Research "logs" – does anyone really use them? What form is best? The ones I have seen in books and articles look good – while they are blank and before they really become logs. But what about the books you come across while looking for something else? How do you keep track of the titles you searched which yielded nothing /zip / nada? That is still a problem for me.
Straightforward "to do" checklists for a predefined set of people, such as one's direct ancestors, are all well and good. It is important to be sure one has looked at all the obvious sources for the standard data – census records, vital records, land records, city directories, etc. (Images of, or at least citations for, originals, please!) But when you have done that – what next?
I am in the midst of preparations for a trip to Salt Lake City next month, and since so much is now available online, my time there needs to be spent on searches I cannot easily do from home or at local libraries. To that end, I am working up some research sheets – not logs at this point – for particularly knotty problems. Each will deal with an individual and will list what I know about him/her already – that is, DOCUMENTED data – put down as concisely as possible. If I have some unsupported information from other researchers, I will be sure to include that as a source of clues.
Each sheet will state precisely what I am hoping to find out, and some ideas for sources to examine. Going to the Family History Library's online catalog from home, I can look for films, books and periodicals which offer possibilities. Of course when I get there, the open stacks will allow for all kinds of serendipitous discoveries. I must remember to fully note the name, date and author of each title examined, a task too easy to ignore. By noting the location numbers for books and films ahead of time, I can save time when I get there by going straight to the shelves or drawers.
Even when I have found some information online, I want to try to find the original source. For instance, Ancestry.com has a huge database of Delaware marriages, but they are just transcriptions. There are references to the sources, and many times these are FHL films of the original records – which may have more – or clearer – information.
I used to think once I had examined a book or film, it could be set aside permanently, as "finished." But of course that is not the case. As we learn more about the lines we are searching, additional information in those same books and film may reveal itself as relevant. It is one thing to repeat a search out of forgetfulness, and quite another to take a second look with wiser eyes.
A librarianly postscript: when noting the publication you have examined, be sure to write down the title as shown on the TITLE PAGE, not the spine or front cover. They often vary, and the true title is the one you need.