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.