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Research Calendars (Logs) and similar tools (or "Why we postpone them")

During the chat following the GenTrek presentation Monday evening, GenJ mentioned keeping a research log. I knew that these existed, but I hadn't done anything yet.
After I got home from my mini-vacation, I got out Val Greenwood and other teaching/reference resources for help in setting this up.
I was immediately overwhelmed. Mentally I began "screaming:" "I can't do this! This isn't the way I work! Someone come hold my hand!"
So I took a few hours off and let these results simmer in the back brain. This discussion is my request for folks to come and "hold my hand" in a constructive manner. I don't want anyone to format my Research Calendar for me; that's both lazy and useless. I just thought that if folks would show up and discuss why and how they did these logs, I could begin to see how to make it fit my style.
Because it is true that the structure of the examples in my published books doesn't fit the way I think. My natural learning pattern is to do something, let that simmer while I go elsewhere, then come bact and work some more. This would drive many folks crazy, but it's what works for me. That style of learning makes some type of record imperative, I can see that; but setting one up is like my algebra classes — I could solve the equation, I just couldn't see how to set the equation up in the first place so that the answer had anything to do with the problem.
Some of my questions are silly: "Can I do this on the laptop?" I'm sure I can, so I must really be asking, what's the best way to do this on the laptop. Or perhaps I'm asking if a paper log is somehow more effective than an electronic log.
The general purpose is clearly to mark out where you have been in your research, to note it in ways that will prevent you from needing to repeat the research and also help others to retrace it if necessary. But how to I translate this general purpose into steps and structures that are of immediate meaning to me?
This post looks pretty muddled — which ought to indicate how muddled I feel right now. Anyone with any suggestions?

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OK (deep sigh of relief) — I can do this!

What Val Greenwood says is more structured, like the FamilySearch article seems to be. I knew that such structure is not absolutely necessary (and indeed the Greenwood book says to do it in your own fashion) but I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't figure out how to be more relaxed and still get the facts in place so that retracing is not necessary.

I've made a copy from all your examples. From these examples plus the example from Greenwood, I'll be able to work out my style; one that doesn't tie me up in knots by being too detailed (a true bad habit of mine) but still gets all the information stated for future use and for review of past steps.

I like what I have seen of how you and the others do this on Most Wanted, but didn't think that I could structure things in your way; now I now I can (well in my way, as is fitting, but my version of your less formal completeness). I will begin working on this more or less right away. (Since I started this post today our 18-year-old cat has developed a seemingly serious illness; I may not be able to work much for worry.)

As I said at the start of this topic, it was your comment in the after-presentation chat Monday evening that started me on researching the Research Log. And it is your examples which will help me find my way toward developing the style which will work for me. So I give you a double thank you. I will keep you posted as I work out my style.
Thank you again for your help.
Since I made the above reply, I realized that a screenshot of a Reunion family card might help; so I got my computer manual to teach me how and took one. (all the people showing on this card are dead, so we're not invading privacy).
I've messed up this reply twice tonight; I'll try to get it entered without typos tomorrow. Sorry about my clumsiness, but typos in transcribing keyboard shortcuts can only lead to disaster.

There is a program called Grab, located in the Utilities folder in the Applications folder, but I don't use it directly. I use the keyboard shortcuts that allow you to captures the whole screen, or a part of the screen, or the window or menubar. (By the way, the numbers in these directions are the numeral keys NOT the function keys.)

For the whole screen: Command-Shift-3.

For part of the screen: Command-Shift-4, and then drag the crosshair pointer to select the area. Continue to press the mouse button, release the keys, and then press Shit, Option, or the Space Bar while you drag to resize the selection area. When you are ready to take a picture, release the mouse button.
To cancel, press Excapt.

For a window or the menu bar: Command-Shift-4, press the Space Bar , move the camera pointer over the area to highlight it, and then click.
To cancel, press Escape.

The third method was the cleanest picture and the one I posted. I don't remember seeing this third instruction before, so it may be new in Snow Leopard, the newest operating system.

I hope these help.

It's an Apple thing, rather than Safari. I use Firefox rather than Safari because one online site ( seems to have some trouble with Safari (I use Safari also, but not often); the spell check shows up in Firefox also.

I've included a beginning form for a research log, including sample (mostly made-up) data for the same family shown in the family card I posted above. My citations haven't been stabilized yet, so that entry is made up and the list of names doesn't work the way I wanted it to, so I made that up also.

I chose to use a FileMaker Pro database as the source of my form, because I already have FileMaker running whenever I have Reunion running; clicking the arrow up where it says "Research" on the upper left-hand side allows me to switch between my older set of records and the ones I hope will make up a good log.

The TK in the name list SHOULD be the Reunion ID for that individual. When I get it to work properly, those IDs will generate the names that I manually copied here. I can enter as many names as I wish, depending upon where the research is happening and what I'm looking for.

I mocked up the log for a census search, because most of my searches so far have BEEN in the Census (at, at pilot site, at *, and at HeritageQuest).

I can make different layouts as I see the need to; I can even print out a blank layout for the purpose of going on a field trip.

Other than the problems that I've noted above (citation style and how the individuals get entered) are there important items I'm not covering? (In Reunion, through the source citation for this census event, I have access to the digital download. I can call it up and read all the fields at any time I am looking at this Source; my questions in the note field depend on this ability. I didn't see the need to be more specific in the research log. But perhaps I am wrong?)


Your comments are why this is so helpful. That's why Genealogy Wise is such a great place.

In this instance, Jake is my grandfather, so that I know the answers to some of the questions you brought up. (Trap No. 1 for the genalogist?) So, let's take them point by point to help me decide what is vital for future work, and what is merely my style.

You wrote: "Part of the reason I keep the log is to keep track of information out individuals who "might" be related and about events or records that "might" be about those who are in the database." Reunion allows you to enter "unrelated" names which are clearly so marked. The older table in the FileMaker file I used for the base of the log was prepared as an index to Reunion; unrelated individuals are so marked in this index. If I also note that in my log table, is this point covered?

Jake inherited the home from his father-in-law, but I have no data and don't know the details. I think you are telling me that next to the comment on the Jakob spelling, I need to remind myself to check out the facts (a deeds lookup that would be the follow-up to the one I would be doing for the father-in-law)?

I have been given information on the ship that Caroline arrived in, but have done no follow-through on that yet. So, again I think you are suggesting that I expand this note. By the way, the note about "can read and write" is because I'm remembering that earlier census marked her as illiterate. So I guess I should have expanded on this conflict in these census reports.

Hannah is Em's aunt (my gg aunt); I think she was simple. An earlier census has her listed as working as a domestic (my memory is poor here) but she is 80 to 90 in this census, so employment isn't an issue. Meeting her is one of my earliest memories. I would guess the meeting was Thanksgiving, 1929. So the name in the notes should say "Hanna is missspelled; she is the sister of John Shafer"? (John Shafer shows on the family card as Em's father.)

I have space in my current layout to do this type of summary for each person in the household; ie, age, place of birth, occupation, immigrant, etc. together with the queries — those I did make, and those you suggested. I set up most of the fields to be expandable.

I created the earlier table in this FileMaker database both as an Index to Reunion, and as a place to use for temporary holding of questions. I think I need to use it as an index to the research log and transfer the questions to the log table. One of the fields in the index table can list the census searches, court-house searches, and so on. Each record in the log table can have a unique record number; then the index record could say something like "1920 census, Research Log #1" or "Deed Searches for 301 N. Mill Street, N. Manchester, Indiana; Research Log #nn; information to come."

I hope I'm not getting over detailed. I am learning that in genealogy every detail counts, but it is always possible for me to obsess over small details and not get on with the real business.

You are correct in noting that I didn't state a conclusion about my findings on this census page. I can add that field to either table of the database. I'll do some more thinking about that.

I hope other people are reading this discussion, and learning about Research Logs. I should have mentioned earlier that you use a word processing document while I chose a database. I suspect a spreadsheet could be a good format for a Research log also. I'd guess that the choice of format depends both on the software a researcher has and on they way that researcher instinctively orders data.

Thank you again for your help.

Next version of my Research Log

I have a screen shot of the revised log attached.

First — the third field down at the left-hand side is SUPPOSED to show both John and Caroline's name! This is a design mistake I've made in FileMaker that I don't quite understand. I will work on this, but in the meantime, I can use this field — one name at a time — to examine the census (or other record) and fill in the comments for that person, then do the next. When I fix this, these names should be the parents on a family card, along with offspring, plus other members of the household.

Secod — the citation next to this field reflects my understanding of what Elizabeth Shown Mills suggests as a format for a "Short List entry;" I've asked the group on "Sourcing Your Genealogy" two questions about this citation: I. Is this what a Short List entry is designed for? and 2. Is my format useful for other researchers to follow? I may make changes in the entry format to this field, whenever I receive answers from that group. Specific information and format may change, but this field should remain a citation for the source (or sources) of this particular research venture.

Third — the Notes and Comments fields carry the burden of the log; right this moment, these fields show all my thoughts about what I have found here about these 2 people. There is also an indication that another family member shows up on the same census page. John's father is not part of this research, but a note that he is found on the same page is both a comment on John's status in 1850 and an indication that the resource is already recorded (I do not need to find the image that is marked by Ancestry as "page 11 of 37" when I do my searches on Henry Strickler.) This last information is somewhat redundant, since I have a storage spot for every full page transcription of a census page that I have done and I am making such a full page transcription for each page that shows a person in the database and also for each page I search in order to locate elusive members of our extended family.

Finally there is a minor design problem in the long "field" at the top of the log. This is really 4 fields; the break between the first and second fields shows on the screen; the breaks between the second and third fields and the third and fourth fields are hidden at this time. I will fix that the next time I tinker with this layout. This is a subtle point, but suggesting these breaks will make data entry easier; it should also make read back easier to understand.

I now feel that I have made some progress at having a research log. My next challenge is to learn to use the log in a productive manner and to use it for each research "trip" I make, whether at the computer or in the field.

The formal logs as advocated by FHL and others have not worked for me at all! This formal log was just another place to write down the details that I already saved as both hard copy (in binders) and scans (on the computer) of the originals, and then entered into my data base--from which I can print out on the family sheet if I wanted a list of sources. In addition, the information is not easily sorted to find source titles by person and so meant spending way too much time wading through the murk, so I never referred to the log anyway. What a waste of labor! What I really needed was a log that was an indexing system that would give me a synopsis of what I have already found (and which directs me to a record I can easily "pull" if I need more data), and also a system to record what I DIDN'T find and where I didn't find it. So, I now use an Excel spread sheet, a new file for each surname, 2 sheets per surname. The two sheets are labelled "Found" and "Not Found" The columns of the Found page are "date found," "date of event,""person," "relationship" "event," "other relevant notes," "need original source," and "source." I use the same columns on the "Not Found" page except the first column is labeled "date not found." I then use simple entries in each column--like person = "DeKemel, Ludovicus," event "birth," source "Civil Registry-Woumen, BE." The column for "need original record" is for something like records found on the IGI--I've found some leads, so I record them as found info, but I still need to find the original source document, so I enter "yes" in red in that column, to remind me I still need more. When I find it, I erase the "yes" and type the date found in that column as well as setting up a new line to record the new data. When I find something elsewhere on the "Not Found" page, I mark that item as found in such and such a record on such and such a date, then also add the found data to the "Found" sheet. The big advantage, I can sort on any column, so if I want to know what I did on a particular day, I can sort on that. If I want to know something about the children of Jean Baptiste and Eugenia, I sort first on the relationship column, then on the person column, and voila!

Thank you for your experience. I believe it will help many people who are following this discussion..

My older daughter and I have a running mock "feud" — because she thinks like a spreadsheet and I think like a database. Since my log is in the FileMakerPro database, it has the same advantages for sorting that your spreadsheet gives you. I did want a place to jot down my questions and suggestions to myself for further research. I also wanted to be sure that my citations make sense to me. A person can do all this in a spreadsheet also.

Your system seems to be simpler than mine (but since I have a bias against spreadsheets, it would drive me crazy — they all do).

Since I "think like a database" it is good to have someone speak up for the spreadsheet approach also.

Thank you for your suggestions.

You're right that I think like a spreadsheet. I really like lists too. Some of my friends tell me mind must be a combination of table, lists, and bullet points because I frequently use them even in email messages, reports, and letters and have been known in conversation to number off the points I want to make.
I sometimes introduce myself at a computer club meeting by saying "I make lists for a hobby." But I make them in a database (and have done so since the early 1980's when I first got hold of a database).

My son thinks lists are some sort of trap against his creativity — I think that they release your creativity. I already mentioned that his older sister likes lists, but like you, she prepares hers in a spreadsheet. And my younger daughter mainly keeps hers in word processors.



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