Learn Genealogy – Research Logs & Research Planning

Research Logs (as opposed to Research Notes) are often the most underutilized task in our research tool kit.  I myself am guilty of not documenting every place I’ve looked.  However, Research Logs are a vital part of our research and is a huge time saver.

What is it?  A Research Log is a list of places researchers have looked for evidence and facts to answer a specific research questions, including where and when the research was conducted, whether on location or online. 

Let’s face it, we love genealogy and we spend hours digging around for our ancestors, but how many times do we write down every record group, every book, every cemetery we’ve researched. So how do we keep a good Research Log and keep it handy when we need it?

I keep a Research Log for each ancestor or family group I’m investigating.  If you want a format of what you should have in your Research Log, you can find a free Research Log at FamilySearch.org or many other locations.  Just Google “Research Log for Genealogy” and find a variety of choices to fit your needs.

You should be documenting every place you’ve searched, to answer your research question, and when you did the research.  Why record when we did the research?  Because things change, records may have been added later, history may have been rewritten due to better evidence and conclusions.  Years later, you or your descendants may want to know when you did that research.

Free Research Log from FamilySearch.org

A side note: I have a confession to make… I’m addicted… to software… to saving time… to making my job easier.  I will take EXTRA TIME to learn software that will ultimately save me tons of time. I’m a huge believer in making the software do the work for me. Therefore, learn the basics of spreadsheets.  You don’t have to do math for this, I promise.

So here’s my… “kill-two-birds-with-one-stone” research tip.   Use your Research Planning in combination with your Research Log … by using spreadsheets Especially when researching on location, time always seems to be in short supply.

As long as you need to keep a Research Log… and you need to properly and strategically plan your research, why not do them both in one document.  This is especially helpful when planning for research trips.

Here’s how: Use your favorite spreadsheet (like Excel or Google Sheets) and create a Research Log and Research Plan on one page.  Next, develop a research question for a given ancestor or family group, then create a prioritized plan in your spreadsheet that looks like a Research Log except it doesn’t have the results yet.  However, with advanced planning, it should already have the item… say a book, the author, the location, etc. in the Research Plan/Log in advance of your actual research.  Then when you’re at the library, archive you can follow the prioritized plan and save valuable time, by not having to write down every detail when time is short.  You should do this at home too.

Research Plan and Research Log in One Document

By doing this, you can also embed web links to the source with one click, you’ll have the start of a source citations, and the results you found collectively in one place.

In this example, I used different tabs across the bottom for different counties, I was researching on a trip to Salt Lake City.

You can store the spreadsheet on your computer or use a cloud service like Google Sheets for easy access anywhere.

Keep in mind, that web links and cloud based documents will need access to the internet while researching on location.  Most libraries, archives and, public locations have free access to the internet.  I prefer to use my “Personal Hotspot” found in the Settings on my cell phone, because its private and I find it to be faster than most public wifi services. However, cell phone “Hotspots” are only as good as the cell service at the location.

With Research Logs, the results (positive or negative), the facts found, the source information, are all in one place.  From here you can cut and paste your positive finding and source information into your Research Notes.   All of this is a vital time saver, helps prevent repeating the same research, and will help you to accurately prove your lineage.

I’ve created a free Excel template you can download here. Research Log Template

I hope this helps you as much as it has for me. I was not a fan of keeping Research Logs in the past.  But when you’re out at the library or on a trip, time is always in short supply. Once I started really making good research plans in an effort to save time, I realized that I could keep the results on the same page. Then I started doing all of that on my little Surface Pro (which I absolutely love for genealogy), my research techniques drastically improved.  

Now, not only do I have a detailed research plan, and research log, I have the beginnings of my next step to write my research notes and source citations. Many times, if I write the positive findings clearly in my research log, I simply cut and paste them into my research notes.

Make sure you reference that you have a research log in your research notes, so you can continue on for the next trip.

Lastly, I file them just like I do for my research notes… SURNAME, First Name and Research Log.  I preface also preface it with a 2 so that that file rises to 2nd place in that person’s electronic folder.

Another tip: I’ve started using Google Drive, Docs and Sheets so that I can access these documents on any device. That may or may not be an option for you, but I’ve found the Google Docs and Google Sheets to be the most reliable of the cloud based document sharing.  

Sometimes, before a big trip to say… Salt Lake City… I’ll upload my family files to Google Docs so I can access and edit them from anywhere on any device (as long as you have your login).

If you found this helpful…

Comments are welcome at the bottom of the page.  How do you use research logs?

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