Really Tracking Your Research?

This was posted 11 years ago. I don’t think we’re any closer today than we were then.

In the old days of genealogy, we were told to fill out “research logs” where we tracked the sources we used, what names or families we looked for in these sources and the results of our search. Tracking what we did as we did it was a laudable goal.

I’m just concerned now that with the advent of searchable databases, most genealogists are not coming anywhere close to tracking what they search for in a specific database or on a given website.

If I am searching for a family in an online 1860 census index, am I keeping track of all the necessary variants of the first name and the last name? If I fail to locate the likely head of household, am I searching for all the other likely household members? Do I write down all the variants for the last name and think about what is the best combination of wildcard and soundex searches for those names? Do I do the same with the first names? Am I searching for all nicknames, diminutives, etc.?

If the likely residence of a family geographically small, I can search the census manually. If it is large, this may be possible or it may be impractical. I’ve seen articles where it has been said someone cannot be found in a census. I rarely see where the specific unsuccessful searches are listed out in an attempt to defend the “can’t find them statement.” If the census is searched manually then listing the procedure really is not necessary (but the source is). But if a manual search is not done and it is said “she can’t be found” then the search parameters should be included.

The genealogical community is more aware of the importance of sources than they were twenty-five or so years ago. Now we need to work on our tracking of search parameters, particularly when we are indicating someone “can’t be found” and a manual search is impratical.


4 thoughts on “Really Tracking Your Research?

  1. Bill Weller says:

    Very good point to raise about still tracking the sources & names & name variants we research as we researchers use more and more online databases! However, when it takes me 3-5x’s as long, or more, to log names, sources & variants as it does to perform the search and search variants, it becomes extremely burdensome to slow down my research in order to log my steps.

    Do any of the major/large genealogy research sites offer a tool to document my searches during a research session?

  2. I don’t think it’s as important as the real genealogists do. When I’ve looked at a data base that I’ve looked at numerous times before I’ve often found something new, either because it is new or because I didn’t know enough at the time to connect the dots. The research log is fine but don’t use it as a list of where you’ve been before in order to not go there again.

  3. I agree. We should probably also record the times when we resort to looking for William Allison by searching for the names of his neighbors.

    On the other hand, I wonder whether it is productive to log searches _very_ precisely when the databases are being updated behind the scenes at FamilySearch and Ancestry (for example), and the same search parameters might fail this month but find a match next month.

  4. Carolyn a Atkinson says:

    If I am researching for something, and I expect it/him/her to be there and they are not, and I am not having any success, I date and write that they are not where I am expecting them to be. Otherwise, I do not source where I have looked as the searches online are pretty broad. I will also state that ancestry or familysearch does not have them at my date of search, and will later recheck it.

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