Preparing for a Research Trip – Research Logs

A vital piece to a serious genealogist’s research, whether you travel far or stick to online and local sources, is a research log. There are several great templates online you can locate through Google searches. There are some available at Ancestry and Family Search. A research log helps you avoid duplicating work and can be a great assistant when it comes to write source citations.

There are several ways to create a research log. Here are a few ideas:

  • tables
  • spreadsheets
  • word processing document
  • paper forms – Although I try to be as paperless as possible, sometimes paper is your best option. I always enter the data eventually into my spreadsheet so that I can use “find” and “search” functions to locate specific items.

Within the document you might want to have several columns to keep track of the following (or create your own):

  • date
  • repository
  • who (specifically or the surname) you are hoping to find
  • record sets (call numbers or other identifiers to make it easy to locate)
  • an open column for making notes
  • a cell for recording the proper source citation (this can be used to later cut and paste into your articles, software, onto digital documents, and so forth, cutting down on some tedious work in the future)

Below is a terribly small example of what I’m describing:

2013-09-26 10.33.01 am

You want to be sure to include enough information in this log to at least know where you’ve looked. This log is something you can add to every time you do more research, simply add a new date.

Your log can be as extensive or as simple as you want. If you use a spreadsheet, it can be as wide as you’d like, no paper size limitations! Spreadsheets also have the advantage of having “sheets” within the same document. [If you are using Excel, there are tabs for sheets at the bottom toward the left. If you are using Mac Pages, they are in the navigator on the left side of the screen.] You can have one document for each surname and then within, each sheet can be for a different repository where you’ve researched for that surname. Or you can create a system of your own. The important thing is that you create one, use it, add to it and check back before you do more research so you don’t duplicate what you’ve already done.

I mentioned before that I had ordered the same obituary 3 times. I have now put it in my research log, documenting that the lady (with the same name as my ancestor) is not mine. Giant bold letters now say “DO NOT ORDER THIS DOCUMENT AGAIN!!!” But the trick for me is to consult my log before I do it! I tend to think I’ll remember, but obviously, three obituaries later, I have some memory issues.

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