I don’t know everything. No, seriously. So I was really looking forward to participating in the Genealogists in Second Life Book Club. We are reading Val Greenwood’s Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd ed. Last week, we read Chapter 7 (Organizing and Evaluating Research Findings). Unfortunately, my week contained two Mondays and I missed Tuesday night’s book club meeting. Hopefully, this post will make up for my absence!
Chapter 7 was all about keeping a record of your research. I kinda sorta thought I was already doing this, but … well, keep reading. There’s a lesson in here somewhere.
Basically, the goal(s) of keeping good research notes are (1) to keep you, the researcher, in sync with the problem to be solved and (2) so any who follow you can check your work and continue where you left off. Greenwood says, “Everything possible must be done to prevent needless duplication of effort.” There needs to be a cross-stitch pattern for this.
He goes on to talk about different methods of keeping research notes (calendars, logs, etc.) and what they should contain. He talks about evaluating your notes, citing your sources, and making periodic research reports.
I was so motivated by this chapter that I created a new research log form for myself. I decided to try a little different approach than Greenwood’s … having a research log for each question I wanted answered. My first attempt is here.
Here it comes …
I decided to try another research question that I’ve been trying to answer for a while: When was Patrick Slowey born? So I used the same format as the previous log.
Here it comes …
Once I had input all the documentation I already had, and documented all the places I was looking further (as I went, obviously), I started evaluating and analyzing the information from all the sources. The Big Picture, if you will.
Here it comes …
I will say that evaluating pieces of information in the context of all the information together gives you an entirely different perspective on what you know. For example, after reviewing all the information I have from census records and other sources, I came to the conclusion that I had the wrong census record for 1860! Patrick’s age was off by 9 years … more than I was comfortable attributing to poor math by the enumerator.
My 19th nervous breakdown:
This was terrible! I relied on the 1860 census information as the only information I had to document my 2nd great grandfather’s (Patrick Slowey’s son) birth! Everything I’ve done for the past year for him was based on THAT information! I was devastated. I was seriously thinking about throwing in the towel, admitting defeat, and learning how to make baskets.*
I became a crazy person. I was looking everywhere. I searched on every website I could think of for anything related to the Sloweys. I was looking page-by-page through census records. I was sending emails to random people on the internet … okay, not really, but I did revisit a couple of fellow researchers who had shared information on the Sloweys in the past. Here is the frenzied research log. Don’t judge. I was unmedicated (and there was no wine in the house).
Then I remembered seeing a course on FamilySearch about research logs (part 1 here, and part 2 here), so I thought I would check it out. The lecture is given by G. David Dilts, A.G., and is a total of about 45 minutes long (for both parts together). Mr. Dilts explained about the pitfalls of not using a research log, and how to use one effectively. Of course, both Dilts and Greenwood advocate keeping your logs on paper … and I’ve got enough paper in my office to choke a horse already … so I’m keeping mine digital, thank you very much. He had good insight into the reasoning behind keeping a research log. It got me thinking again …
I have since calmed down enough to realize that I probably DO have the right family, but the information is inaccurate. I will continue to hunt down that birth date, and since I have my research log I know exactly where I left off, and what I still need to do. I am convinced that if I don’t look at that file again for 6 months or a year, I will be able to review that research log and pick up right where I left off, which is the whole purpose, right?
All of that being said, I have learned my lesson. I only hope that someone else will learn from it too — before it’s too late! I will shout it from the mountain tops “KEEP A RESEARCH LOG!!!” I honestly can’t stress that enough. After watching Dilts’ lecture and building on Greenwood’s ideas, I fine-tuned my Research Log Template, moved it into Excel, and this is the final product.
*Thanks, Laura, for talking me down off the basket-making ledge.
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