January 22nd, 2014

Take Accurate Notes to Improve Your Research Results

The quality and accuracy of the notes you take during your research will very much determine the results you get. Note taking is one of the most important aspects of genealogical research, and includes not just the information on the individual you are researching, but citing the sources from which you glean your info. There is no way we can rely on our memories to retain so much data, so it is important to record our data in a notebook or computer. We also have some Free Genealogy Forms Downloads that may help you. When you do record the data, it is also important to label it with the date and place when and where you wrote them, and don’t forget to mention the source!

You will have the clearest notes if you follow a particular method of writing down the information. There are a number of ways you can do this, but the most effective methods for genealogists are transcripts, extracts, and abstracts. Those words may intimidate a beginner, but they are really not as complicated as they sound.

  • Transcripts are simply word for word copies of the information in an original document. Everything is copied exactly how it appears, including punctuation and abbreviations. Keep in mind that if the document you are transcribing is itself a transcription, it may contain errors. This is largely due to human error such as misspellings or miscopying dates. It is thus important to verify any information you find in transcriptions with other sources. If you want to add comments or your own notes to a transcription, you can either use an asterisk (*) at the beginning of the paragraph or sentence you wish to comment on and place it at the bottom of your transcription, or you can use brackets ( ) to include your comments at the end of the text you are commenting on. If using an asterisk to comment on more than one item, add another asterisk for each point, i.e. * first topic, ** second topic, *** third topic, and so on.
  • Abstracts are summaries taken from the essential details in the document or record. They generally include names, dates, location names, and life events such as birth, death or marriage. Non-essential words are left out, and only the important details recorded. Again, copy the data exactly as it appears in the original document.
  • Extracts are similar to abstracts in that they only include the vital details of a document. Rather than summarizing however, the section of the document you are recording is written exactly as it appears in the original. It is essentially a word-for-word copy of particular sections of a document. Generally extracts are included along with or as part of an abstract to highlight vital elements of a document.

You will most likely use all three methods in your note taking over the course of your research. It often helps to make full transcriptions of documents such as land deeds and wills though, as often they contain clues that may lead you to other records down the road. Transcriptions and abstracts are especially useful when you are not able to make a copy of the original, but make sure you copy them carefully and accurately. Erroneous transcriptions have often, and still are, a source of frustration for many genealogists.