Research logs

I’ve had trouble keeping journals my entire life. Why would that get any easier as a genealogist?  It doesn’t.  As a result, the standard advice of keeping a research log often goes in one of my ears and out the other, especially when the suggestion is to record every website search I’ve done on a subject.  Every single one? I would be spending more time recording than I would spend searching.

When I do a broad internet search, like Caroline Pointer describes on her post “How Do You Record Where You’ve Searched?” I get swept along rivers of tangents, new resources and anything else that suggests I might get an idea where to find what I’m looking for.  Yes, I’ve got my favorite starting points, go-to websites, and techniques to get to something useful as quickly as possible.  But at its core, I let the Internet search develop organically.

When doing internet research, I’m not terribly worried about looking at something twice because I often see something different, try a different search string, or tap into something that wasn’t available the last time around…such is the beauty of the Internet. Digitized sources are being added all the time. So what I didn’t find last time may be found next time.

Things are different when I have a tough nut to crack, a brick wall to break down, or am trying to do something specific for a client that hasn’t been solved online.  In these instances, I create a research plan for the offline resources I need to check. It’s a spreadsheet I’ve developed on past projects, and saved as a template.  I’ll include microfilm info, reference numbers, names, dates and any other notes about what I’m looking to find.

When I get to the Family History Library or whichever repository I can find those resources, I have a go to list of what to look for, even if I haven’t worked on the problem in a few months. As long as I have wi-fi, I only need to record the date in the spreadsheet, whether or not the search was successful (using the pre-formated “found it” column), and details about what I found or where the results led me. Voila! A research log is born.

As a client, do you prefer to get a list of all of the sources that were consulted even if unsuccessful? As a genealogist, do you keep up with a research log, even for Internet research?

2 thoughts on “Research logs

  1. Love the idea of a spreadsheet. I fail miserably at keeping research logs (ugh!) and it’s one of many areas in which I need to improve. What I’ve been doing for years as a compromise solution is to jot down my thoughts on where else I need to search. I use a typical school exercise book for this and I simply jot down where I want to look next or what I want to find for a specific ancestor. Then I leave a few lines blank to add a film title/number etc after I find out if such an item exists. My little book is handy to grab on excursions and I can just go through my jot notes one by one so it doesn’t matter if I haven’t worked on that person in several months. I’m thinking about how I might convert this to a spreadsheet now that I’ve read your post!

    1. The most important thing is having a system that works for you. If you notebook works for that, great. It might be hard to transfer everything over, but you could certainly try it a while and see if works for you.
      Thanks for commenting, Lorine!

Comments are closed.