I know that I’m supposed to do it. I really do. But, like probably everyone else who is honest, I don’t always take notes as I research. That wastes time later.
While at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I worked on the extended family of a woman named Mary Parker who was a resident of Bedford County, Virginia, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Quite a few documents were located on Mary and various members of her family. I made digital copies of records and indicated the original sources from which those images were obtained. I even wasted two hours one morning because I had neglected to put volume numbers on the images of deed books as I made them.
But when I returned home, I realized that there was a part of my process that I had neglected to record. As I located documents (and partially read them as I made digital copies), I made “notes in my head” about the people I was researching, vital events in their lives, who their relatives were, etc. Those notes in my head are no longer in my head. I can sort my images by date and time they were made. That helps me to see the images in the order in which they were located, but that doesn’t always help me to completely reproduce my process.
What I usually do is take pictures of all notes that I write as I research. Those details are usually sufficient for me to refollow my steps when I return home. For those whose handwriting is not worth reproducing, typing your notes (or emailing them to yourself) is a good option as well.
It’s not just your research onsite that you should summarize as soon as possible. If you’ve made notes while interviewing a family member, review those notes as soon as you can and make any annotations while details are fresh in your mind.
You will forget that which you think you will never forget.