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Genealogy Do-Over – Week 3: 16-22 January 2015

The Genealogy Do-Over - Month 4 Topics: 1) Tracking Research and 2) Conducting Research

National Archives UK researcher

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Previous topics in the Genealogy Do-Over:


Topics: 1) Tracking Research and 2) Conducting Research

With the third week of the Genealogy Do-Over, this is where as genealogists we “come home” to our favorite place: research. We get to actually take the information from our self interviews and family group sheets and use it to find evidence to prove or disprove relationships and what I call “data points.”

Do you remember returning home for the first time after a long absence, such as your first semester of college or on your first military leave? Things changed, didn’t they? Maybe your mother converted your room in to a sewing room or your father claimed it as his den or “man cave?” I hate to tell you this . . . but with the Genealogy Do-Over, coming back to research will never be the same. Now you’ll be asked to set up a To Do list (your research goals), track your research, and more. There will be data to enter, items to transcribe and eventually, thinking and analysis required!

This is how genealogy success is made. Most of you are part of the Genealogy Do-Over to change old research habits and to improve skills. What was is gone; long live the new research methods. And long live success.

Besides, haven’t you heard that you can never go home again?

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Tracking Research

One of the main issues I’ve had with my OLD genealogy research method: I would not track data when I found it. I would simply enter it in my database, perhaps mark it as UNSOURCED and then tell myself I’d clean it up later.

NO MORE! With the Genealogy Do-Over, the goal is to track your goals, what you want to prove and then – after collecting as much related evidence as possible – evaluate that evidence and prove a fact. Once proven, then it is entered into a genealogy database software program or an online tree. Solid information with solid source citations make for solid trees that don’t fall over.

Genealogy Research Log

I have two formats of a genealogy research log that I use and that I recommend – one in Excel and one in Google Sheets (Google Docs):

Some genealogists have asked if I could create a similar research log in another program such as Microsoft Word since some people find spreadsheets difficult to use. Due to the nature of tracking information and the need for a very wide table, Word just doesn’t lend itself to a good genealogy research log format. Another option is to place all the fields in a “fillable form;” however, you would then have to create a new document for each record located. And then, how can you quickly see what you’ve found? Open and close a series of documents?

What you use for a genealogy research log is up to you. If you’ve been averse to using spreadsheets in the past, I just ask you to give the research log above a try – either in Excel or Google Sheets.

  • What I Plan to Do: My first step will be to enter my initial research goals (from Week 2) into the To Do List tab. Then, I am set to track each records I find as I conduct research (see below). One area of concern is this: how many research logs should I have? Do I create one for each immediate family? One for each person? One for each surname? While I don’t want to be “wishy-washy” here, for now I will stick with just one research log and then I can consider dividing it into different research logs based on my preferences and research habits. With multiple logs, you may find the same record in each log. This makes sense, right? A marriage record can be used to prove a relationship for the Husband as well as for the Wife.
  • “All-In” Participant Options: Review one of the research logs above including all the worksheet tabs. Decide if you want to use one of these research logs or create your own. If using your own, include the fields you think are most important to track when doing genealogy research.
  • Modified Participant Options: If you have never used a research log before, consider using one of the formats above or creating your own. Another option is to see if your preferred genealogy database software has a way of tracking research; some have a To Do List option, others have something similar to a Research Log.

Conducting Research

Once you have your research goals and a way to track them, then you’re ready to research. This means both offline research at archives, libraries and repositories as well as online using various free and fee-based resources.

  • What I Plan to Do: I am going to start with myself and attempt to prove my birth date. This means locating a birth record either from a certified copy of a birth certificate (which I have) or finding records online (birth announcement in a newspaper, a birth index, etc.). I will enter as much information as I can in my genealogy research log including a transcription or abstract of data. I will also use the Analysis column to ask myself questions about the record, if applicable.Right now I won’t create a source citation nor will I evaluate evidence . . . but I will enter in the Notes field how I found the item and all the information I will need to determine if a record, as evidence, supports what I am trying to prove.
  • All-In Participant Options: Using whatever tracking form you’ve selected, make sure you enter your research goals. Then start your research (with yourself and your birth date, birth location, etc.) and for each record found, make sure each one is entered and tracked. Copy a link to the record if it is online – you will want an easy way of returning to the record without having to do a search again. Make sure you extract as much information as possible from the record.
  • Modified Participant Options: With your current research, start with yourself. Check to see that all information is accurate, based on your self interview, and make sure each point of data can be tied to at least one record. If something is missing a corresponding record – like a birth location – then mark it as “unsourced” and add it to your To Do List for further research.

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I’ve also added the Genealogy Research Log files over at the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook group. Early next week, I’ll post about my progress and share my actual research log for you to see how I set up research goals and track my research.

Next Week: Week 4 – 23-29 January 2015

  • Managing Projects and Tasks
  • Tracking Searches

Thanks for being a part of the Genealogy Do-Over and your feedback is always appreciated. You can leave a comment on the blog post at GeneaBloggers, email me at or post at the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook Group.

Photo:  A researcher working with delicate resource at The National Archives (UK). Via WikiMedia Commons.

©2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “Genealogy Do-Over – Week 3: 16-22 January 2015

  1. Pingback: Recommended Reads | Empty Branches on the Family Tree
  2. Couldn’t resist adding this link. The song seems very appropriate. Really enjoying this process, by the way, and it has opened up some new conversations with one of my sisters, who is trawling her memory for family stories (doens’t necessarily help with “proof”, but she is a cracking story teller)

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