Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
A methodology is an approach to research that embodies a set of principles, practices, and procedures used to collect and evaluate information. A methodology implies a designed and structured approach, aimed at utilizing the most effective methods to address a particular research question, guiding the research and limiting biases that could influence outcome. A systematic and structured approach saves time and money, retains focus, and prevents duplication of effort.
Although no one researcher will employ the exact same methodology, most genealogy researchers subscribe to a set of principles that tend to govern their basic research methodology. First, begin with a clear objective of limited scope. Second, start with the known and work toward the unknown. Third, begin with home and family sources, interviewing family members, etc. Fourth, work from the most recent events, back in time to earlier events. Fifth, repeat the process — the method is recursive, meaning, the same method is applied to each research question or problem. Also, when a problem or "brick wall" is encountered, researchers will go back to the first principles and start over, to see what might have been missed. One of the most important principles in genealogy research is documenting sources and documenting them in such a way that others, using those notes can find the same source. The research methodology brings integrity to the research, as others can follow the same path and end up with the same results.