Researching your family history

Should you use research logs or journals?

I’ve been researching my family history for nearly 30 years now, and I’ve never used a research log or journal.  I watched the Legacy Family Tree Webinar New Tools and Ideas in Research, and he suggested that you should keep a research journal.  I also noticed that Geoff Rasmussen talks about his research journal in his webinars.  Yesterday, I read the blog post, and viewed the video, on the Family History Fanatics blog Why You Don’t Need a Genealogy Research Log.  I agree with Devon Noel Lee – I see no need to keep a separate research log or journal.

My current research process involves:

Step 1. I use my Excel index (refer to my post My Index in Microsoft Excel for details about this index) to pull out the “documents” I have for each person, and then enter the information from these documents into Legacy Family Tree, citing the source of the information as I go.  I put the file name in the File ID field of the source citation.

File ID

When I have pulled out the files, I move my index entries to a new sheet in my Excel spreadsheet named “Added to Legacy”.  That way, I have an index of the documents I’ve already added to Legacy, and an index of what I haven’t yet added. I also move the file(s) to a subfolder Added to Legacy.  Because I know I am going to be moving my image files, I use the option in Legacy to save a copy of the image to the Legacy Media folder. That way, I have my working copy wherever I want it on my computer, and a copy in the Media folder, so that I don’t end up with any missing links in my database.

Step 2. I then use my research checklist to search for records for each person in free online databases.  I’ve shared my checklist in my posts My Research Checklist, and My Research Checklist – an Update. My checklist is continually growing, as my research expands beyond Victoria, Australia into other Australian States and overseas.  My checklist is based on using the following types of documents to find birth, death and marriage information: birth death marriage certificates/indexes/parish registers, family notices, cemetery records, military records, probate and inquest files, immigration records, and census records.  As I find a record, I copy the information from the website that I need to craft my source citations into Microsoft Word, (I’ll later transcribe the document into Microsoft Word as well) and I download any image/PDF files. I give my Word files and image files the same name. An example of a file name is 2020-01-24 Frances Marr death & funeral notices – I use the date that I did the research in reverse order so that the files sort by date, and then a description of the file.  I leave all the files in my Documents folder on my computer to begin with.

Step 3. As I am looking at a record, I decide if I need to add an item to my to-do list.  For example, if I find index entries for a Probate and Administration file on the Public Record Office Victoria database, I add a to-do item in Legacy to order the probate file.  Since this will involve my going to Melbourne to view the records at the Reading Room in North Melbourne, it might be a while before I get around to these.  When I’m using the Ryerson Index, and I find entries from The Age in Melbourne, I add a to-do item in Legacy to download the notices from the Newspapers.com website.  I don’t have a subscription at the moment, because for now I’m concentrating on free resources, but I will have a list of items to look for once I take out a subscription.  For other newspapers, I might need to take a trip to the State Library of Victoria to see if the newspaper is available on microfilm there, so I add these to the to-do list.

Step 4.  When I have finished researching for the day, I’ll copy the files to my portable hard drive, and to OneDrive.  I then move all the files to my Genealogy Do-over folder. I then generate a file list of the new files, and add this to my Excel index (to the sheet for the documents I’ve added to Legacy). I then enter the information from these new documents to Legacy, citing my sources as I go.  I highlight in green the information as I add it to Legacy, and when I have finished working on the file, I move the file to a subfolder Added to Legacy.  As I have finished working on a person, I add Tag 1 to that person to indicate that they are now ready to be added to my online tree.

At this stage, I’m focusing on adding the basic birth, death and marriage information to Legacy (that’s why I highlight in green what I have already added to Legacy, so that I can go back later and add any additional information from the document). I therefore only have a basic index in Excel, to keep track of which documents I have for each person.  I have to-do lists to keep track of what research I want to do at a later date. I don’t bother setting up to-do lists before I do the research, because that’s what my checklist is for (it’s quicker to use a checklist than to set up to-do lists for everything and everyone), and I certainly don’t worry about setting up a to-do list for research I’ve already done – I’ll know what research I’ve done by looking at what information I’ve entered in my database, and which sources I’ve attached.  If I want to record any additional information about my research, such as records I couldn’t find, or my thought process in coming to a conclusion, I’ll use the Research Notes tab in Legacy.  I see no reason to have a separate research log, if it’s just going to be the same information that I already have in my family tree database.