17 August 2014

Recording your research: Calendar, Log or Journal?

Any experienced genealogist knows that you should record research that you've done, whether you found anything or not. A list of steps taken and reasons for those steps will help you prevent doing the same research in a few years once you've forgotten what you've done before. It will also provide documentation, so that anyone else could pick up where you left off. The sound reasoning you might include in such a written record will also help substantiate your conclusions, and help them withstand peer review.

This article is not about the purpose of a written research record. It is not a discussion of how to create one either. This article focuses on what to call such a record.

Highly respected professional genealogists and organizations use various words to describe this type of research record. The most common titles include: Research Calendar, Research Log, and Research Journal.

There is also a form you can create called a Research Planner, but that functions as a detailed to-do list. It is similar to a calendar/log/journal in the instance that each must include the source citation and objective (before or after research is completed).

Research Calendar is a preferred term for the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen). 
Research Log is a preferred term among average genealogists in the U.S., and the term is often used in teaching classes at genealogical conference, or in other educational settings.
Research Journal is the preferred term of ancestryProGenealogists, the official genealogy research firm of Ancestry.com.

Most genealogists suggest creating your own table or spreadsheet to record your genealogical searches. During this process you may want to decide what to call it.

First, consider the actual definitions of the various words. It seems practical to choose a word that fits the style of your particular design (the fields you choose to include in your table or spreadsheet). Before you do this, it will help to have a significant genealogical research background, and a list of items you feel are essential to your written record of research. I suggest putting that together before you read on.

Okay, now think about that list as you proceed.


"1 :  a system for fixing the beginning, length, and divisions of the civil year and arranging days and longer divisions of time (as weeks and months) in a definite order — see month table
2 :  a tabular register of days according to a system usually covering one year and referring the days of each month to the days of the week
3 :  an orderly list: as
a :  a list of cases to be tried in court
b :  a list of bills or other items reported out of committee for consideration by a legislative assembly
c :  a list or schedule of planned events or activities giving dates and details
4 British :  a university catalog" 
Merriam-Webster, Inc., Dictionary, (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/calendar : accessed 17 August 2014). 

"1 :  a usually bulky piece or length of a cut or fallen tree; especially :  a length of a tree trunk ready for sawing and over six feet (1.8 meters) long
2 :  an apparatus for measuring the rate of a ship's motion through the water that consists of a block fastened to a line and run out from a reel
3 a :  the record of the rate of a ship's speed or of her daily progress; also :  the full nautical record of a ship's voyage
   b :  the full record of a flight by an aircraft
4 :  a record of performance, events, or day-to-day activities"
Merriam-Webster, Inc., Dictionary, (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/log : accessed 17 August 2014).

"1 a :  a record of current transactions; especially :  a book of original entry in double-entry bookkeeping
   b :  an account of day-to-day events
   c :  a record of experiences, ideas, or reflections kept regularly for private use
   d :  a record of transactions kept by a deliberative or legislative body
   e :  log 3
   f :  log 4
2 a :  a daily newspaper
   b :  a periodical dealing especially with matters of current interest
3 :  the part of a rotating shaft, axle, roll, or spindle that turns in a bearing"
Merriam-Webster, Inc., Dictionary, (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/journal : accessed 17 August 2014).

Okay, now stop and think about which best fits for your purposes. What term best describes the fields and format of your table or spreadsheet? You could even make your record of research in a free-form word document, a database, or cloud program like ResearchTies. There are pros and cons to each. For example, a free-form word document may not be deemed acceptable by genealogist peers who are accustomed to tables and spreadsheets. It does, however, allow more flexibility than a table with pre-set headers.

You may have a different format for your genealogy clients than yourself, and you might have a different format for your ICAPGen application (because they require certain data) or other submissions to specific organizations. The important thing is that you choose the most efficient and effective format and fields for each type, as well as ensuring that your forms are clear to the reader.

Have you decided? Okay, maybe later I'll tell you what I did.