The genealogy research log

I’ve been really bad about keeping a genealogy research log. I’ve seen references to the importance of them and I even tried keeping a handwritten one in my genealogy spiral notebook when I first started back on this journey earlier this year. But that soon fell by the wayside.

Just this week, as I was thinking about my research while using the elliptical trainer at the gym. (It turns out that the elliptical machine and the shower are where my great ideas come to me–and they’re both places where it’s hard to write those ideas down.) I realized that a research log would be very helpful to avoid duplicating research and to see where I’d left off.

I thought about how the log really needed to be searchable, so it should probably be a spreadsheet. I’m really not a spreadsheet kind of gal–they seem so restricting to me. And I pondered if I could get away with it being in a Pages document. (I’m a Mac user–Pages is the Mac’s version of Word.)

I intended today to fool around with creating a Pages template for a research log. But then I opened the January/February 2013 issue of Family Tree Magazine and read an article called Logging On, all about creating a research log. It made me realize that sorting was as important as searching for my log. So I guess I’ll be using a spreadsheet. I could use Numbers (Mac’s version of Excel) or Google Docs. Call me nuts, but I have a distrust of the cloud. I want this info stored on my computer. So I’m going with Numbers.

Happily, the article also gave some really clear guidelines on setting up the log, including suggested column headings. (They include date, name, record or resource, info sought, source citation, etc.) Also included in the article is a sidebar with a list of blogs and websites with how-tos on setting up a research log. One really kind of excited me. It’s Miriam’s Census Spreadsheet, in which Miriam has created a great way to keep track of what census and vital records data she has found for her ancestors. I think that in addition to a research log, I’m going to try to create a similar spreadsheet.

Setting up the spreadsheet for my research log will be the easy part. The hard part will be creating the habit of using it. I teach workshops on building habits and routines, so I might be a step ahead of the game. I know that I’m very capable of creating habits. (I whittle my email inbox down to zero every day and go to the gym three times a week, for instance.) The first challenge will be remembering to do use the log. Something as simple as a sticky note might help with that.

Intellectually, I understand the value of the research log. I think once I start using it, I’ll quickly experience its value. And that reward will help me create the habit.

December 28 is a great day to decide to create a new habit. I’m hopeful that within a few months I can proudly say that I keep a genealogy research log without even thinking about it!