Ever since I got serious about genealogy in 2012, I’ve struggled with keeping a research log. (Before that, I didn’t even consider keeping one.) In March 2017, after a few unsuccessful attempts at other formats, I settled on keeping my research log in Evernote with a simple note per session where I take free-form notes and always end the note with next steps. The notes are kept in a notebook by year. In April 2017, I blogged in detail about my informal research log. And in March 2017, I blogged about why keeping a research log is important. (If you click on that link, be sure and read the comments, which are really insightful.)
I’m in the middle of a 30 x 30 challenge and therefore researching daily in short sessions. I’m proud that there is a note for each day this month in my 2019 Research Log notebook. One benefit I’m seeing of my research log is that it’s keeping me focused and saving me time. And I appreciate that!
I always write next steps at the bottom of each entry. (True confession: Sometimes, during unproductive sessions, I just copy and paste the next steps from the previous day.) That means that when I sit down to research, all I have to do is pull up the previous day’s session notes and I know exactly what to work on. No more paralysis with the question “What should I work on today?”
Also, writing down what I’m doing seems to keep on task. I try to write as I go with frequent notes in my log each session. Sometimes, though, I end up doing a brain dump at the end of the session. Writing down what I’m doing or have done, keeps my research question top of mind.
When I come across a clue that I want to explore in the future (about a different research question or a different family than the one I’m researching today), I write it down in a follow up folder. I keep follow folders by surname and check them every now and then.
Staying focused is so hard in genealogy research with so many wonderful things to explore and so many temptations put right in front of us. A research log–in concert with follow-up folders to jot down future tasks–is my secret weapon for staying focused. My research log is far from perfect. But it’s consistent and, I’m finding, very helpful.
I have a Facebook group called Genealogy Research Loggers. Please join if you’re interested in research logs!