Thursday, August 23, 2012

Research Calendars/Plans/Logs

When I decided to start using research calendars, I made a huge step toward becoming a better researcher. Back when I first began doing research I thought that they were a total waste of time. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Whether you call it a research calendar, research plan or research log, it is simply a systematic and organized record of every source that you have checked and plan to check along with the results of the searches. There are a couple of reasons to take the time to do this. First of all it keeps your thoughts focused. It is very easy to go off on tangents when you don't have a plan. It will also keep you from accidentally duplicating your efforts. Can you really remember all of the sources you checked 5 years ago? If you don't keep track of your negative searches you will end up looking at the same things over and over again.

I prefer to have a separate research calendar for every specific research goal that I have. I have found that keeping the goal narrow helps me stay on track. There are some researchers that prefer to have a single log per person or per family group.

GENERAL - Research the life of John Doe
SPECIFIC - Who did John Doe marry? [my preference]

The easiest way to explain a research calendar is to show you one. Here is a real research calendar on a real brick wall I am working on. The last two items on the chart have not been done yet.

Lydia (Orr) Patton Research Calendar

The form you use isn't important. If you do a search on Google using the terms, "genealogy research calendar", you will find a plethora of different forms you can use or customize for your own use. I have mine in Microsoft Word. Many of the genealogy database programs have built in research logs that you can use.

Here are two excellent video lessons by G. David Dilts A.G. on how to use research logs effectively.

I am sure you will be a believer after watching the videos. One thing I do differently is I keep my logs (and everything else) on my computer instead of in paper files. The only other thing I do differently is I have a separate research calendar for each specific research goal. Mr. Dilts does one log per family group. His research logs contain a extra column where he states the research goals. WHATEVER WORKS FOR YOU! I find my method keeps me on task better; Mr. Dilts' method causes me to be more haphazard because I tend to be ADD.

Before I switched over to the computer, I did my research calendars and my paper filing system just as Mr. Dilts does. His filing system is based on the one recommended by the Family History Library.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Great videos on research logs! Thanks for the tip.

  2. Thanks for your nice comment, Debbie. I thought Mr. Dilts did a great job showing WHY research logs are important.

  3. Thank you for this post! Very informative! Would you consider a post in the future on your system? I am very interested in cutting down on my paper work and keeping more digital files. Thanks!

  4. Thank you for your kind comments, Cindy :) Are you talking about how I have my paper files filed or how I have my files on the computer filed or both? Either way I would be more than happy to talk about it just let me know!

  5. I got to finally watch the lesson that you have linked to here. Mr. Dilts was really good and it will help a lot in my research. I do have one question however in regards to the second lesson. In the special situation section he discusses sources with more than one family. He says that we must pick the most predominant family and file the record in their file folder. Why wouldn't we just make as many copies as families? Would it make more sense to have a copy for each family listed and log it into our research log that way? And if not, why not? What is the advantage to doing it the way Mr. Dilts taught it?

  6. Mr. Dilts is describing the PAPER filing system recommended by the Family History Library. There is a file folder for each family group (husband, wife, children). The file is labeled like this...

    Simmons, James [1764-1843]
    Lee, Ellenor [1769-1801]

    Everything for this Family Group would go in this file. This includes all of their children's info until the age they marry then they get their own folders.

    Because of this, there is a lot of duplication. I DID use this filing system when I had everything on paper. When I switched to the computer, I completely revamped everything.

    I have ONE copy of each document I have. The source citation is on the copy. Since everything is in the computer anyway, my paper files are only a back up. I can find ANYTHING in my paper files very quickly. I have a very simple set up. I have 3 ring binders. Here is how they are labeled....

    Birth Records (this would be birth certificates, birth announcements etc)
    Death Records (this would be death certificates, obits, funeral cards etc)
    Land Records
    Military Records
    Bible Records
    Church Records
    Wills and Probate
    Education Records
    Social Security Records (this is SS-5 forms)
    Marriage Records

    The papers are filed in alphabetical order (maiden names for females). When a binder gets too full, I then split between two binders A-M and N-Z.

    I have to repeat, my paper files are a backup only. All of this information is in the computer. Before the computer, I did my paper files exactly like Mr.Dilts. That was the way I learned to do them.

    Now to your question about Mr. Dilts making one copy (of a deed let's say) but he only files it in the most predominant person's file. I didn't do that. I made copies and filed it with EVERYONE that was named on the document. That way I didn't have to look for it.

    I recommended the videos because Mr. Dilts did a great job of explaining why research calendars are important. I wasn't necessarily recommending his paper filing system. It is a bit of overkill for those people that use computers to store their info.

    You are the second person to ask me about the filing system so I will devote a blog post to it. I will try to get it out on Wednesday.

    Thanks so much for your comment and questions!