When I first started researching my family tree, I did not see the importance of using a research log. At the time I thought of it as an added/wasted step, resulting in less time spent actually researching. After all, I know the information that I am looking for, & don’t need a piece of paper reminding me, Right? I am not ashamed to admit I was wrong, dead wrong.
What a Research Plan Can Do for You
A research log is not just for logging your sources or the information you found. It is actually a research plan. You cannot get from here to there without a plan. If you want to move forward in your research make a plan.
Planning helps you:
Keep track of what you have already found, and/or looked at, avoiding re-researching records you have already searched
See the areas that you are lacking in, or have not searched at all.
Helps you stay focused on the question at hand, limiting distractions.
Organize the research you have already done, allowing you to see what information you are missing.
Help you stay focused on the question at hand. Avoiding getting derailed & give you a sense of accomplishment when you complete your goal.
Easier to evaluate the evidence, and draw better conclusions.
- Lays the foundation for conducting reasonably sound research.
Step 1: Where do you want to go next?
Review the information you already have. In order to get to where you want, you need to know where you are at.
- Read everything, don’t just skim it. I can not tell you how many times I have not truly read the document, thinking I had all the information there was to glean from it but missed other bits of information.
- Get to know about any unknown places, people, events, and terms that are mentioned.
- Evaluate the source of the information and determine if it needs further documentation.
What information are you missing? Pick one question to answer at a time. Make it specific.
Step 2: Plan Your research:
There is no right or wrong log for you to use but it does need to be one that you will use. Some prefer the paper “hard” copy. Others use electronic means.
Regardless of the type of log you use, it should include spaces to document the following for each source:
- Research objective / goal
- Date of Search – I wait to record the date until I am doing the research. This way if I get called away from it, I know what I have completed, and won’t be wasting time trying to figure it out later.
- Location / Call record of items to research – including websites, libraries, anywhere that you think the information may be Write it as if you were naming a source in a research paper, and include any contact information for a physical location
- Description of the source, including title, author, and date. Is it an original or derivative; primary or secondary; direct or indirect?
- Comments / notes / findings such as names & years searched. Including the keyword you used in search engines etc. Record enough information that you could find the document easily if you would need to at a later date.
Step 3: Work the Plan:
Fill in the information in your research log as you work. You may find that after working on a plan that you need to go back to the drawing board and create another plan. Maybe the information did not answer your question. Perhaps it led you to more questions.
Even if you find information that you do not believe is your family, record it anyway. You never know what you may find later, and wish you could remember where that tidbit is.
Some Available Research Logs to Get You Started:
Also available: Research Analysis Table
One of my favorites – Excel Family Group Sheet, with notes for a research log