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.