As I blogged in my New Year's Resolutions, I have wanted to keep better track of my online research and search results. When using online databases, it's so easy to lose track of exactly what you searched for, especially when refining your searches to adjust for name spellings, locations, ages, etc.
I created an Online Research Form to help me document my research a little more carefully and efficiently (hopefully, no more repeating searches with the same parameters). A sample of what I have done is shown below, and you can also view a full-size version of it here (use the magnifying class icon above the image to zoom in).
The purpose of this particular search is to find my 3rd-great-grandmother, Cornelia McCLELLAND on the 1860 U.S. Federal Census. This woman has been extremely troublesome to find in many records. I believe the main reason for this is that she was illiterate - she signed her name with an "X" on all the paperwork in the Widow's Applications for the pensions of her two Civil War veteran husbands. She may simply have had very little schooling, and by not being able to write down dates, had nothing to rely on except her memory. Every record in which she (or a relative) states her birthdate or her children's birthdates seems to never coincide with any of the others. The most consistent records indicate she was born in late 1856 or in 1857, in St. Clair, St. Clair Co., Michigan. I finally discovered her parents' names on one of her marriage records (she was married three times): Levi McCLELLAN and Clarissa CLEVELAND.
Some of the many spelling possibilities I've come up with for this family's surname are: McCLELLAN, McCLELLAND, McCLELAN, McCLELAND, McLELLAN, McLELLAND, McLELAN, and McLELAND. Now change the "Mc" to "Mac" and you have eight more spellings! Another possibility is "M'." I could also remove the "M'/Mc/Mac" altogether. I could change the letter "a" to any other vowel, including "y," and still get the same pronunciation. The "e" could also be changed to another vowel.
In addition, CLEVELAND could be spelled with or without the final "D," with a variety of vowels in the last syllable, and a variety of spellings (CLEAVE- CLEEV-, CLEFE-, etc.) in the first syllable.
Levi can be a mis-transcription of Lewis; Clarissa could be Clara, Clare, or Clair, not to mention Rissa, or LaRissa. Cornelia could be Cordelia, Corrie, Connie, Nell(ie), Delia, or mis-transcribed as a male, Cornelius.
Soundex searches can be extremely valuable, but wouldn't work in differentiating between McCLELLAN and CLELLAN. I'd have to search both. You can see for all these variations, I definitely need to keep track of what I am searching for! By listing every search I make for this family, I can make sure I've covered all the bases. I can also double-check previous searches when I get a brainstorm for a new spelling or nickname...or an idea of a different location they may have resided in.
If you would like a copy of this Online Research Form, drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will send it to you in a Word Document. It is set up in landscape view, and you may need to adjust your printer margins for it to print properly. I hope to eventually make this available online using Google Documents or Adobe, but I haven't figured out how to do that yet!