your options are:
- To save the output of a query to an external format (txt, xls, PDF etc.) and then manipulate it outside Family Historian.
- To use the custom report Tasks- Individual You can use this in conjunction with the Tasks- Individuals Query, or by selecting individuals by any other method, to report on all the Tasks (of every status) for the selected individuals.
A Word of Caution on Existing Reports
You will probably want to customise existing reports to exclude the Task attribute (unless you actively want to show work in progress and completed searches). And if you are using Shared Notes to manage More Complex Plans, remember to include mark the contents of the note Private if you won't want it to show up in unexpected places.
The Research Planner can currently be downloaded here but will eventually be made available from the Plugin store.
When you run the plugin for the first time, it will check for the existence of few essential prerequisites and prompt you to install them if you haven't already done so:
- Support for the "pl module": pl is a library module provided by Family Historian and used by many other plugins, so you may already have it installed.
- A custom fact called 'Task'.
The first time the plugin runs (and the first time after any new version is installed), it will check for the existence of its Help file and download the latest version automatically from the FHUG wiki if necessary. If for any reason, the Help File can't be downloaded, the plugin will continue to work (but without the most-up-to-date Help file); you have the option of downloading the Help file from this page.
The Task fact
If the Task fact does not already exist, the plugin will offer three options:
- Allow the plugin to download and install a Research Planner Fact Set. (The plugin will close after installing the Fact Set to allow you to restart Family Historian, so making the Fact Set available for use.)
- Close the plugin and download and install the Fact Set yourself from Research Planner Fact Set
- Close the plugin and create the Task fact manually (see The Research Planner Task Definition for a suggested definition).
You can also edit the plugin to use a different Attribute if you already use one to track your research.
Optional Queries and Reports
Customising the Approach
For some people, the Research Planner will suit their method of working 'out-of-the-box'; however, others will want to adapt it to their preferred way of doing things. There are a number of options varying in complexity to let you change things around.
Changing where Tasks appear in the Facts tab
The Research Planner Task Fact positions the Tasks 'Post-Death', so they show up at the bottom of the Facts tab. If you prefer, edit the fact definition to change the Normal Time-frame to 'Pre-birth' and they will show up at the top of the Facts tab.
Omitting Components of a Task
If you don't want to use one of more of Priority, Status and Objective:
- Edit the Task Fact Auto-Create note and Sentence Templates to remove the references to the fields you don't want to use.
- Edit any Queries you plan to use to remove the unwanted fields.
- When using the Research Planner to define a Task Template leave the fields you don't want to use blank.
Using Different Values for Status or Priority
You can choose your own Status values and/or Priority Scheme, if Planned |In Progress |Pending |Complete or 1 |2 |3 don't suit.
- Edit the Task Fact Auto-Create note to include the values you want to use (if you want an aide-memoire created at all).
- Edit any Queries you plan to use to filter on the values that are relevant (or create your own Queries based on the examples).
- When using the Research Planner to define a Task Template use the values of your choice.
Numeric priorities (1 |2 |3) allow Tasks to be sorted in Priority order in queries. As does: Absolutely Vital|Quite Interesting|Something to look at when I have time
Defining a Different Set of Fields to Track a Task
If you have your own set of fields that you already use to track progress on a Task, you have two options.
Edit the Task Fact Auto-Create note and Sentence Templates to remove the references to the fields you don't want to use and replace them with the fields of your choice; remember to adjust Queries accordingly. Ignore the fields you don't want to use within the Task Template and create your own labelled text in the Note field of your templates.
Modifying the Plugin
If you're confident doing some basic editing of a plugin, you can do the following:
Edit the Task Fact Auto-Create note and Sentence Templates to remove the references to the fields you don't want to use and replace them with the fields of your choice; remember to adjust Queries accordingly. Search for the following lines within the Plugin:
gcstrlabStatus = "Status: "
gcstrlabPriority = "Priority: "
gcstrlabObjective = "Objective: "
gcstrlabNotes = "Notes: "
and edit the strings to have the field names you want to use. I recommend you keep the fields that replace 'Status' and 'Priority' to a single line each (for ease of data entry).
Then save the Plugin and run it – the tab for making Templates, and any Tasks made after the change, will reflect your chosen labels.
Don't forget to edit your queries.
Using a Different Attribute
If you have an Attribute that you already use to track research progress, you can still use it with the plugin, if you're confident doing some very basic editing of a plugin.
- Edit the Task Fact Auto-Create note and Sentence Templates to remove the references to the fields you don't want to use and replace them with the fields of your choice; remember to adjust Queries accordingly.
- Unordered List ItemSearch for the following with the Plugin:
gcstrTaskFactText = "Task"and edit the string to have the Attribute name you want to use.
Then save the Plugin and run it – any Tasks made using Templates after the change will use your chosen Attribute.
If your approach uses a single Research (To-Do) Attribute per Individual, this may not be very useful; you can define your Attribute to have an Auto-Create note that is in effect your Template, so the Plugin may not add anything to your way of working.
The Fact Set
This will eventually be available in the Plugin Store.
The Help File
Optional Queries and Report
(As described here)