Thursday, September 17, 2015

Notes for Research Logs

I had three particular "notes" I wanted included with my post about research logs. These may differ from some tips you'll see or they have been hard learned after years of research.
The main post is here.


Source Citations in Your Log

You don't have to record your source in footnote format. You can. It will save you time if you need footnotes later. Don't let fear of footnotes stop you from keeping a good research log, though. What is important (in your log and notes) is to capture all the parts you will need for a formal citation PLUS any information you need to judge the quality and completeness of the source.
Unfortunately it is hard to know the latter until you become experienced so better to err on the side of recording too much information. Just recording a formal citation won't capture all this information. You can record the extra information in your notes but make sure you still capture this information if you have no notes (such as when you have "negative" results). Completeness is obviously a major question with negative results. For example, did you not find a marriage because the book you used didn't include some years?

Make Your Search Goal Clear

I still struggle with this. If you keep a paper log it is even harder because you are limited on space. Part of the point of recording your goal is to know if you need to search a record again (what were you thinking and therefore what were you looking for). I find many notations of "no names of interest" in my log. That's not very helpful five years from now when the names of interest have changed. Once again, your notes can record additional information but negative results are often the issue.
Even with an electronic log where space isn't such an issue, time is often the constraint. How much extra information do you want to record just to make your goal clear or make it clear if the record should be searched again later? My rule, if it's easy to check again, save the time now. If it's unique, hard to access, or at risk of being lost/destroyed, spend the time now. Also, the solution to this conundrum will be unique to the situation. This is a balancing act for both doing quality research and spending your time wisely. 

Beware of Too Many Logs 

I keep one research log for all of my personal research. I could divide it out a little but I don't. Here's how I ended up with one log. For my first trip to the Family History Library (FHL), I prepared my logs ahead of time, while still at home, by surname and goal. After I pulled the same roll of microfilm at the FHL for the third time, I realized separate logs for separate surnames didn't work for me. I have too many relatives in too few counties (yes, too many cousin marriages). I usually do USE my log by surname but I KEEP it by record and therefore usually by location. Also, don't separate by online vs. offline research. Records are coming online too quickly to safely be able to search just one log or the other. It is easy to KEEP logs divided this way but not USE them.
I also roll my correspondence log into my research log. I can filter entries to access any variation of records I need and once the records arrive, I turn the correspondence entry into a log entry (with a note that the work was done by a contractor). A correspondence log is traditionally kept separately so it is up to you. Remember items 1 & 2 above, you have to KEEP and USE your log. Use separate logs if it works for you but don't divide them up so much they are too hard to keep or too hard to use.