Research calendars are known by many different names, research logs, research plans, to-do lists etc. All of the popular genealogy database software programs (Legacy, RootsMagic, Family Tree Maker, The Master Genealogist, Ancestral Quest) all have built in research calendars you can use. By the way, “research calendar” is an older term that was in use when I first started out in 1991 and I just continue to use it. It doesn’t matter what you call it and it doesn’t matter how you write it up, the point is that you need a systematic way of keeping track of what you are doing.
Two of the biggest advantages of using a research calendar is that you can always pick up exactly where you left off if you set your work aside for a time and you won’t accidentally recheck a source because you don’t remember checking it 6 months ago. Another advantage is having complete citations for your sources in one place so that you can easily copy and paste them wherever you need them. It is important to document any negative results on your calendar. Sometimes negative results can tell you as much as positives ones can.
Here are some old posts where I discuss research calendars that you might want to go back and read.
Questions about research calendars and analyzing the data Part 1
Questions about research calendars and analyzing the data Part 2
Even more questions about research calendars
Here are a few screen shots to give you an idea.
I want to focus on the top part of the calendar first so that I can point out a couple of things. The background information is important because it gives you the starting point. You want to list what you already know that might be helpful as well as anything that will keep you from spinning your wheels (knowing that there are no federal census records prior to 1820 in Wilkes County is important). The other point I want to make is that you can see that I used an abstract book for the Georgia Land Lottery. One of the things on my research calendar will be to get that original document. I did get the document and there was a few clues on it that were not in the abstract book.
Here is an entry that records a negative search. I document the source I want to check, what I am looking for specifically, and my results. The last column is blank because I didn’t find anything. Had I found a guardianship bond I would have documented the location of the bond in my filing system. I would have also changed my incomplete citation to a complete on so that I could copy and paste the citation as needed.
In an earlier entry in my research calendar, I had found several references to Lydia’s father being Christopher Orr in online family trees. Christopher Orr was found in the same county as Lydia during the same time period so it was worth checking out. You can see that the search was negative but I still copied the record and filed it, why? Because I haven’t ruled out another connection between Lydia and Christopher other than the father/daughter connection. I want to keep this for possible further research.
If you notice, the date is not filled out. That means I haven’t done this yet. The research calendar is a fluid document. You can keep adding things as your research goes in different directions.
As time goes by I am using the To-Do List in Legacy more and traditional research calendars less. If I am working on my own family I use the To-Do List. If I am working a client’s family I still use a formal research calendar. I want to give you a couple of screen shots of what the To-Do List in Legacy looks like.
Screenshot taken from Legacy Family Tree
You can see that I am requesting a marriage record for William Simmons and his wife Mary from the Perry County Circuit Court. Do you see how there is an asterisk next to repository? If I were to click on the repository tab I would find the complete contact information for the Perry County Circuit Court. I only have to enter that information once. Every time I enter a to-do that involves the Perry County Circuit Court I can just quickly link to that information. Since there isn’t an asterisk next to the results tab I don’t have an answer from the courthouse yet. If I had, not only would there be something in the results tab, the close date would also be filled out.
I can filter and sort my to-do tasks a gazillion different ways. If I wanted to see everything that I have done or plan to do to find a marriage record for this couple all I would have to do is filter by category.
Screenshot taken from Legacy Family Tree
Here is a negative search. Even though the document didn’t include what I was hoping for I still filed the document in my filing system in case I need it later. The File ID field shows me where I put it. The document did give supporting evidence to other facts about Verna that I want to record.
Again, it doesn’t matter what you use to keep track of your research nor does it matter what you call it. The point is, you need to have an systematic, organized way to keep track of your train of thought and your efforts.
Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis