Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday's Tip: Staying On Track with a Research Log

You know you've done it.

Spent an hour browsing through unindexed images on FamilySearch, found the images of your ancestor's probate record, downloaded all 27 pages of it, and...realized you'd already downloaded them last year.

Or you ordered a death certificate of that ancestor's sibling, hoping it will reveal the names of their parents. Spent over $35.00. Waited two weeks. The certificate finally arrives with little information in it. Sighing, you go to file it and..,yep. You've already got that certificate, although you can't remember ever ordering it.

I'm guilty. You're guilty. We're all guilty.

In fact, I almost committed the genea-crime of re-researching the other night, while hoping to find more information to fill in my blog posts in my "Where is Lura Buried?" series. Fortunately, I remembered my research log for the PECK family, opened it, and prevented about 20 minutes of searching for what would have been a negative result. Whew! Saved by the research log!


If you're not using a research log, you are wasting time. You are wasting money. You are wasting energy. Your genealogy research is inefficient at best and ineffective at worst.

Now the good news is, there are many ways to keep a research log, and most of them are free.

You can keep a simple log in a notebook. There are free research log forms available online for you to print up; just go to Cyndi's List and find links to a number of them. Some people prefer using electronic notebooks, such as Evernote or OneNote. Most genealogical software, including my preferred one, RootsMagic, have research logs built in as well. My preference is using a spreadsheet, and Thomas MacEntee has a great one here.

My own research log is available as a free download. I've made a copy of this and placed it in every surname research folder on my hard drive. Within each surname research log, I create a sheet for each individual in that family I'm researching by using the same steps outlined in my post about timelines.

Remember last week when I said there are times when you might not use a research plan?

Those times are when you set out to explore a collection, online or offline, to discover what it might hold for a number of ancestors. For instance, you might realize that Ancestry has released a new database for a county where people from five of your family lines once lived. 

This is where the research log especially is handy.

You can open those logs for each of the surnames, copy and paste the date, website, and collection name into each one, and start your searching, keeping notes every time you change a search term or get a result (positive or negative). And prevent the genea-crime of re-researching!

I hope this information is useful, and I appreciate your feedback.

Next week, we'll talk about research reports.

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