Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Search Log

Chapter 7 in The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy is about record keeping. Among other topics it discusses the Research Log or Research Calendar.

I have been attempting to keep a Research Log since before I knew they existed.  I started my serious attempts at genealogy four years ago, when I got my genealogy software as an early Christmas present. As I entered  family data from a text-based descendant chart sent to me by a distant cousin, I began to have many questions about the information. This was the cousin's research. I realized that I would need to check at least some of it, both for verification and in order to answer the questions. But how was I going to be able to remember those questions?

I am a database thinker (as opposed to a spreadsheet thinker) so I quickly prepared a simple database: five identifying fields plus four expanding fields where I could store my questions and my comments. As the number of entries in my software program grew, the number of records in the database kept pace.

During my studies about genealogy, I learned about the research log. My computer holds various attempts to build a log (including the log that my software provides). None of these forms have felt comfortable to me; the attempts sit in the nooks and crannies of my computer, holding information about where and when I searched for or entered data, what questions I had (and roughly when in the search process those questions occurred) and what answers I may have found. But this is not a log. The information remains scattered and would be meaningless to anyone but myself. My instincts had been on track, but my techniques were lamentable.

Greenwood states that there are two purposes for a Search Log* a) to keep yourself in touch with your progress at all times and b) to aid people who might follow you to understand and to verify what you have done. I believe that the information that fulfills these purposes is hidden in my computer: hidden, but not available to me or to anyone who follows me in this project. (* Since the log contains records of Preliminary Survey work as well as true research, I choose to call this a "Search" Log.)

My next step should be to provide me with a log form I am comfortable with; and then to go back over my work for the past four years and see if I can create a Search Log for every person and every supporting document in my software program.

Luckily for me this isn't as large a task as it may appear to be. Although I have 3377 entries in my database, the names were supplied by some half-dozen cousins and those initial suppliers are noted in those scattered early documents. My active work has been concentrated on about 300 names and I have about 100 source citations (or 100 documents) to incorporate into this rebuilt log.

The first sets of entries into my software were the descendants chart I mentioned above and another descendant chart printed in a 1942 book, The Stricklers of Pennsylvania. Since the descendant chart which came from the cousin also involves correspondence, I decided to do my first work with the entries from the book. This resulted in 27 logs, one for each surname which has a family group sheet showing children.

The elements of this log came from those on the Greenwood sample; from elements found on similar published logs, and from some sample logs GeneJ shared with me in 2009. The log is in database format, which means that the field spaces are rigidly defined. If I need more space, I must add another record to this log.

This is a screen shot of part of one of these 27 logs. It shows record 1 and part of record 2 with the "constant" portion of the log showing on both records. The comments show some references to additional logs which grew out of this one.

Please help me. Take on the guise of a genealogist who is following my work. Study this sample. Can you follow my trail? Where do I need to improve this model? Please leave a comment for me with any suggestions you might have about the format for my Search Log.

There is another important "to-be-developed" record discussed in Chapter 7: the research report. But that is another blog.

Here's to facing our frustrations and to learning to conquer them.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Halloween Came Early This Year

Yesterday, as I was working my way through three days of accumulated blog posts, I came across a very funny short piece about what truly scares that blogger. She said (I think it was a she) that if she met a zombie or a vampire, she would simply request genealogical knowledge and move on. What truly scares her is something like opening her genealogy files and finding that all her citations have vanished. I laughed, agreed with her, and read the next blog.

And I humbly apologize to my fellow blogger that I cannot provide a link to that blog. If any of my readers recognizes this blog, please post the link in the comments section.

Well, Halloween came early this year and I have had a scare that will do — thank you — for the rest of my life! I was running the program that scans my hard disk for potential problems and got a message about duplicates of my genealogy software file, followed immediately by a message that the software had unexpectedly quit. Since I was shutting things down, I brushed this off and continued with the weekly maintenance.

Everything checked out OK, and I began to reopen programs in order to get back to work. The file was GONE from my desktop Dropbox folder. Worse, opening Dropbox online I found a statement that the file was DELETED! No problem — I'll just go to Time Machine and restore it from there. It wasn't there either! I went into complete panic mode; 3377 names and accompanying data had vanished into thin air. Gone — completely gone!

I must have yelled or moaned or … because my husband hurried in — to find me staring wildly at my computer screen. I showed him the "non-existence" of both backups and than stared at the appearance of doom again.

Now my husband and I have somehow developed a mood balancing act; the deeper one of us sinks into panic, the calmer and more constructive the other becomes. He thought a bit and began to suggest things to try. Fearing that my entire hard disk was contaminated, I wouldn't let him do anything.

He moved to his computer, opened Dropbox, and sure enough, it reported that the file had been deleted. But he also found that Dropbox offered "restore file." Which he did. Back to my machine. Dropbox showed the recovered file in the cloud AND it also showed the file safely returned to my desktop dropbox folder. I opened the file, which then followed to usual procedures to return me to my last working location. I did the next job of data entry, and everything stayed normal. Dropbox and cloud storage had saved my files just as they were supposed to do.

But what about the failure of Time Machine to make a backup? Well, as it turns out, I was wrong about that; Time Machine has been backing up these vital files just as I had instructed it to do. In my panic, I had looked for the backups in the wrong folder. When I did look in the correct location, everything was in place.

And the moral of this story is "you can't have too many backups" OR "Dropbox works." I hope you never have a scare like mine; but if you do, I hope your files have been backed up on your computer by your equivalent of my Time Machine backup program and that you also have a backup in Dropbox or an equivalent cloud storage site.

Here's to facing our Frustrations and enjoying our successes.