DNA testing aside, genealogical research is the same as historical research. To do it well, you need a plan. You can’t adequately plan your research unless you know where you have been. Research reports can tell you. I have a template in Word that I use when I go to a research facility. It has three sections. Some of it I complete before I even leave my house.
The first section contains information about the repository where I will do my research. This includes the date of the trip, the name, address and phone numbers of the repository and my objective for the trip. That’s easy to complete before I leave. I also add the page to my electronic genealogy journal.
The second section contains a list of what I know about the individual or family group or family line that I am researching that trip. Then I have an area for notes. I also take three-by-five cards to note down the sources that I will be using. These are usually blank so I can just jot down the catalog information from the repository. I number and date the cards as I use them and then I just use that number when I make my notes from the source. This helps me document my finds and misses. I have a complete record of the sources I have used so that I can name my sources. If I don’t find anything in the source, I mark that on the card, so I know when I have checked that particular source. I have an index file for the cards and I file them after I enter them into the electronic database to document the research.
That takes care of the preparation for and the actual research I do. After I return from the trip, I expand the entry in my electronic journal to create a research report to myself on how my research went on the day. I type up the notes into the journal to complete the entry. I also note my conclusions, if I have made any based on that research. Then and only then do I enter the data into my family database, in my case, Family Tree Maker 2010.
Where I fall down in my organization is when I do online research. I don’t do the same and I should. Writing a report to myself is my way of documenting my research. I get the sources added to my family history database, but I don’t know when I last checked an online database. That’s why I need to write the report. I just get so involved in the research that I forget about my genealogy journal. It’s easy to document my online research, but I don’t analyze it because it is too easy to forget that I need to make some conclusions before moving on with my research. That’s the real reason why I am doing these timelines and profiles. I am trying to organize my research after the fact. I have all the tools; I just need to use them.