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Use this important tool to help organize and track your research work. Research logs document where you search, and what has or has NOT been found.
Research log definition. A research log is comprehensive list of sources you already searched, or plan to search including the purpose of each search (what you want to find), a summary of significant findings and where your copies are, notations showing sources searched where you found nothing, and plenty of comments about your search strategies, suggestions, questions, analysis, and discrepancies.
Value of Research Logs
Good research logs help you:
- Cite your sources. This shows quality research.
- Sort out what has and has not been found.
- Organize and correlate copies of documents.
- Weigh evidence to make better conclusions, and better lineage links.
- Show your search strategies and questions.
- Reduce unwanted duplication of effort.
Research logs show negative evidence (what you do not find). NO other tool does this nearly as well. And logs save time by helping avoid repetitive searches after a research pause. Logs can become a table of contents to documents in your file. Research logs serve as a foundation on which the next generation of researchers can build. Use research logs to help in EVERY step of the research process.
Research logs vary in form and content. The following elements work well for most researchers.
- Ancestor's name and years: husband being researched, for example, William FRAZIER 1826-1881.
- Researcher's name: your name.
- Date of search: for example, 8 May 2001; Records you plan to search without a date until searched.
- Place of research: use full mailing address, telephone/fax number, e-mail address, or Internet URL.
- Purpose (objective) of search: event and person being sought (use symbols), for example, * Robert (Event symbols for objectives and results: *=birth ∞=marriage †=death)
- Call number: library or archive call number, for example, FHL book 977.162 D3d
- Source Description: author, title, where the original is (that is a publisher or repository), date, and page.
- Document Number: a number you make up to show where will you file your copy of the source.
- Results: a summary of the persons and events found.
What to Fill-in BEFORE a Search
It is important to partially fill-in a research log before you view a source:
- Place of research
- Purpose - write the person-event you seek for each seach so you will later know whether you need to search the same source again for a different person or event.
- Call Number (if any)
- Source - write source descriptions in footnote format (see the Chicago Manual of Style1)
Why complete these before a search. Avoid the temptation to skip writing anything at all if the search results are negative. If you finish writing these items before the search, and if your ancestor is not mentioned in the source, it is easier to write nil than it would be to fill in all the data afterward.
Source description information is easier to find in the catalog than in the source itself. Also, it helps other researchers to use the descriptive information the way it is found in the catalog at the repository where you found the source.
Comments on your strategies, questions, discrepancies, and analysis. Research logs are also a good place to write your stratgies and explain why you are searching certain sources. Explain what you want to find, why, and how you hope to find it. Also write questions about the family, or mention conflicting data. When a chain of sources are needed to reach a conclusion, use the research log to write an analysis explaining your findings.
What to Complete AFTER a Search
After you view a source, complete the remainder of the entry on the research log by filling-in the following:
1. Document number (a number you create) makes your log a table of contents to your copies.
- If the search results are negative, leave the document number field blank.
- If positive, use husband’s name/years (file name), plus the next unused number. For example, if you had already found and logged seven sources for the the family of William Frazier, the next would be numbered like this:
William FRAZIER 1826-1881 8
2. Results of the search (postive or negative).
- List event and person found. Use the same event symbols as you would for the Purpose column.
- Do not list dates. This forces you to look at document copies.
- If search results are negative, use “nil” or Ø (as opposed to blank).
- Blank results means you have not yet done a search in that source.
Importance of documenting as you go. In order to stay organized it is crucial to complete all paper work before starting another search. By keeping your research log and family group record up-to-date you have better access to the sources, and clues for finding more sources. Good documentation makes it easier to compare and contrast sources. This makes it easier to judge source reliability. It also increases the chances your conclusions will be informed and reasonable.
Failure to document as you go by completing a research log (and family group record) will result in confusion. The confusion may cause you to overlook important sources and come to wrong conclusions.
Use one set of research logs for each family’s file folder; NOT one huge log for all families.
Design your own modified research log with features you will use.
If you use a computer to log research, print a paper copy of your log at the end of each day.
Spill over the allotted space as needed.
Write lots of notes to yourself explaining your strategies, analysis, conclusions, questions suggestions, and discrepancies.
Keep everything on one set of research logs per family; do NOT keep separate correspondence logs.
a. Keep a copy of all letters.
b. Assign a document number to both the inquiry letter and the reply letter.
Make paper printouts of all electronic sources, including written notes of telephone interviews.
Individual in two families. Each ancestor on your pedigree was in at least two families, once as a child, and once as a parent:
- Events before marriage go on the father’s research log (and research file).
- Events starting with marriage go on the husband’s research log (and research file).
Documents with two or more families:
- Pick the most predominant family on the document.
- Put the document copy in that family’s file.
- Compose your document number based on that family.
- Write your document number on the back of the copy, AND . . .
- Log such a source on all applicable logs. Some logs will list another family’s numbers.
1. G. David Dilts, “Citing Sources Using the Chicago Manual of Style,” Genealogical Journal 24: 4 (1996), 149-53. See also Elizabeth Show Mills, Evidence Explained (Balitmore: Genealogical Publishing, 2007).