My Family,  Research,  Salem Witch Project

10 generations, 1 Witch, 1 Month: Can It Be Done?

The Salem Witch Project has officially begun!  For this first installment, let’s take a look at how to tackle such a gigantic project.

Humorous chart showing goals, what I know, and what I don't know.

10 generations, 1 Witch, 1 Month.  Is this even possible?  Admittedly, after my first week, I’m a little nervous!

Where to Begin?

The Sound of Music offers many important life lessons, but one of the most useful in genealogy to “start at the very beginning–it’s a very good place start.”  In this case, it means starting with a research plan.

The Research Plan(s)

Because this is a beast of a project, there will be a high level project plan that is broken out into a number of smaller research plans.  We need these smaller plans because the end goal of “proving Samuel Wardwell is my ancestor” isn’t specific enough to get started on the research.  To say nothing of being completely overwhelming! 

This will be a generation by generation project: I’ll be climbing the tree one branch at a time!  In this case, we have a total of 10 (assumed) generations, based on my existing information.  I’m Generation 0 (and Gen X, but that is a different thing 😉), my mom is Generation 1, and Samuel is Generation 10 for the sake of this project. Each generation will get at least one smaller research plan, depending on how much info I need to find.


First Things First

The “assumed” part of the previous paragraph is key.  Unfortunately, most of my information beyond generations 3-4 is not well documented in my records.  These gaps will form the basis of the smaller research plans. 

But how do I know where the gaps are?  I constructed a handy spreadsheet to help me keep track of what I already have–again we start at the beginning.  This shows me the gaps that I need to fill and gives me an idea of how much work I have.  This process includes an analysis of how solid the research is so far.  This is also where I started feeling a little overwhelmed…

Image of current spreadsheet.  Columns described in text.
Yep, that’s a lot of research…

For the curious, the current columns are: 

    • Wardwell Descendant
    • Proof of Relationship to Parent
    • Birth Date
    • Birth Location
    • Birth Proof
    • Birth Notes
    • Death Date
    • Death Location
    • Death Proof
    • Death Notes
    • Spouse Birth Date
    • Spouse Birth Location
    • Spouse Birth Proof
    • Spouse Birth Notes
    • Spouse Death Date
    • Spouse Death Location
    • Spouse Death Proof
    • Spouse Death Notes
    • Marriage Date
    • Marriage Location
    • Marriage Proof
    • Marriage Notes

Not a small spreadsheet but it will hopefully help keep me on track! And of course, all “” entries must be proven, just like the blanks.

Right now, I’m tracking citations on a separate tab in the same spreadsheet because the Master Sheet is already very wide.  But this is one of those decisions that feels like it could change by the end of the project. 

Just The Facts

Each fact (date, location, and proof) will be color-coded so I can also quickly glance and see how well supported each one is:

Image of fact/source color code.  Description in text.
Just like a traffic light

For the color-challenged: green is Confirmed with (Direct) Documentation, yellow/amber is Using Inferred Evidence, and Red is Insufficient Evidence.  Red means basically I’m outright guessing or using very shaky sources. Any important red items would mean I can’t reasonably continue until they are resolved.  What’s not important?  In this case, some of the death records may be ok to leave red as long as the birth and parentage information is solid enough.  “May” being the operative word. 😐

I’m also writing a research report (in Word) as I go along that will help me collect my findings and hopefully be the bulk of the application (if Samuel is my ancestor).  Lastly, I’m keeping track of the master project in Evernote.  Yes, that is three project documents, plus the actual research!  It sounds like a lot, but each serves its purpose.  Remember, to each their own as long as you are following the basic principles of solid research

What’s Next? 

Research, research, and then more research.  I’m also working on a few articles about the Salem Witch Trials.  It is October, after all. 😄 👻

While you wait for the next update, here’s “Do-Re-Mi.”  I know it’s been in my head since I mentioned it! 

Now that you are done singing along, what was your biggest research project to date? Let me know below!

A note on my comfort level with family information:  As you may have noticed, I only share family names of (sometimes grandparents but) usually great-grandparents) and above, even though all generations above me are deceased.  While privacy in the 21st century is an illusion, I am still more comfortable with keeping those closest generations private.  It also seems intrusive or rude, since they can’t have a say in how their information is shared.  For me, this doesn’t apply to those long dead, but those who died in or near my own lifetime still feel close enough to be under my protection, if you will.  Thank you for your understanding! 

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Image Credits: All images ©Michelle Keel, 2021. Header and chart graphics created with

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