Here is another tip and a good habit to get into right from the beginning of your genealogical journey. Keeping great research notes will prevent you from repeating your research and will keep you moving further faster to answering your research questions! That’s worth repeating! Rinse and repeat.
Keep your Research Notes in chronological order, it will result in your ancestors timeline . This document is an ever changing and developing document while you research. It will likely be the most important document in your files because it contains a person’s lifelong timeline, all the facts, and evidence found. It is the culmination of all your hard work.
The Research Notes contain only the facts and sources of positive findings for a specific ancestor. It is not all of the places you’ve looked. That’s a Research Log. For your Research Notes, as an example, it might start at the top with a title like…
“John Doe, born 1 January 1889 – Research Notes”
Then continue on with vital statistics and information in chronological order… birth, christening, marriage, children born, land purchase…, newspaper articles, death, obituary, burial, etc. all starting with a date, then the event. For example:
“1 January 1889, Birth – John James Doe was born in Any Town (city and county), Any State, USA. This birth date was confirmed on his military pension file and the 1900 US Census.” (Add a footnote reference after each fact.)
I use footnotes to cite my sources for every fact within my research notes. This way, if I write a report for a client I can cut and paste most of the details from my research notes into my reports and the source citations will follow. The Source Citation is information about where the evidence was found for every fact, such as an interview, book, website etc. You want all the details in a source citation, so much so, that someone else could find the exact information about that fact.
If you write in Word, source citations can be added as Footnotes by using the Reference tab on the top of the page. This way, as you add to your research notes, the source citation numbers update automatically without you having to renumber your notes and citations to make sure they correspond. This is done automatically for you no matter how many times you update or insert within your document. In my opinion, this is a must-have item when writing research notes. Without it, your sources will likely get lost or mixed up with other facts.
Additionally, by using footnotes, your research notes, it’s easier to read your notes fluidly, without having to wade through all the of source information. You can read the ancestors timeline logically to stay focused on the subject.
One last comment about footnotes. Footnotes will stay on the same page as your referenced notes, as opposed to Endnotes. Endnotes will collectively be stacked at the end of document. I don’t care for Endnotes in my, Research Notes, or any of my research reports, because if someone copies just one page of a multi-page document, then the source information is not included with the copied page. Instead it’s on the last pages of the document and thus the one copied page does not contain the source information. For genealogist, footnotes are what you want. However, if in the future you wish to change all of your Footnotes to Endnotes, this can be done easily in Word without retyping everything.
To learn how to write proper source citations for scholarly works, you’ll want a copy of Elizabeth Shown Mills book called “Evidence Explained”. In it, she covers every type of source citation needed for genealogists.
Some additional comments:
Research Notes and Research Logs are filed similarly. The difference between these documents is the Research Notes contain the evidence and facts found and the Research Log contains all the places searched for the answer to the research questions, regardless of a positive or negative outcome of the search. We’ll talk about Research Questions and Research Logs in later posts.
If you can, write your Research Notes at the time of your research findings (right there in the library, archive, etc.), then you’re likely to not repeat the same work over and over again.
I type my Research Notes in Microsoft Word. Save them with the same filing system discussed in the post “Good Filing Habits from the Start!” For example, save Research Notes for John James DOE, born 1889, in the top level DOE folder, “DOE\DOE John James b 1889”. For the file name of the document add a “1” in front of it so it always is at the top of the list of documents (when sorted by name) within the folder. Your research notes are the one document in each folder you’ll use the most, so you’ll want it handy. For example, ” 1 DOE John James b 1889 – Research Notes.”
By adding a birth year, separates him from another person with the same name (if known) and tells us these are Research Notes all in the file name. This also helps when searching for files. I only keep one version of this document and constantly update it with new findings (although my back up system is keeping my documents backed up continuously).
Research Notes are the backbone of your research. It is the one document you want clean, clear and up to date every time you work on an ancestor. It is the chronology, the facts, the sources, the conclusions of what you’ve discovered. In some cases, it may be the only culmination of a person’s life. Honor your ancestors with great Research Notes about them. They will become the basis for your next book.
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