I have heard many times from bewildered yet earnest family-history seekers some variation of the following: “Every time I start working on my family history, I feel like I’m just wasting time.  I go to a genealogy class. We open up FamilySearch and ‘start working’ but soon the research time is up and I have to quit. When I come back to it the next week, it’s like I didn’t do anything at all before and I just spin my wheels again for another hour.” If this scenario happens to you on a recurring basis, you might be missing . . . (drum roll!) . . .

The Magic Link!

The magic link between your ancestors and you is a research log! This little item can save you so many hours of wasted searching time.  “But it would be such a bother to stop my research and fill that thing out every time I look at a different record!” you might say.  It could be a bother if we didn’t have word processing software that can copy and paste. These days, it takes just seconds to keep your focus. Think of the research log as a tool in your genealogy toolbox. You can do the job faster and better with the right tools.

Instead of writing down the names of record collections as you search them, there’s an even faster way to use your new tool. When you want to manage your time well and have a productive day, you might make out a list the night before to schedule your day out, right?  Well, planning ahead works wonders with a research log, too.  Here’s what to do.

  • First, decide one thing you want to find out. Then write that at the top of your log.  This is your research goal and it will keep you focused.
  • Look at records for the location you want to search. You can do a Google search for genealogical records repositories and the name of the location and find lots of options. Each repository will have an index and a way to find their holdings. If you look in FamilySearch (free) click Search–>Catalog–>Place–>type in a location–>click Search and up will come a nice subject listing of everything FamilySearch has available.  Click on the type of record you are looking for.
  • Now just take your log and copy and paste into your log the record collections available for the years you need. Open the record collections one at a time and write what you find into your log.  If you find nothing, write nil.
  • Next week when you want to spend an hour doing some family history research, just pull out your log and you will be able to see what you’ve already looked at and what still needs to be checked.
  • When you finish looking at all of the record collections on your log, you may wish to try looking under another subject or looking in another record repository and making another list. At this point, you will have a reference to check against so you don’t search the same record collection twice.
  • If you get your research question answered by two or three solid sources (see this article about the best sources to use) and feel sure about your findings, you can start a new research log with a new question!
  • And best of all, you can say, “Hey, I got something done this time!”

Is this organized and efficient or what?!!!  Want one more easy tip?  Create or copy your log in Google Docs, OneDrive, iCloud, or a similar cloud storage service. You will not have to keep track of a piece of paper. Your log will be available on your phone or other device any time. And your hard work will not disappear when you have computer problems!

Click here for a free research log template. For more in depth training on the subject of research logs, watch these great educational videos by David Diltz available at familysearch.org.

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