Friday, October 6, 2017

Have I Been Here Before? How Research Logs Keep You From Going in Circles

by Heather Murphy

With shaking leaves and record hints showing up in many websites it is easy to hop from link to link looking for more records.  How often do you take a couple extra minutes to note the record collections you search so you don't find yourself looking at the same thing a few months later?  Research logs aren't one of the "fun" parts of research, but if you spend a small amount of time creating them you can save yourself time in the future.

Research logs don't need to be anything fancy.  They can be handwritten, in a spreadsheet, a word document, or part of your genealogy software program.  The main elements they should contain are the date you looked at the record, the name of the record, where you accessed the record, who you looked for, and what information you found, including negative results.

PDF file
The FamilySearch Wiki has a page for Genealogy Research Forms.  The forms are organized by the
provider and then subcategories.  The first section is by FamilySearch and after scrolling down a little there is a Research Log in .pdf format (that has type-able fields) and an Electronic Research Log in .doc format.  Down further on the page there are a few additional options for research logs from other providers, such as Ancestry or Family Tree Magazine, most of which are documents that can be printed and filled in by hand.

DOC file

As much of your research is probably done on the computer, having an electronic research log can reduce the amount of time you spend notating.  Simply copy and paste the identifying information from the website into the corresponding field in the log.  Another benefit of using an electronic log is the ability to use a search feature.  If you want to know if you have checked a particular source it is easy to have the program search for a particular word or phrase without needing to scan through all your entries.

Remember to include sources that did not have the information you needed, considered negative results.  Also make entries for record collections you considered checking, but decided they would not provide the needed information.  For example,  I want a death record in 1898 in Bartholomew county, Indiana.  When I look at Ancestry's Indiana sources I see "Indiana Deaths, 1882-1920."  However, by looking at the description of this database I see that it only "includes sixty-seven of the ninety-two counties," and does not include Bartholomew county.  I would make a note of that in my research log.

Sometimes the anticipation of finding what you are looking for leads you to move as fast as you can from source to source.  Try slowing down a little bit to make a record of where you have been and what you have done and it will pay off in the long run.

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