It’s August – which means it’s Family History Month in Australia and New Zealand. So, I thought I’d kick things off with a post on research logs – what are they, how to make them and how I use them.
So without further ado:
What are research logs?
Research logs are a chart where family historians record and “log” their research data/findings as they research. They can be as simple or detailed as you like and are highly customisable to your circumstances. As a professional family historian, I also use research logs to keep track of who and what I am researching, since I may be researching different subjects at once.
Here is an example:
I prefer to keep my research logs online in a word processor. That way, I can easily type any details and copy and paste links or notes. The sections of the chart also automatically expand while I type, meaning I can fit as much or as little info in as I need. But do what works for you. If you want paper research logs, make up a template on a word processor or draw one, then keep that prototype blank for printing or photocopying whenever you need more.
How to make one:
Make a chart in a word processor or draw one using a ruler. If making a paper version, make sure you draw the sections of the chart nice and large to be able to fit your notes on.
Have a good think about what you want to use the chart for, then customise the size and headings to suit your circumstances. You may wish to create different templates for different types of research, e.g a special template for researching newspapers, birth, marriage and death certificates and so on. To extend your research chart, simply photocopy or print your paper version, or copy and paste your blank prototype research log to a new page.
How I use research logs:
I keep the folder with my research logs open on my computer while I research so I can easily add info as I go. If I know I’ll be adding a lot to my logs, I’ll put my computer in split view mode so my internet browser and research logs are on the same screen for easily access. For each research project or ancestor, I keep a notes folder on my computer, and copy and paste my research log template there so everything is in one place.
As seen in the template above, I make a note of the date I researched, the source details, what I was looking for (sometimes I leave this blank), what I found, and any notes. It’s also a good idea to add a text box at the top of the page to list the ancestor, family line or research project you are working on.
Here is a finished research log entry I made earlier:
Benefits of using research logs:
At first glance, research logs can seem very tedious and a lot of hard work. It definitely felt that way to me! But here’s the thing: how many times have you wished you made note of that one source or newspaper article, then spent ages trying to find it back? Research logs take care of all this trouble for you. Once you get in the habit of using them, they become second nature, and your family tree reaps the benefits.
On a professional note, keeping a research log is a huge mark of respect to your client. It shows that you are taking the time to make notes of what you are researching and means you don’t lose vital information that they are paying you to research for. Also, you can send your research logs to your client to give them a friendly update of what you have found so far and where you intend to search next. Here is an example of a professional research log:
I hope this blog post about research logs has helped you and encouraged you to use them in your own research.
Until next time, happy researching!