Research Logs

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Use this important tool to help organize and track your research work. Research logs document where you search, and what has or has NOT been found.

Research log definition. A research log is a comprehensive list of sources you already searched, or plan to search including the purpose of each search (what you want to find), a summary of significant findings and where your copies are, notations showing sources searched where you found nothing, and plenty of comments about your search strategies, suggestions, questions, analysis, and discrepancies.

  • Research log - Download a PDF copy of a research log which can be printed.

Value of Research Logs[edit | edit source]

Good research logs help you:

  1. Cite your sources. This shows quality research.
  2. Sort out what has and has not been found.
  3. Organize and correlate copies of documents.
  4. Weigh evidence to make better conclusions, and better lineage links.
  5. Show your search strategies and questions.
  6. Reduce unwanted duplication of effort.

Research logs show negative evidence (what you do not find). NO other tool does this nearly as well. And logs save time by helping avoid repetitive searches after a research pause. Logs can become a table of contents to documents in your file. Research logs serve as a foundation on which the next generation of researchers can build. Use research logs to help in EVERY step of the research process.

Contents[edit | edit source]

Research logs vary in form and content. The following elements work well for most researchers.

  • Ancestor's name and years: husband being researched, for example, William FRAZIER 1826-1881.
  • Researcher's name: your name.
  • Date of search: for example, 8 May 2001; Records you plan to search without a date until searched.
  • Place of research: use full mailing address, telephone/fax number, e-mail address, or Internet URL.
  • Purpose (objective) of search: event and person being sought (use symbols), for example, * Robert (Event symbols for objectives and results: *=birth =marriage =death)
  • Call number: library or archive call number, for example, FHL book 977.162 D3d
  • Source Description: author, title, where the original is (that is a publisher or repository), date, and page.
  • Scope of Your Search: What exactly did you search, what did you record, what parameters limited what you recorded as results?
  • Document Number: a number you make up to show where will you file your copy of the source.
  • Results: a summary of the persons and events found.

Figure 1. Example top part of a blank research log available at Family History Centers. Log15.png

What to Fill In BEFORE a Search[edit | edit source]

It is important to partially fill in a research log before you view a source:

  1. Date
  2. Place of research
  3. Purpose - write the person-event you seek for each search so you will later know whether you need to search the same source again for a different person or event.
  4. Call Number (if any)
  5. Source - write source descriptions in footnote format (see the Chicago Manual of Style[1])

Why complete these before a search. Avoid the temptation to skip writing anything at all if the search results are negative. If you finish writing these items before the search, and if your ancestor is not mentioned in the source, it is easier to write nil than it would be to fill in all the data afterward.

Source description information is easier to find in the catalog than in the source itself. Also, it helps other researchers to use the descriptive information the way it is found in the catalog at the repository where you found the source.

Comments on your strategies, questions, discrepancies, and analysis. Research logs are also a good place to write your strategies and explain why you are searching certain sources. Explain what you want to find, why, and how you hope to find it. Also write questions about the family, or mention conflicting data. When a chain of sources are needed to reach a conclusion, use the research log to write an analysis explaining your findings.

What to Complete AFTER a Search[edit | edit source]

After you view a source, complete the remainder of the entry on the research log by filling-in the following:

1. Document number (a number you create) makes your log a table of contents to your copies.

  • If the search results are negative, put nil or Ø in the document number field, but record what you did and what you mean by "nil." For example, does nil mean no Fraziers at all in the record, none named William, or no Williams between 35 and 45? 
  • If positive, use husband’s name/years (file name), plus the next unused number. For example, if you had already found and logged seven sources for the family of William Frazier, the next would be numbered like this:

William FRAZIER (1826-1881)

2. Results of the search (positive or negative).

  • List event and person found. Use the same event symbols as you would for the Purpose column.
  • Do not list dates. This forces you to look at document copies.
  • If search results are negative, record the search scope and use “nil” or Ø in the document column (as opposed to blank).
  • Blank results means you have not yet done a search in that source.

3. Scope of the search. The purpose of recording scope is to help you later decide whether you need to look at a source again with a broader scope. What you record on the research log should answer these questions:

  • Did you search the full record or stop when you found something? If you stopped, what pages did you search?
  • If a computer search is involved, what search term(s) did you try? Did you specify other fields, such as age, birthplace, etc., and if so, what age or birthplace did you specify?
  • If a database or website search gave a list of results, did you look at just the first screen of results, all of the results, or what?
  • Decide what to record in your results, and document what you didn't record as results. For example, if looking at the census of Birmingham for John Adams who should have been about 27 years old, did you record every Adams in Birmingham, every John Adams in Birmingham, or only every John Adams in Birmingham between the ages of 25 and 30?
  • If the source was a book or manuscript, did you read every page of the book, only use the index to the book, just check the most relevant chapter, or what?

Importance of documenting as you go. In order to stay organized it is crucial to complete all paper work before starting another search. By keeping your research log and family group record up-to-date you have better access to the sources, and clues for finding more sources. Good documentation makes it easier to compare and contrast sources. This makes it easier to judge source reliability. It also increases the chances your conclusions will be informed and reasonable.

Failure to document as you go by completing a research log (and family group record) will result in confusion. The confusion may cause you to overlook important sources and come to wrong conclusions. For an example of a completed electronic research log, see log example.

Figure 2. Example of a partially filled-in homemade research log. Log17.png

General Suggestions[edit | edit source]

Use one set of research logs for each family’s file folder; NOT one huge log for all families.

Design your own modified research log with features you will use.

If you use a computer to log research, either make a backup or print a paper copy of your log at the end of each day.

Spill over the allotted space as needed.

Write lots of notes to yourself explaining your strategies, analysis, conclusions, questions suggestions, and discrepancies.

Keep everything on one set of research logs per family; do NOT keep separate correspondence logs.

    a. Keep a copy of all letters and emails 
    b. Assign a document number to both the inquiry letter or email and the reply. 
    c. Enter telephone calls, queries, forum postings, and instant message conversations relating to family research on your research log and keep notes of what was said. Give your notes a document number and refer to them from the research log. 

Make paper printouts or backups of all electronic sources, including written notes of telephone interviews.

Special Situations[edit | edit source]

Individual in two families. Each ancestor on your pedigree was in at least two families, once as a child, and once as a parent:

  • Events before marriage go on the father’s research log (and research file).
  • Events starting with marriage go on the couple’s research log (and research file).

Documents with two or more families:

  1. Pick the most predominant family on the document.
  2. Put the document copy in that family’s file.
  3. Compose your document number based on that family.
  4. Write your document number on the back of the copy, AND . . .
  5. Log such a source on all applicable logs. Some logs will list another family’s numbers.

Source[edit | edit source]

  1. G. David Dilts, “Citing Sources Using the Chicago Manual of Style,” Genealogical Journal 24: 4 (1996), 149-53 [FHL Book 973 D25gj v. 24 1996]. See also Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained (Balitmore: Genealogical Publishing, 2007)[FHL Book 929.1 M625ee].

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