Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Changing My Approach to Research Logs

In the series I wrote about going to the Family History Library last month, I mentioned that the experience of having access to so many microfilms at one time allowed me to see how records were organized on the films. This also changed the way I approach my research logs.

Several readers have asked me to elaborate on this. It is difficult to put into words, because my organizational system only makes sense to me. However, I will give it my best shot.

My research logs are mostly focused on events or people. For example, if I'm looking for a marriage date, all the information I have previously covered will be found in the notes for those two people in my database. I use RootsMagic. It has a "to-do list" feature and that's how I use it.

So if I'm searching for a marriage record for John and Mary Smith, the research notes for those people (or that fact in my database) will include the books I have checked, the county offices at which I've inquired, the FHL microfilms I've reviewed, etc, in search of a record. My intent is to know what I've already done so I don't repeat the same searches.

However, my week at the Family History Library gave me lots of time to see lots of records for a given area. Not all the marriage records for a county are on a single roll or concurrent rolls. Sometimes they're mixed up with the tax records, etc. On a given roll, item 1 could be marriages 1900-1904, items 2-3 could be tax rolls 1886-1887, etc.

I never noticed this because at home I can only order a couple film rolls at a time. The ones I've ordered thus far aren't as varied as all the ones I saw in Salt Lake City.

Now I see that my research logs also need to focus on the numbered film rolls, too, not just the event or person. So my notes will tell me that I have already looked at every single frame of film #1234567. That way, I won't order the same film multiple times, once for 1880's tax records, once for 1900's marriage records, etc. I will know I've already seen the whole thing, saving me time and money.

Hopefully I explained this right. Normally I don't comment on my own system or that of others because everyone does it a little differently. There is no right or wrong, just what works for you. And this adjustment is what works for me.


  1. Great post - and I too have had to re-examine my own research log after my last trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

    I have now added source citations formats built in which will account for tracking the film numbers.

  2. Thanks Amy! I'm always interested in how other people record their results because it gives me new ideas on what might (or might not) work for me.

    It seems like so often it boils down to the details and how they are recorded (or not recorded). The devil is truly in the details.

  3. I'm sure it was so much easier for you before you realized the combinations of records on microfilm rolls. It's easy to keep track of marriages, or births, or whatever, but when there are multiple records you almost just have to keep track of the rolls. The only problem I can envision is if you later find a new ancestor whose name you didn't know and who might have records on a roll of film you've already looked at, you'd still have to go back.

    Thanks for sharing your method. I like learning how others keep track of their research, especially if it's a successful method.

  4. Last summer our Second Life group broke out the GoToMeeting and looked at each other's research logs using MS Excel worksheets. Column headings included date, surname 1, surname 2, surname 3, author, title, call # (that would include microfilm), comments, etc. Your blog post has inspired me to write a bit about what I learned from other researchers.

    A discussion of how to keep track of records in microfilm, fiche, book, online, local .pdf, e-book etc. is valuable.

    Thanks for the posting, Amy. Got me to thinking!