Research Logs for Genealogy
The author's late father-in-law, husband, and his brothers visiting family in Hungary circa 1970
Photo courtesy of Carol DiPirro-Stipkovits
I remember sitting at my dining room table on a Sunday afternoon surrounded by my family research. I had accomplished quite a bit of in-person research before going online. A couple weeks prior, however, Ancestry tempted me with an offer that was too good to refuse. There I was, falling down a dark hole… dates, names, dates, names, on and on. My tree populated so quickly and I was so caught up in it that my only goal was to see how far back I could reach. (1646, by the way.) When I finally came up for air, I saw a tree full of people’s names, but I had no idea how or if they were truly connected to me. I recall making the tough decision to hit that delete button and start fresh.
The internet has made research so easy. Trust me, when those little leaves do their dance it’s hard to turn away. I decided it was time to get serious about how I spent time on genealogy research and, just as important, use source citations to verify my facts. This was the start of my first genealogy research log.
Research logs save time by helping us avoid repetitive searches and serve as the foundation for the next generation of researchers. Listen, some months, I can only find an hour for my genealogy. I don’t want to waste time redoing searches I’ve already done. There are so many choices for keeping a research log, whether paper or digital. It could be as easy as grabbing a spiral notebook, but think carefully about what will realistically work with your research habits. What you choose should be a handy tool you want to use. If it’s not simple, you won’t use it. Although our logs may vary, it’s important that certain information is included to be effective. Ask yourself: “Will my descendants be able to trace my research steps with this information?” That’s our goal here, convincing them to take it on after we’re gone is another conversation! Basically, a research log should include:
Ancestors’ name and years: Depending on your research question, it could be an individual, couple, or a family and dates of birth and death to distinguish them.
Date of search: Record sets are constantly being updated. If you searched in 2016, another look in 2020 might be prosperous.
Research question: What event or person do you want to find? Be detailed with this question!
Place of research: What repository are you doing your research in? List the URL if searching online.
Source description: If it’s a computer database, drill down to the actual record location. Enter the library and call number for a book or microfilm. I suggest writing this as though you’ll need to send a novice to find the record.
Notes: This is where you note your research journey. What name variations did you try? List the years you looked through and the result of those searches.
Results: Whether productive or not, always list the outcome of your search. Negative results can be just as helpful in reaching conclusions.
Over the years, I have perfected my own digital log. If I need to leave my research for a day or a month, I can pick right up where I left off when I come back. I also feel more secure about the accuracy of my tree. The dancing leaves are still a weakness, but my research log keeps me honest. Staying focused is hard in genealogy with so many wonderful things to explore and so many temptations put right in front of us. Give a research log a try and watch it transform your family history researching. Happy hunting!
Carol DiPirro-Stipkovits is a member of the National Genealogical Society and Association of Professional Genealogists. She is a Board member and President of the Niagara County Genealogical Society, guest lecturer and freelance writer. Send questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.