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September 11, 2012

Musings About Research Logs & Plans

Kim Cotton's article Research Logs on Walking Your Tree blog got me thinking about my own research habits.

Her  solution to keeping a standard research log is to create a spreadsheet of her research plans which she can access from any device once she is at a Library of Family History Centre.

Since she notates if her searches were successful or not, her spreadsheet becomes her research log

One of the areas I fail at is keeping a standard research log. I find it time-consuming, boring and so onerous a task that I simply can't bring myself to do it. But like Kim, I have over the years created an alternate solution similar to hers that works well for me. Without some kind of method of keeping track of my resources, I'd be checking the same sources more than once.

Inside page Research Log
My solution is to use school exercise books.  I have one for miscellaneous families and one each for my big research projects such as the Peer family, the McGinnis family and the Vollick family.  Those are huge undertakings as I am researching every child of the immigrant ancestor to the early 1900s. That's over 200 years of descendants.

In each book I record what I want to check next. So if I have found a record for an individual and that record indicates he (or she) was a naturalized citizen, I will immediately make a note in my book that I want to find the naturalization record of this individual. I add a note as to the years of interest and what county or state or province I need to focus on.

At some point I check various catalogues to find out if there are microfilms I can use to hunt for the naturalization record, or can I search online. I add this information to my research note. Basically I jot down everything I am going to need to know to hunt for the record I want. This becomes my research plan.

I keep adding notes as I find items that provide clues to further research. My exercise book soon fills with my research plans. The notes don't need to be in any particular order because when I am at a library or archive where I can conduct offline research I simply go through the notes one by one.

If I find something, I notate that the search was successful and put a line through my entry.  That simple line allows me to still read the entry and use it as my source citation if the search was successful (because I've already noted the exact microfilm number and repository or website or book information).

If I don't find anything I still put a line through the entry. The crossed out entries become my research log. I can easily see that I've already searched resource X for a record and was successful or did not find it.

I  try to group my "to-do" lists by family groups.  For example if a man states he naturalized in Michigan in the 1870s I will add his brother's names to his note. That way when I hunt in Michigan naturalization records I have all the names handy to check for everyone and I don't have to bring up my Family Tree.

Kim's blog post made me start thinking about the added benefit if I convert my exercise books to a spreadsheet. Why did I use exercise books in the first place? I started keeping them in the days before cloud storage and before smart phones or iPads. But maybe it's time to update my organizational method!

Using a spreadsheet would mean I can easily reorganize my notes. I could, for example, arrange the notes by specific ancestor or by microfilm or book title. That would allow me to be sure I search one resource for all individuals, or to search all my listed resources for one individual.

A spreadsheet would also allow me to sync it to any device so that I could bring it up on my iPhone or my iPad if I were travelling and wanted to limit what I have to carry with me. It also allows for more impulsive researching if I happen to stumble on a local museum or archive and only have my iPhone with me. I'd probably keep my spreadsheet on Google Drive as I prefer it for cloud storage of documents.


Anonymous said...

I found I failed miserably at keeping a research log until I found Legacy Family Tree has various note fields, as well as the "To do" function and the "Research Tips". Now my research log is embedded WITH my research.

Tessa said...

I do like online research logs but it is a continuing battle to get it all in there. Interesting post and would like to know how others do it!

JL said...

I don't use one (exactly) because I figure going back over the same territory might yield more results second or third time around.

But IF I was to get organized in this way, OneNote might work well. It's got main divisions: Notebooks, Sections and Pages, so plenty of ways of splitting by families, record types, etc and I think the latest version can be mobile.

I HAVE started to add things to Research Notes in Legacy though because I can use it to show all the research in chronological order and that's kind of handy.

Devon Lee said...

Wow... knowing people actually keep research logs shows how unprofessional I am. I do use the To Do items in RootsMagic and utilize GenSmarts to give me hints on where to search. I think has something similar as well. And then I have my blog to post when I have a successful find, and sometimes when one was a bust.

Now that I've listed what I use to trigger my searching, maybe I'm more an eclectic (or haphazard) research log keeper. I'll definitely have to consider taking this topic more seriously. Thank you for bringing it to my attention through this post.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Devon you aren't "unprofessional"! Researchers must always conduct research in whatever fashion suits them best.

You will probably find that you search through the same set of records many times (I've done it, I"m sure we've all done it) without a way of remembering if you already looked there but that's not the end of the world.


Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

JL - I keep hearing about OneNOte. I need to check that out! Thanks for mentioning it

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Tim - Thanks for mentioning Legacy's note fields. I don't use it, I use FTM and am reluctant to switch but maybe it's time to start investigating other Family Tree programs.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Tessa, I'd like to know how others manage this too.