Tag Archives: research log

Beginning Concepts: The Research Plan

In genealogy, there are two things you really ought to keep track of to help your research be FOCUSED and effective. Several weeks ago I wrote about how when we all begin, we are collectors of family history information, but eventually, we have to get focused to solve any of the “brick walls” we encounter. Two things that help you be focused are utilizing a research PLAN and a research LOG. In my world, these are the same document. I lovingly call them my Research PLOG (patent pending).

Different researchers have different techniques. Look around at what others have to say on the topic if my system doesn’t work for you or make sense for how you work. The main message here is to do it!

I’ve written about research plans twice before:

Both of those previous posts come from the angle of preparing for a research trip. However, you don’t have to be going on a trip to create a plan. It will make your time at a repository more efficient and effective if you have a pre-planned list of what you want to look at when you arrive. But we have all been stuck at home for a year, and it looks like we will be for a bit longer. Have you been planning your research before you do it at online “repositories”? I know I have not been doing it enough. I have an idea of what I want to find, I go look for it, I don’t find it, I move on to the next thing… but months from now, I am not going to remember that I did that search and will do it again. And if I don’t utilized my PLOG, I’ll do it again in another several months.

A research plan/log allows you to plan your research “attack” and record your findings so that you can review what you’ve done on a given project and NOT DO IT AGAIN! (I am sure I am not the only genealogist in the world who spent precious research dollars ordering the same death certificate twice…or three times?) A research PLOG, if used correctly, can save you time and money. I wish I had learned about research plans and logs earlier in my genealogical journey!

Of course, there are databases that are constantly growing, that you should go back and search again at a later time. Be sure to note in your log what years those databases covered at the time you looked at them (we will get into more on this later). Also, a caveat to using a PLOG correctly…you have to review it before you start in on another research session. This is where I find myself failing many times. I just don’t take a moment to read my log for a given project. So, it’s like I never logged anything if I don’t go back and review it!

Now that I’ve convinced you that you need to start utilizing a log, next I will get into the nitty-gritty of what my research PLOG system looks like.

Preparing for a Research Trip – Research Logs

A vital piece to a serious genealogist’s research, whether you travel far or stick to online and local sources, is a research log. There are several great templates online you can locate through Google searches. There are some available at Ancestry and Family Search. A research log helps you avoid duplicating work and can be a great assistant when it comes to write source citations.

There are several ways to create a research log. Here are a few ideas:

  • tables
  • spreadsheets
  • word processing document
  • paper forms – Although I try to be as paperless as possible, sometimes paper is your best option. I always enter the data eventually into my spreadsheet so that I can use “find” and “search” functions to locate specific items.

Within the document you might want to have several columns to keep track of the following (or create your own):

  • date
  • repository
  • who (specifically or the surname) you are hoping to find
  • record sets (call numbers or other identifiers to make it easy to locate)
  • an open column for making notes
  • a cell for recording the proper source citation (this can be used to later cut and paste into your articles, software, onto digital documents, and so forth, cutting down on some tedious work in the future)

Below is a terribly small example of what I’m describing:

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You want to be sure to include enough information in this log to at least know where you’ve looked. This log is something you can add to every time you do more research, simply add a new date.

Your log can be as extensive or as simple as you want. If you use a spreadsheet, it can be as wide as you’d like, no paper size limitations! Spreadsheets also have the advantage of having “sheets” within the same document. [If you are using Excel, there are tabs for sheets at the bottom toward the left. If you are using Mac Pages, they are in the navigator on the left side of the screen.] You can have one document for each surname and then within, each sheet can be for a different repository where you’ve researched for that surname. Or you can create a system of your own. The important thing is that you create one, use it, add to it and check back before you do more research so you don’t duplicate what you’ve already done.

I mentioned before that I had ordered the same obituary 3 times. I have now put it in my research log, documenting that the lady (with the same name as my ancestor) is not mine. Giant bold letters now say “DO NOT ORDER THIS DOCUMENT AGAIN!!!” But the trick for me is to consult my log before I do it! I tend to think I’ll remember, but obviously, three obituaries later, I have some memory issues.