Documenting the failures

Document your research failures as well as successesHave you ever been pursuing leads on a thorny research problem and found the time just slipping away, without much progress made? I just experienced that. I was trying to fill in some blanks on an ancestor and actually managed to stay pretty focused, but two hours later, those blanks are still empty. I wouldn’t mind keeping going on this challenge, but I need to stop, because I have other things I need to accomplish this morning. Plus, I’m getting kind of frustrated.

It’s easy to spend a lot of time pursuing leads in genealogy research and feel like you’ve wasted your time. But I think there’s a sure-fire way to make the time spent more valuable. And that’s by recording what you’ve done and the results–even if the results are nil.

That’s where a research log comes in. I’ve not been diligent in keeping a research log, though I know that it can be very valuable. But my frustrating time this morning has me appreciating the effort of keeping a log, because I don’t want to repeat the unsuccessful searches (or if I do, I want to do so knowing that the searches have failed in the past).

When Springpad was around, I created a research tracker template that was included in the Family History Organizer notebook on Springpad. That form works with the way I think, so I’ve been continuing to use the template, only now it’s in Evernote. (Feel free to email me if you want me to send you the template–that’s the corner of today’s entry in the photo.) It’s simple and allows me to record the pertinent data without turning it into a big chore. I need to use it more diligently, after every research session, rather than waiting until days like today when logging my research feels absolutely imperative.

My way of keeping a research log is far from perfect. There are much more complete ways to do it–Thomas MacEntee offers an amazing research log template, it just doesn’t feel right for me. (I find it a little intimidating.)

If you’ve been contemplating keeping a research log, but got bogged down in trying to select the best format or you just weren’t sure how to do it, I’d suggest you let go of making it perfect (or even great) and just get into the habit of writing something down. Any information about your research session that you document at the end of the session is better than none!

Giving Evernote another try

Evernote logoI know that people rave about Evernote, for genealogy and for other aspects of life. Over the years, I keep dipping my toe and withdrawing it quickly. The user interface has just never clicked for me.

I blogged back in February of 2013 that I was exploring Evernote for genealogy. That didn’t really pan out, but late in 2013 I started using Springpad, which has a more graphical interface than Evernote. Thanks to Springpad, I became hooked on cloud-based, synching organizing and storage systems. After Springpad announced it was shutting down this month, I exported my data, including my family history research logs, to Evernote.

So now I’m ready to give it another try. I’m trying to be open minded about Evernote’s interface. I bought and read the e-book Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly, and I’m going to be checking out genealogy-specific information about Evernote. (This morning, I found this great page on Cyndi’s List with genealogy templates for Evernote.)

I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime I’m wondering whether any of you have either great tips using Evernote in genealogy or  recommendations of more resources to help me learn to use and love Evernote. If so, I’m all ears!

Springpad shutting down on June 25

Springpad shuts downI was so excited to partner with Springpad on the Family History Organizer custom notebook late last year and early this year. I used it for tracking my research and to-dos and when I worked with them to create it, I had no reason to think that I wouldn’t be using it for years to come.

But, alas, on Friday I was notified that Springpad is closing its doors on June 25. I don’t know why, I’m assuming it has everything to do with it being a start up, funded by venture capital. It’s surprising, though, since Springpad is a venerable start-up; it’s been around since 2008, a long time in that world.

In any case, I wanted to announce it here. If you’re using the Family History Organizer notebook, you’ll want to find a substitute. Evernote is probably the most logical choice, since so many resources are available to learn how to use it for genealogy. (I’ve dabbled with Evernote over the years, never fully clicking with its interface, but I’m giving it another try.)

I have dozens of Springpad notebooks, so I was relieved to learn that they are developing an export tool to make it easier to access my data in other apps. That is supposed to be released this week. On June 25, user data will be deleted from Springpad’s servers, so it’s important to export your data by then, or it will be lost.

I really enjoyed working with the folks at Springpad and I wish them all well. I am going to miss Springpad as a resource; it really did help me organize information and it was the first electronic task manager I was ever able to successfully use.

But now I’ll explore other options for task management. (TeuxDeux is the current frontrunner.) And I’ll let you know if I can make Evernote work for my genealogy resources.

The Research Tracker in Springpad

researchtrackersampleOne of the features of the Family History Organizer custom notebook I created for Springpad is the Research Tracker tab. Since I started getting serious about family history research about 18  months ago, I knew I needed to do a better job of keeping a research log. I tried a spreadsheet, but failed to keep up with it. I think the problem was that I had so many columns to fill out, it felt overwhelming.

So when Springpad asked me to create this notebook, I requested a place to easily record research sessions. It includes headers that can be copied and pasted into a fresh note for each research session. (I made up the headers that make sense to me, but you can easily edit them so that you’re copying and pasting headers that work better for you.)

I’ve been using the Research Tracker for a couple of weeks and have found that it’s really helpful. I start creating a new note at the beginning of each session, which helps me identify the information I’m looking for in the session. I like that when I finish filling it out at the end of the session, I identify next steps in the research.

I think what I like most about it is that it’s simple and non-intimidating. It may not be as thorough as a formal research log, but it’s way better than what I was recording before (which was nothing). Since I’m trying to do research five days a week (or at least work on organizing my research), I have plenty to enter and am feeling optimistic that this will keep me on track.

If you’re interested in trying it out, simply download the Family History Organizer notebook into your free Springpad account. (Or learn more about the notebook before downloading.)