You maybe asking yourself “What is a research log” There are several forms out there to use in your family tree. Have you ever found yourself retracing research, or looking at the same information twice? I have, several times. That’s when I decided I needed to get more organized. A research log fills the bill in this case.
As I’ve told you before, when I started my research journey, I didn’t start off knowing I would be digging into my family tree as deep as I have. Since I was not planning on getting as involved, I had no organization, and ended up spending time back tracking through records I had already researched.
Somewhere in the information I was researching would be a tiny piece of information that I felt had no bearing to what I was researching until a few months later, when something would correlate with the information I had seen before. Just one problem, I had no idea where I saw that first bit of information. At times, I wouldn’t find anything, and a few weeks later I found myself looking at the same record, because I did not realize I had already looked at it before.
How a research log can help
- Keep track of what you have already found & avoid repeating research you have already done
- Identify holes in you research & help plan your next step
- Document sources (which will improve quality of research)
- Sort the research you have already done, and will help you realize what is needed
- Weigh the evidence & draw better conclusions
- Helps you stay focused, working on one query at a time
Overall, if you make a habit of using a research log in your workflow, you will save time, and be able to source your information much easier. A research log, (or sometimes called a calendar of searches or a research map) is where you will track your research.
There are many forms of the research log, paper vs digital; MS Office vs Evernote etc, Many of the genealogy software programs like RootsMagic come with a built-in research log. Or, of course, you can create your own. Many people also use a “to-do list”. I do not use this, but instead incorporate the concept into my research log.
What to include in a research log:
Whichever option you choose, you need to have 5 basic columns on your research log:
- Research objective / goal
- Date of Search
- 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 Source, including title, author, and date. What type of Source, is it an original or derivative; primary or secondary source; direct or indirect evidence?
- Comments / notes / findings (such as names & years searched, Keyword used in search engines etc. This is also where I will add my “to do” list. It is very common for me to see something that makes me think of another ancestor, or another record to check while researching, this is where I will add that information to look at later.
Many research logs also include the ancestors name at the top. I do use this time of form as well, but many times I am researching the history of a location instead of an ancestor individually. At these times, I will list the geographical location instead. Fill in the objective and as much of the record detail as possible before doing the research, (if the date or results columns are not completed, I know I have not yet completed it.)
Research Log Example:
Where to find a research log
There are several sources online for obtaining a research log, a few are listed below: