Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Recording internet database searches

I hope by now everyone knows the importance of keeping research logs.  However, many of the researchers that do use research logs don’t bother to record internet database searches.  I agree that recording every single search you do slows you down but I still think it is necessary. 

We will use Find A Grave as an example since it is constantly being updated.  I make an entry showing not only the date that I searched but also the parameters I used.  This is definitely a database I want to check periodically.  I do this for every single search that I do on every single person.  I record these as To-Do tasks in Legacy because they are very easy to enter and you can tell Legacy to remind you when you need to do a new search, say, every three months.  I don’t have to reenter it.  The reminder will show up on the Legacy Home tab.  On the Legacy Home tab if you go to OPTIONS > OPTIONS > REMINDER OPTIONS you can change the number of days notice you get for reminders. The default is 14 days.


Chocolate is a rare enough surname that I can just run a search using the surname and then go through the entries one by one.  I might even pick up a related Chocolate.  I also limited the search to the state of Mississippi since Ghirardelli was born there, married there and lived her entire life there so she is, most likely, buried there.  (You guys do know that Ghirardelli Chocolate is a fake person, right?)

I can also update my search criteria.  Let’s say I find out that Ghirardelli visited her sister Melted Chocolate over in Louisiana on a regular basis and that Melted was her only living relative.  I could make a note that I expanded my search to include Louisiana.  Maybe I find out that Ghirardelli married late in life and her new surname was Pistachio.  I would need to update my search criteria.  I take the time to record all of this information.

Notice that the first time I did this search was 15 Nov 2014.  The next scheduled search is on 15 Aug 2015.  Here is a shot of the Results tab:


Here you can see the negative searches I have already done. If on August 15th I search Find A Grave and I find Ghirardelli then I can close this task out.  I will put what I found on the results tab.  I can put a link the memorial and/or the information on the memorial. 

I can then add a new To-Do task if I need to request a photograph be taken (if there isn’t one). I will get reminders just to let me know the photo hasn’t been taken yet.  On those To-Do’s I also record whether or not I have permission to use the photo once the photo has been taken.  I don’t close the photo task out until I know one way or the other whether I have that permission.

I do this for every database I search.  For example, I don’t make a To-Do for but rather I do one for each specific database I accessed on  I know it sounds time consuming but once you get into a routine it is no big deal. 

You can also do this with broader searches not tied to a specific person.  This is great for One-Name Studies (ONS).  I am going to show you a real one from my ONS file. Internet databases are especially important to ONS and you have got to have a way to keep track of what you have done and when.  I make a General To-Do for each database that I search.  Here is one for Germany Births and Baptisms, 1558-1898 on FamilySearch:


I have the category as Online Databases so that I can sort them together when I use the filter. I have a couple of other General To-Do categories.  These are different than the categories I use for Individual To-Dos.

Here is the Results tab:


You can see how many name variations I searched and now many hits I got on each name.  An X means I have entered those hits into my database.  This database is a little different in that it is a stagnant one.  It probably won’t be updated though I will still check periodically just in case.


Copyright © 2015 Michèle Simmons Lewis


  1. Fantastic. I keep these kinds of searches on a piece of paper in my surname folder, but since I use Legacy, I'll absolutely add in the To-do lists, plus the reminder dates. Wow - so helpful!! Thanks so much for your clear explanations and screen shots, Michele, much appreciated.

  2. This is great. Legacy looks like great software, wish they had a Mac version. Even so, it should help me come up with a way to track my own searches.

    1. The programmers are working on it :) In the meantime, you can run Legacy on a Mac with a special setup.

  3. I have used Legacy almost from its first appearance on line. The newest updates are fantastic, but you have taken an "oldie-goldie" feature that I have loved and used often and given me an entirely new way to utilize it.
    Many Kudos!! Joyce

  4. Michele,

    I want to let you know that two of your blog posts are listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  5. Hi Michele! I wanted to let you know that I've included your post in my NoteWorthy Reads this week:

  6. Thanks for sharing this. Love your blog!

  7. Michele, in your ONS example above, you've noted those entries you've input into your database with an X.

    How do you address marriage records you may have found for persons whose identities are uncertain? For example, you may have two marriage records listed for John Glaentzer: one in 1805, and another in the same location, but in 1825. How do you determine if this is the same individual, and what do you do with the records in the mean time?

    I've got a mess with one of my surnames where the families re-used the same male given names for successive generations. I'm trying to figure out how to sort them out and to distinguish the different individuals.

    Thanks again for your excellent blog. Just spent some time re-reading several of your posts. This is an invaluable resource in my research.

    1. I enter the two marriages as if John was two different people until I know otherwise. I know that there are duplicates in my file but with a ONS it just can't be helped. I would like at the witnesses and I would look at John's occupation. A person's occupation is very important and it is recorded in most of the parish records and civil registrations. It is more telling if the two Johns had two different occupations because then you could be sure they were two different men . Unfortunately, the the reserve isn't always true. If they have the same occupation you can't necessarily say it is the same man.

      The groom's parents are usually named, at least the father. That is another clue.

      The next thing I would look at are the baptismal records for all of John(s) children. Do the children all line up as if they are all in one family? So the children with the first wife stop and then the children with the second wife start up? That is an indication that there is one John.