There are a variety of ways you can construct a research plan and log. Often these are taught and discussed as two separate items. However, these can be one document that is keyword searchable if you use a computer program. Popular computer programs for creating research plans and logs are: spreadsheets (Excel or Numbers), word processors using tables (Word or Pages), and note-taking software such as Evernote, One Note, or Scrivener. Of course, this is a personal preference and you may be most comfortable with paper and pencil.
Why is a research plan/log important?
To be efficient with your limited time in a repository, cemetery, or with family members.
To keep track of what you’ve researched so you don’t unnecessarily duplicate your work.
To keep any notes about your search results organized.
To gather citation information.
Months or years later, you can search these plans/logs for more research clues or to be sure you don’t examine the same source twice, or to know if you need to go back and search for new information (perhaps you’ve discovered a new surname since the last time you looked at a particular book or film).
Consider including the following items in your research plan/log:
Title of item
Call number or film number
A research plan and log should allow you to see what you’ve done, let you see where you should or shouldn’t search in the future, and is best if it is keyword searchable such as in a computerized system.
While you are at the repository:
Take the time to organize your research findings.
If you have time/energy in the evenings, go through your papers/files and be sure they are organized.
Process your work as soon as possible. Enter in your database, research log, or other system.
If you wait too long to process your work, and you forget what you were doing, it’s almost as if you never went in the first place. Be sure you record and process what you find.
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin
I, for one, cannot wait to get back to researching in various repositories. Seeking out elusive ancestors and learning about history firsthand is so much fun. Here are some tips for taking trips to repositories.
Repository Visit Tips
Before you go to a repository, check the website for maps, location, hours, closures, and parking information. Also, check the rules for what you can bring and/or do while you’re there, and then bring the appropriate items:
Can you use your own notebooks or will you be given archive-assigned loose paper?
Can you bring in your bags, backpacks, or briefcases or will you be assigned a locker?
Can you use pens or is it pencils only?
Is photography allowed?
Can you use laptops, tablets?
Do you need to request items from storage ahead of time?
Check the online catalog and plan what you want to see specifically. Create a list of call numbers, manuscript names, folder numbers, and/or microfilm numbers. Be sure to ask questions of the archivist or librarian. They often know a lot of information that you might not have been expecting.
What’s in the bag?
Don’t forget plugs, chargers, cords, batteries, etc.
Change or bills for copies if needed
Is there a snack room available? Bring water, snacks, and/or lunch.
Flash drives, thumb drives
Office supplies: sticky notes, paper clips, folders, sheet protectors, large envelopes
As we get together with family, especially over the holidays, this is the perfect time to conduct family interviews. If you have done much research on your family history, you likely have some questions that some older members of your family might be able to answer. What’s more, there might be some great stories you never knew. Getting your family to share stories over the dinner table is so much fun. Be sure to bring a recording device of some kind!
You might also plan to visit more distant family members that you’ve discovered through your research. You may have connected with new DNA cousins and have planned to meet up and share information. These tips will help you prepare:
Tips for Planning the Family Interview:
To help jog memories bring: a pedigree chart, family group sheets, any old photos you have on that family line. Having these things in front of you helps bring up memories and stories.
Determine the venue for your interview such as a family gathering or a one-on-one setting.
Think about who’s invited: if you don’t want too many distractions you might limit the number of people during the interview.
How many family members will you visit? Plan with maps if you are unfamiliar with the area and make a schedule.
Send a thank-you note when you get home.
What’s in the bag?
Be sure to bring the following:
Recording device, phone app, digital recorder, or notepad & pens/pencils
Camera – to photograph photos, documents, and other family artifacts
Questions – What do you want to know? Make a list of questions to ask ahead of time, but be sure to be flexible. Also, ask open-ended questions to get more information.
DNA kits – you never know when you’ll find someone whose DNA will help with a research project
Extras – extension cords, batteries, tripod, plugs, chargers, etc.
These last 2 years have been very strange for most of us. I typically traveled several times per year for speaking, institute attendance, or research purposes. As we look toward the future and to a time when traveling safely might resume, let’s explore the ways to prepare for research trips.
There are several types of research trips to prepare for. Each one has similarities and differences. In this blog series we will examine ways to prepare for these:
Family Visits to conduct interviews, gather photos & documents or obtain DNA samples
Cemetery Tour to visit cemeteries in ancestral or far flung locations
Repository Visits to conduct research in libraries, archives, and courthouses
“One-Stop” Library such as the Family History Library, Allen County Public Library, or Mid-Continent Public Library
With any of these trips you’ll need to consider:
Travel such as air, train, bus, or car
Hotel, or staying with friends or family
Food, groceries, or restaurants
and other logistics unique to the area.
Over the next few weeks, we will examine each type of trip including what to bring and how to prepare ahead of time.
I am a mom with two children still at home. When I began this genealogy journey my son was just 5 months old. He’s almost 13 now and my daughter is 10. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get them to be involved and not grumpy when the car takes a side trip to visit a cemetery or library. When I take a research trip to Wood County, Ohio I am usually there to visit my family and often our trips are too short. I like to combine the research with the visiting to maximize the time we have together: “Hey grandma, let’s go to the cemetery and you can tell me about your great-grandparents and their families.” Taking your family along on research expeditions can be a fun way to get them talking about your ancestors and getting them more interested in what you are doing.
I’m not above bribery. When I take my children to a cemetery I offer them a small fee (25¢ for even looking) and a prize for who finds the tombstone (50¢). It motivates them and makes it easier for me to have little energetic legs tromping around the cemetery. My son is especially good at finding the tombstones. I don’t know how many times I’ve taken him to the cemetery, given him the name we are looking for and he’s off in a flash, zig-zag across the cemetery. In no time at all I hear “found it!” sometimes even before I’ve had a chance to get started! (By the way, he is for hire.)
With the older family members it is sometimes just nice to get them out of the house and to a place they probably haven’t been in a long time. My grandma especially likes to drive around out in the country reminiscing about times gone by, who lived on which farm, who she went to school with, and the fun (and not so fun) times she had. My dad seems to like the thrill of the chase, like finding items on a scavenger hunt. If you have reluctant relatives, you might offer to buy them lunch if they come along.
Combine your research trips with visiting with relatives. Take notes (well, not if you are the one driving) or record conversations on your phone or with a digital recorder. Or have an able person in the car take notes while you’re driving. At any rate, conversation will tend to revolve around what you are looking for. Memories will be triggered when you are looking for Great-Aunt Martha’s grave. You’ll want to be sure to get those memories down on paper.
Involving your family members in your research jaunts can be very rewarding and fun. It might give you the opportunity to connect with some relatives you don’t get to see very often. Whatever you do have fun and enjoy the journey!
Once you have identified your research goals, you will need to make a plan to reach those goals. It is not enough to have a goal, a goal needs an action plan. This plan might consist of a list of steps, an inventory of sources, a map and itinerary of repositories to visit, and so forth. When planning a research trip, a research plan is vital to staying focused, being efficient and getting the most out of your time.
Your plan should cover these elements:
where you plan to visit
what records you plan to look at
what/who you expect to find in those records
brief biographical information on the ancestor to help you id the right person or other information such as a cemetery section to help you locate what you’re looking for
A plan can be expanded to also become your research log (see the next post for more details on the research log).
When traveling, I tend to drive if I have the time. I like being able to go to cemeteries, local libraries, history museums and courthouses that are on the way (or only slightly out of the way). I enjoy seeing the areas where my ancestors lived, walking on land they used to own, and seeing the documents they wrote with their own hands. You can’t really get a good idea of what our great country is like if you are in a plane 30,000 feet up. I do love a good road trip.
When planning your trip, use your genealogy software and locate target areas along the way. Seek out which cemeteries you could reasonably visit. Print out maps and directions to get you there. Planning ahead with a map is easy using tools like Google Maps. In 2011, I was on a very short trip visiting my relatives in Ohio. I planned a day’s tour through 4 cemeteries using Google Maps “My Places” feature. You can view the map here: Google Map of Cemetery Tour. Using this feature, I can locate the cemeteries, see the quickest route between them, make notes of the graves I am looking for – this was my research plan for that trip. [Tip: You can print these out in case there is a poor cell signal on your journey. There’s nothing worse than getting to a remote cemetery and not being able to access your research plan, trust me!]
The process of planning ahead can be fun, will give you the opportunity to be more efficient and will allow you to do some research you might have missed if you hadn’t planned ahead.