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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Tracking by Individual or Source
by Rhonda R. McClure

February 24, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Tracing your research through research logs can vary greatly depending on whether you place the emphasis on the individual you are researching or the sources you are researching. And as if that wasn't enough of a choice, you also need to decide if you are going to concentrate on a specific individual or surnames.

When I visit a library or repository I take along a number of research logs. I tend to subscribe to a combination of individual and surname. On the research logs that go with me, I concentrate on surnames that are somehow related. This means if I go to the Family History Library, I may work on many unrelated surnames. On the first day, I may concentrate on my AYER line, which is concentrated in New England and New Brunswick, Canada, and therefore might also be on the lookout for some of the other surnames that connect to that line from the females that marry into it. The next day I might be working on my STANDERFERs of Illinois.

It is important to keep track of the resources you have searched.

One Research Log Option

I use the research log developed by the Family History Department. This offers me columns for the date, repository, reference number (call number), description, results and doc. number. At the top of this form is a place for me to include the ancestor's name, an objective and the locality. When researching such as I described above, I do not concentrate on a single individual, but on the surnames that are linked via marriage in a given locality. For me, the locality is usually a county, and once in awhile a state.

I record the date of the search (being sure to include the year), the repository (usually abbreviated), the call number, the description of the book or film, and the results. In the results column I am specific as to what I find or do not find. In the case of an index, my results may show entries for the AYER line, but not for the WEBSTER line. And since I use a different form for my filing system, instead of recording a document number in the doc number column, I record if I made copies from that source or not.

Continuing to the End

As I said, I use a combination of surname and individual. Once I return home, I take the research I have done and incorporate it into the file folder system that I use to keep track of the records that support what I know about a given family. I have a folder for each couple on my pedigree chart. All records pertaining to that family are filed with a research sheet describing the research done in that source, and at the front of the file, is an inventory sheet showing an index of all the research in the folder. When done correctly, recording both positive and negative research, it is a quick overview to what has been done up to this point on a given family.

It is important to remember that you need to not only keep track of the sources when researching, but also file them when you return from the repository. If you cannot find them at a later date when you need them, then all the tracking in the world does you no good, as you will have to return to the original source should you have to clarify something or settle a dispute.

If you are not already using a form, then you will want to check out the one made available through Ancestors. Their research log is the one designed by the Family History Department that I described above.

In Conclusion

In addition to citing sources in our database, it is important to keep track of when and where we used each source and the results of that search. If you are consistent with this, then you will save yourself time in the end.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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