Taking notes about the research you perform on your ancestors can read great genealogical rewards. Not only does it serve as a backup for your memory, but it can be used as a map for future research. For a journal to serve as an effective research tool however, you need to records both positive and negative results. The will save you time and energy in future projects, as the positive entries will help you to fond records faster, while the negative will save you from repeating previous mistakes, or consulting records where your ancestors can’t be found.
How to Organize Your Research Journal
You’ll get the best results from using a research journal if you keep it organized in a simple, straight-forward manner. A good layout that generally works well is to use columns with the headings)
- Date Searched
- Records Sought
- Name Variations Searched
- Repository Searched
- Description and Source Citation
Let’s go over each heading briefly to better understand the benefits of recording such data, and the best way to enter it into your journal.
The immediate benefit of imputing the date is obvious, but an additional benefit is that if the records get updated, you will know if you have searched the most recent, or if you can look for new results in an updated database.
Again it’s obvious why you would record the types of ancestry record you searched in. This helps to avoid wasting time with duplicate searches in databases you have already consulted, but also narrows the field of possible records still to be searched.
Many researchers overlook this very important entry. There are so many spelling variations of both forenames and surnames, especially in older records, that it is critical you record each variation you use. Also record the various methods you used during your searches. For example, did you search for first name or last name only, or for results in a particular city, county, state, or overseas locations? This listing can also serve as a name variation database and search strategy for when you search other records in the future.
Indicating where the records were found whether it is at a brick-and-mortar archive or library, or an online database, allows you to quickly visit that source if you seek similar r records in the future. Make sure you indicate whether the resource was online, on microfilm, in a book, or other resource. Be as specific as you can to make it as easy as possible to revisit that repository and the records you found there.
This should list a description of the records you found in the Records Sought column and all of the information you found in them, as well as the sources of that information, be they primary or secondary. You can simply list citations such as the microfilm number or book title and author, or you could write about it, describing everything in a description field.
Remember, record both positive and negative results for every search you conduct. This helps you to quickly sort out which records are useful for your family and which are not. Having this information readily available allows you to efficiently plan research strategies, speeding up results and helping you to avoid genealogical roadblocks.
A genealogy research journal allows you to quickly see where you are in your research, allowing you to pick up exactly where you left off if you need to stop for awhile. They are a great tool which you can refine to suit your own particular research model over time, and you can even compile one journal per ancestor. A final bonus is that these journals can also serve as a guide to any family members who may continue your research in the future.