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The Art of Mapping Ancestry: Genealogy Research Logs

Do you ever get stressed out when you start digging into your family history online or at an archive? Have you ever spent hours researching someone's past, only to forget what you found or where you found it? Or maybe you've taken a break from your research and felt lost when you tried to start again? This happens to most of us, and it definitely will happen if you don't use a research log. 

Research logs Genealogy Ann Bradbury

Keeping a genealogy research log is super important for keeping your data organized and tracking your progress. It helps you analyze your research, find patterns and connections, and spot missing links in your family tree. Research logs have long been one of the most important tools for the organized genealogist, for good reason.

Keeping research logs is not only helpful for your work, but it can also assist future researchers and genealogists. By documenting your research process and findings, you can create a valuable resource for others who may be working on similar projects. This can help build a more substantial body of knowledge in your field and make research more accessible and collaborative. 


What is a Genealogy Research Log?

genealogy personal assistant
Keeping a research log is like having a personal assistant for your genealogy work.

Keeping a research log is like having a personal assistant for your genealogy work. It's a spot to jot down what you've found, what you still need to find, and what you're looking for about a person or family.

Whether you choose to handwrite it, print it out or use a digital version, the log is your time-saving companion. It helps you keep track of all the sources you've checked or want to check, avoiding the frustration of repeating searches. It's handy for staying organized and seeing how your research is progressing.

You can write down where you've looked, what you've found (or not found), and any important details about each search. Using a research log in your genealogy work helps you make steady progress, avoid repeating searches, and save time and energy. It also gives you a clear plan when you're unsure what to do next, relieving the stress and overwhelm that can come with genealogy research. 


Research logs Genealogy Ann Bradbury


Why Use a Genealogy Research Log? 

Finding your ancestors' profiles online is super easy these days. Just click "Search" and check out all the records that pop up. You'll probably find lots of records linked to your ancestor through the hints provided. FamilySearch's Family Tree section has over 1.5 billion records, and its Historical Records Database holds over 5.7 billion, which is over 7 billion records on FamilySearch alone.

Adding a record to your family tree typically involves the system incorporating information from the source, providing a source citation, and occasionally an image of the original document. While convenient, this method may not be ideal for comprehensive genealogical research. A more effective approach is to focus on one life event or detail at a time for an individual family member or ancestor.

Ann Bradbury's Cash

If you are curious about your great-grandma Ann's source of money, focus on finding that info first instead of trying to uncover everything about her entire life all at once. Searching for a source of income won't be daunting or distracting when you're armed with a research log.

Genealogy Ann Bradbury cash source

Your log will remind you of the ancestor you're researching, great-grandmother Ann Bradbury, and your research objective -- find Ann's source of money.

Just jot down the sources you're going to look into (like censuses, death records, birth records, marriage records, and baptismal records). After you check out a source, make sure to write down what you found, including a short summary and the URL of the source.

This way, you won't waste time looking at the same stuff when you come back to it later, and your research log becomes an index of the research you've already done, so if you need to, you can always go back to a source when you're looking into that specific item. You'll know when you did the research, what you checked out, what you found, and it'll be easy to plan your next steps.


Does using a Research Log take more time?  

Yes, at first, documenting and evaluating your sources might take longer, but it's totally worth it for better-quality research and more credibility. In the long run, this approach saves time by avoiding the need to redo research. Organizing your work helps you know what needs to be done and prevents wasted efforts, especially when time is limited. If you decide to publish, your research log is super important for citing your sources.

American Ancestors
Get your American Ancestors Planning Template at our Resource Page

Before You Research

Regardless of which one you decide upon, there is one thing you should do first: make a plan. Prior to making any research decisions, it's crucial to establish a well-thought-out plan.

Utilizing a comprehensive planning template, such as the one available from American Ancestors, can greatly aid in creating a robust research plan. This valuable resource will guide you in defining your research question, pinpointing relevant records, and documenting the locations where these records are housed.

Part of Your Plan

A research log is as important to your research plan as it is for recording your results. Before visiting a repository or searching a database online, take a moment to start your research log. Go ahead and fill in the date you're researching, the purpose/objective of the search, and most importantly, the sources you know you need to search. You'll also want to write down how you plan to achieve the desired results and the questions you're asking. Questions like, "What kind of income did Ann Bradbury and her family have?" remind you of your purpose when you're tempted to scamper down a rabbit hole.



Handwritten or Digital?



So, back in the day, people used to keep research logs the old-fashioned way - with pen and paper. You had to jot down stuff like when you searched, where you did it, what you were looking for, call numbers, details about your sources, the scope of your search, and what you discovered. Those handwritten logs could be neatly stored in binders or folders or even kept in a notebook like the ones detectives use on TV, providing a tangible record for future investigators. They also highlighted what you couldn't find during your search.

Keep this in mind: Handwritten genealogy research logs are super helpful for keeping track of your progress and findings. If you like using pen and paper, you can make your own research log template or find one online. Print out a bunch of copies to fill out by hand. Handwritten logs are especially handy in archives where only paper is allowed. Conducting a quick online search for "Genealogy Research Log" will provide many free templates available for printing and use.

Nowadays, most folks opt for a more modern approach by using a downloadable template to create their research logs. You can either fill it in with a pen or type it up on your computer.


Digital genealogy research logs are super helpful for organizing and managing your family history exploration. The reason they're so great is that you can easily organize and navigate your information. Use a table or spreadsheet format to sort and filter through a bunch of information effectively, allowing for easy organization and access to your data. You can also easily make changes, add new discoveries to your work, and restructure your log as needed, making sure your records stay up-to-date and accurate.

With digital logs, you can eliminate duplicate efforts, wave goodbye to repetitive searches, and save time and effort by steering clear of redundant tasks. Experience the convenience of a digital table of contents, which organizes your digital logs into a comprehensive listing. This handy tool simplifies the process of browsing through your research documents and gaining insights.

Share your digital logs with fellow researchers or family members to securely store and collaborate on your research. This approach enhances teamwork, streamlines information exchange, and promotes collaboration. Digital platforms eliminate the requirement for physical storage, providing a convenient means to preserve all your data in digital format. This not only saves physical space but also reduces clutter, making it easier to manage and access your research materials.

Goldie May for Genealogy.

Goldie May

Goldie May is a genealogy research tool made to speed up your research, simplify your family tree, and keep things organized. You can easily log your research activities with a single click or set it to log automatically. Capture screenshots, take notes, and organize your findings hassle-free. Managing lots of tabs and windows is a breeze, with the ability to capture snapshots and restore them as needed.  An innovative timeline tool helps you check for consistency, spot issues, and highlight new records.

You can arrange your screenshots by moving, zooming, and clustering them, like organizing papers on a desk. You can also plan research and check out catalogs from FamilySearch, Ancestry, MyHeritage, Findmypast, and WorldCat. Don't forget to bookmark collections of interest to your task list! The feature we are most interested in for this blog is research logging.

Goldie May’s Research Log is a powerful tool designed to streamline your genealogy research process. Here’s how it works:

Goldie May
  • Automatic Logging:

When you visit a record or document on Findmypast, FamilySearch, or Ancestry, Goldie May automatically logs it for you. It captures essential details like the record type, date, and location.

  • Manual Logging:

You can turn off the automatic logging and choose what pages to log manually.

  • Screenshots and Notes:

Take screenshots of relevant information within the record.

Add notes, abstracts, or transcriptions directly in Goldie May.

  • Search and Filter:

Easily find your logged records using search and filtering options.

Group them by ancestor or research objective.

  • Export to CSV:

Export your research log to a CSV file for further analysis or sharing.

  • Citations:

Goldie May provides instant citations for FamilySearch and Ancestry records.


Goldie May

Hey, creating an Excel or Google spreadsheet to log your research activities can really help you stay organized and keep track of your progress. You can use different columns for things like the date, location, and source of your research, making it easy to input information as you go and build a comprehensive record of your work. The best part is that Goldi May does it for you, all you have to do is export the CSV file.

As you keep researching, you can add new rows to document each session, creating a detailed timeline of your activities. Later, you can use this structured approach to review your research history, identify gaps, and keep a clear, well-organized record of your scholarly pursuits.

You can use the Goldi May spreadsheet as is or rearrange it to fit your needs and share it with others who are researching your ancestors.


Results and Negative Evidence

Your research log is an essential tool for documenting your search journey. It serves as a record of all your findings, whether they are successful or not. Negative results are just as crucial as positive ones as they inform your future search efforts. When you encounter a dead end in a particular source, documenting it in your log allows you to avoid revisiting that source unnecessarily. Use the Results column of your log to meticulously track and annotate your findings. You can opt for straightforward comments or employ symbols to represent your results – the choice is entirely yours.

Positive results — Don't forget to include the person's name or event, the document number (if you've made a copy), and the next steps if you need to do more research. It's also a good idea to make a footnote citation for this source as soon as possible while you have all the relevant information in front of you. If you're keeping track of your family tree online using software like MyHeritage, Ancestry, or Findmypast, it's important to add any new discoveries to your records as part of the documentation process. It's usually pretty easy to do in most programs. For example, in Ancestry, you must click the "Add Source" field on an ancestor's profile page.

Negative results — What you were searching for and didn't find, such as "No media or info on baptismal record." When you don't find something, you might also make a note to do some future research in a different type of record or another area to search. 

Either way, as you work through your research, make sure to jot down your results in your log. This will help you keep track of what's been done and what still needs to be completed. If there are any empty spots in your Results column, it means work still needs to be tackled. Sometimes, when you're doing research, you might not get clear or complete results. For example, you might run out of time while looking at a newspaper on microfilm at the library, or you may have only checked the index of a book and not the relevant chapters. If you're searching online, an index might not be available, and you could end up slogging through thousands of digital images in a collection of wills. Keeping track of your exact actions and stopping points will save you lots of time and help you better manage your next research visit.

Adding to Your Research Log

Don't forget to add all types of research, whether you do it in person or online, to your research log. This includes info you get from family members through email, letters, or chats about a specific family group. Make sure to add this info to your research log and file it neatly. Every piece of info could give you useful clues about your ancestor's story.

By adding every search or clue to your research log and keeping things organized will make you feel great when you return to your log and see all you've done. The form we provide lets you make changes or additions on your computer. You can also use the Notes page to include more details about your searches.

Customizing your research logs to fit your specific needs and preferences is important. Keeping good records, whether you write them down or use a computer, is key for successful genealogical research.


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