Geni Podcast: Genealogy Research Logs

Posted August 5, 2011 by Geni | No Comment

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Show Notes:


What is a genealogy research log?

A research log is used to track your genealogy research findings whether they are online or in person at an archive or a library.

Most genealogists need some system of tracking the information and evidence they locate in order to determine whether or not that data proves a relationship or a theory. Very often, as beginners we get caught up in the excitement of a “find” or we hurry past other data that we feel isn’t important – and we don’t record our “data journey.”

Think of a research log as more than just a “diary” of that journey. A research log can be useful especially when you need to return to certain data sources in order to perform further evaluation in support of a theory.

I’m not a “serious” genealogist, do I really need to use a research log?

The answer is yes but your research log needn’t be as complicated as you think. For serious researchers, a research log can have many columns tracking various data points.

For the beginner, a simple spreadsheet or table listing the basics such as the date the search was performed, the item found, the website or archive, etc.

Also, a research log makes writing source citations much easier since it contains most, if not all, the information needed to compose the cite.

What information should I track in a research log?

Here are some basic fields or column headings you should include:

  • Document Number: this is important for tracking the item later.  Some researchers use a number (1, 2, 3) and some add a prefix or a surname (AUS-1, AUS-2 or Austin-1, Austin-2).
  • Date: this is the date the research was performed. Why is this important? Especially with online research, availability changes for items and databases and also additions are made to databases over time.
  • Repository: where is the item located? If online, name the website like Ancestry or FamilySearch. If at a physical location, name the library or archive.
  • Extract/Abstract/Transcript: probably the most important field. Enter the data you find either in a distilled form (extract or abstract) or verbatim (transcript). This data is valuable later on especially if you lose the record.
  • Analysis: what are your thoughts on the data? What does it prove or disprove?
  • Link: if the data was located online, a link back to the exact record is helpful.

More advanced fields can be added to help you evaluate the record. Much of this information has been distilled from Skillbuilding: Guidelines for Evaluating Genealogical Resources by Linda Woodward Geiger (see at the Board for Certification of Genealogists (

  • Source Type: Original (the first written statement, image or record of an event), Derivative (subsequent copy of Original), or Unknown.
  • Clarity: Clear (information can easily be read), Marginal (information is obscured or you have to “guess” at letters or words), or Poor (cannot fully read).
  • Information: Primary (information recorded by someone who is reliable and who witnessed the event – sometimes in an official capacity), or Secondary (information supplied by someone not at the event).
  • Evidence Type: Direct (a fact that is explicitly stated) or Indirect (inferred from other pieces of evidence within the record).
  • Result: Positive (supports the theory), Negative (does not support the theory) or Unknown (more research is needed).

How do I create a research log?

There are various methods, and we’ll start with the simplest: paper! That’s right, a pad of lined/ruled paper or even accounting/graph paper where you can create columns.

You can also use office productivity software such as Microsoft Office or the free Google Docs program and use the word processing program or the spreadsheet program. Some genealogists are even creating fillable forms on Google Forms (see to assist them in building an online spreadsheet.

The most important thing is to create a system that works for you and one that you will be committed to using consistently.

How do I use the research log data on Geni?

Geni allows you to add source citations to your data in your family tree and the research log is a perfect place to find that information.  In fact, some researchers create a column called Source Citation where the source citation is fully written out based on a standard format.  Once stored in the research log, it is as easy as copying and pasting it into the Source box (the notebook icon with the question mark next to a field).

More About Thomas MacEntee

  • GeneaBloggers Radio: Every Friday evening from 9-10:30 pm Central time, Thomas MacEntee hosts an Internet radio show – GeneaBloggers Radio ( Via your computer, you can listen to interviews with interesting genealogists and companies involved in the genealogy industry. This week, on Friday July 29, 2011, our show is entitled Your Story Matters – Capturing Your Personal Family History. Our special guests will include: Ian Kath from Sydney, Australia, founder of Create Your Life Story; Zach Weiner of; and Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog. We’ll be discussing ways in which you can capture and preserve your own story – an area which we as genealogists often overlook.