Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Research Log Bugaboo

The research log is an ingrained traditional part of the accepted genealogical methodology. From my observation, nearly every book written about doing genealogical research has as its core some form of a research log. Quoting from the Research Wiki on
Value of Research Logs 
Good research logs help you:
  • Cite your sources. This shows quality research.
  • Sort out what has and has not been found.
  • Organize and correlate copies of documents.
  • Weigh evidence to make better conclusions, and better lineage links.
  • Show your search strategies and questions.
  • Reduce unwanted duplication of effort.
Research logs show negative evidence (what you do not find). NO other tool does this nearly as well. And logs save time by helping avoid repetitive searches after a research pause. Logs can become a table of contents to documents in your file. Research logs serve as a foundation on which the next generation of researchers can build. Use research logs to help in EVERY step of the research process.
The bugaboo here is "avoid repetitive searches."

(If you don't know the meaning of any word I use, look it up on Google. Type in "define [word you want to define]." There is a space between the word "define" and the word you want to define. Also, you do not need the brackets.

Why do I want to avoid repetitive searches? The answer is that you don't. Let's suppose you are searching New England Town Records. Here is an example of what you might be looking at:

How many names are on this page? How many of these individuals are potential relatives? Is there information on this page that you might use in the future? How many times will you have to go back through this record as you continue to do research in this particular location? If you treat your Research Log like a checklist of places you have searched, then when will you come back to this record? What has changed since the genealogical community started the idea of Research Logs?

Originally, genealogists focused on their direct line ancestors. The idea was to build a pedigree back as far as possible (i.e. back to Adam). Currently, the emphasis has changed. Now, we are interested in finding our relatives or the descendants of our direct line ancestors. If you were researching one ancestor in a town in New England, you would look through the town record and if you did not find the ancestor in the years estimated for his or her life, you would move on to a new record. Today, you are going to live with that town record for a long time. Even if you do not find one specific ancestor, you might find people in another descendancy line. Effectively, there is almost no chance that you would be relying on negative evidence.

The Research Wiki description above is simply out-of-date in a serious way. So am I advocating the abandonment of Research Logs altogether? Not really, what I am advocating is a different was of looking at sources. Just as you may go back to the same U.S. Census multiple times as your objectives change over time, you may need to go back to any other record also. Rather than keep list of places and dates, you examined a record, how about writing a narrative of your conclusions and the records you have looked at to support those conclusions. That does not mean that you will not go back and look at those same documents again, as is assumed by the traditional checklist approach to research, but you will review the documents, again and again, to make sure there was nothing you missed the first time. This will happen as a natural result of the evolution of your research conclusions.

People have a tendency to treat computers as glorified word processors. With the introduction of the internet, the computer became an extension of your own memory. When you are using a computer as a research tool, you are magnifying your own ability to search, retain, and analyze information. Rather than write down the citation to a record on a Research Log, I can incorporate a digitized copy of the record with a link to its origin right in my research narrative. Rather than having a static pile of photocopies or handwritten notes, the document can become an integral part of the research evaluation process.

What do my research notes look like? Part of this answer depends on the program I am using to record my information. There is an assumption in all the suggested uses of Research Logs that you will make a list of all the places you looked. Why? Well, I am back around the circle again. How do know that the next time you look at the record or document that your perspective will not have changed and you will see the document in a new light and it will solve your problem? This has happened to me so many times that I could not possibly take the position that I had "negative evidence" simply because I did not find what I was looking for the first time around.

Where do I keep the information? Anyplace that is convenient. Right now, I am using Google Docs to keep my narratives. You might like some other program. The main consideration is the fact that the information stored in the program is available on any of your devices, iPads, smartphones etc.

1 comment:

  1. I like the way you think :) I've been trying and trying to keep a "proper" Research Log and just find it an exercise in frustration - I seem to spend more time on entering info into it than on my research and conclusion writing. And I agree with you re WANTING to go back to look at records more than once - they can reveal more info when you delve into them again. I do lots of collateral research and have found relatives living next-door to each other etc.

    Also, conducting the same searches again can often bring up positive results as databases and record collections are updated!