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.



  1. Hi Sue,

    Thanks so much for sharing your research log. I am confused by a couple of things and I hope you can clarify for me. First of all, am I correct in assuming you found a family file in this book/source and you copied this information into your database? Did you copy all of it or just part of it?
    1. What is the difference between the Source field and the Generic/Name field? Or can you explain what the Generic Name field represents?
    2. Under Data, what do the numbers represent? Is that the family member? What are the last names for Ralph J, Donna, Myron, Buyrel, Gladys, and Albert?
    3. What do the numbers in parenthese represent at the end of the names? - Oh I see now this is probably linked to your comments, like a footnote reference? What are comments 1 and 2 linked to?
    4. In your 2nd comment you said this source provided you with 313 names for further research. Were all 313 of these names actually entered into your database? If so, why are there only 9 names listed in your Data field?
    5. Comments 3 and 4 reference other logs - Christman and Spath. How are these logs found? I do not see in your example where the logs are specifically named?
    Thanks again for sharing your log and I look forward to seeing more of it!

  2. Thank you Ginger, this is EXACTLY the kind of questioning that I need.

    Yes, I had the information in this book, which I have owned for years. And yes, I copied all of the pertinent information into my database. (My family is listed on pages 390 through 396; this sub-family is found on pages 394 and 395.) Any information I find goes into the database. I keep the not-yet-verified" entries separated from the "being-worked-on" entries by the use a flag "no research done." The database becomes a master file for me.

    1. The source field is where I keep the source of any data I have entered. In this case it is the title of the book, but it could be a census, or a vital record, or … . The generic name field corresponds to the detail part of my source citations. I will think about a better name for it.

    2. The data list is indeed a list of the family members (as they would show up as children on a family group sheet). The numbers are the "generation numbers" as found in the book. The numbered names are all Bakers, children of Vinnie V. Strickler and Andrew Baker

    I was listing these names as a check list against the entries. Before I found your comment, I had begun to wonder if I was being too detailed here. Your question makes me wonder ever more.

    I guess that maybe the Search log should list the surnames found in the relevant portion of this book. This would reduce the log to a single log (with many more records than the 3 for this subfamily). A printout of this log can go at the front of each notebook (or notebook section) for the indicated families.

    3. Comments 1 and 2 refer to the source. Obviously I am not being clear. (Of course, we always know what me mean; the trouble lies in making sure others do.) If I redo the listing as family names, I don't think I would need extra comments. And I can rewrite notes 1 and 2 to clarify that they refer to the information in the book.

    4. Yes, all the names were entered; they were split up between 27 logs and often there was more than 1 record in many of the logs, so that there are up to 10 names entered in each record. I think I can find a way to show that the records following record 1 are continuations.

    5. The other logs are some of the 27 logs. They will disappear if I redo this.

    Thank you for your questions, which have "given me to think" as did my writing out these detailed explanations. I will mull this over a bit. My next post may be a screen shot from the revised log (which I hope will be both simpler and more clear).

    Again, thank you for your input.


  3. Hi Sue, thank you for posting answers to my questions. I think you are on the right track. I think I understand the part about the comments now better. Comments 1 and 2 refer to the source itself and that is why they are repeated for multiple log entries? And comments 3 and 4 are related to the individual log entries? Are you customizing your own fields? If so, is there any way to include a field description? I have to do that for myself because sometimes I can't remember what my own standards are for what to enter and how to enter it. Like, do I write last name, first name or first name, last name, etc.
    Thanks again for sharing. Good luck!

  4. Sue, thanks for sharing this post and the example. I have a ways to go, to create something this comprehensive! And then, of course I will need to implement it! But you have inspired me!

  5. Hi Sue,

    Another great post.

    I commented about logs yesterday on Brandy Sacco's blog, "Is your Family Tree Fact or Fiction." Brandy had asked users to describe what aspect of "sourcing" we found most challenging.

    Some snippets from my reply:

    (1) I am challenged by my desire to record documentation as I work with
    it--often that is before I've discerned what it all means. ... Quite often a single
    document does not answer a genealogically relevant problem/question. To
    avoid making a premature assertion but still document my work, I might
    have to leave my genealogical software and move over to a research
    log/word processor ...
    (2) I'm pretty sure many of us face a similar challenge when we balance the
    need to document "records of interest" from a collection/record group (all
    the Carpinski marriage records found for a small county) knowing only some
    of those records will be relevant to solving the focused genealogical
    problem at hand. (And, count me in the group who does not want to add
    hundreds of "assertions" to my database about folks who are not related or
    relevant to my tree.)
    (3) ...it's the same challenge I face when building a proof argument--as
    it often takes an array of sources to develop the problem and present the

    I included the comment that while my word processor handles the job, it's organized by date. Memorandum I write are in yet other files--what I really need is an integrated solution allowing me to not only track my search/research progress but allow for updatable entries often related to specific genealogical questions (as with proof arguments).

    I casually labeled this the need for a better research to proof to conclusion model. I know some vendors have/are developing integrated solutions. I'm hopeful a meaningful research log/research memorandum concept will be integrated into the next genealogical *standards* model. We need it.

    Love your approach! --GJ

    P.S. I'm so flattered!! I credit the good folks at the FHC for getting me started. They said, "start a research log and remember to bring it with you the next time you drop in." :-) I still refer to my earliest logs, too.

  6. Ginger: I prepared this database from scratch in FileMaker Pro, so I can customize it at will. I can either change the name of the field (which gives us the label) or I can overwrite the label itself. I am ot sure what type of customizing you are looking for.
    Kathleen: Thank you for those kind words.
    GeneJ: I do keep all names in my basic software file (but only names with some searching done appear in public trees). So far, for those 200 odd names actually in research, I have found nothing to show that I am on a false trail. Should I do so, I believe I would start a new database called something like "Disproved relationships" and export those files (which would include a trail toward the disproof) into the new database. This way, all search results are still around and new proof would make it easy to re-import the discarded name.
    I prefer a database to a word processor because it keeps me focused on the data I am trying to keep track of.
    I have been working on redoing this log format. I believe slightly changed approach will be easier to follow.
    "Keep your eye on this spot" as advertising is apt to say.
    Again, thank you all for your instructive and supportive comments.