Sunday, October 23, 2011

Here Comes My 19th Nervous Breakdown

I don't know everything.  No, seriously.  So I was really looking forward to participating in the Genealogists in Second Life Book Club.  We are reading Val Greenwood's Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd ed.  Last week, we read Chapter 7 (Organizing and Evaluating Research Findings).  Unfortunately, my week contained two Mondays and I missed Tuesday night's book club meeting.  Hopefully, this post will make up for my absence!

Chapter 7 was all about keeping a record of your research.  I kinda sorta thought I was already doing this, but ... well, keep reading.  There's a lesson in here somewhere.

Basically, the goal(s) of keeping good research notes are (1) to keep you, the researcher, in sync with the problem to be solved and (2) so any who follow you can check your work and continue where you left off.  Greenwood says, "Everything possible must be done to prevent needless duplication of effort."  There needs to be a cross-stitch pattern for this.

He goes on to talk about different methods of keeping research notes (calendars, logs, etc.) and what they should contain.  He talks about evaluating your notes, citing your sources, and making periodic research reports.

I was so motivated by this chapter that I created a new research log form for myself.  I decided to try a little different approach than Greenwood's ... having a research log for each question I wanted answered.  My first attempt is here.

Here it comes ...

I decided to try another research question that I've been trying to answer for a while: When was Patrick Slowey born?  So I used the same format as the previous log.

Here it comes ...

Once I had input all the documentation I already had, and documented all the places I was looking further (as I went, obviously), I started evaluating and analyzing the information from all the sources.  The Big Picture, if you will.

Here it comes ...

I will say that evaluating pieces of information in the context of all the information together gives you an entirely different perspective on what you know.  For example, after reviewing all the information I have from census records and other sources, I came to the conclusion that I had the wrong census record for 1860!  Patrick's age was off by 9 years ... more than I was comfortable attributing to poor math by the enumerator.

My 19th nervous breakdown:

This was terrible!  I relied on the 1860 census information as the only information I had to document my 2nd great grandfather's (Patrick Slowey's son) birth!  Everything I've done for the past year for him was based on THAT information!  I was devastated.  I was seriously thinking about throwing in the towel, admitting defeat, and learning how to make baskets.*
I became a crazy person.  I was looking everywhere.  I searched on every website I could think of for anything related to the Sloweys.  I was looking page-by-page through census records.  I was sending emails to random people on the internet ... okay, not really, but I did revisit a couple of fellow researchers who had shared information on the Sloweys in the past. Here is the frenzied research log.  Don't judge.  I was unmedicated (and there was no wine in the house).

Then I remembered seeing a course on FamilySearch about research logs (part 1 here, and part 2 here), so I thought I would check it out.  The lecture is given by G. David Dilts, A.G., and is a total of about 45 minutes long (for both parts together).  Mr. Dilts explained about the pitfalls of not using a research log, and how to use one effectively.  Of course, both Dilts and Greenwood advocate keeping your logs on paper ... and I've got enough paper in my office to choke a horse already ... so I'm keeping mine digital, thank you very much.  He had good insight into the reasoning behind keeping a research log.  It got me thinking again ...

I have since calmed down enough to realize that I probably DO have the right family, but the information is inaccurate.  I will continue to hunt down that birth date, and since I have my research log I know exactly where I left off, and what I still need to do.  I am convinced that if I don't look at that file again for 6 months or a year, I will be able to review that research log and pick up right where I left off, which is the whole purpose, right?

All of that being said, I have learned my lesson.  I only hope that someone else will learn from it too -- before it's too late!  I will shout it from the mountain tops "KEEP A RESEARCH LOG!!!" I honestly can't stress that enough.  After watching Dilts' lecture and building on Greenwood's ideas, I fine-tuned my Research Log Template, moved it into Excel, and this is the final product.

*Thanks, Laura, for talking me down off the basket-making ledge.


Claudia's Genealogy Blog said...

I have to admire you. I have been doing research for four years and had never given a thought to a research log. I think that is because when I started I had no idea of where and how to search.

It looks like an excellent idea. I only have add people who I was sure about, so I think the log id do-able. I will give it a try.

I also have a family (Jacob A Bowser and Mary Ann Murphy Bowser) that I can not find in the 1870 census. I also found one son living with other realtives. I have not a clue where they were.

JL said...

When my cousin and I recently tried to merge our family files we did not reach consensus, but one of the good things that came out of it (for me) is that my cousin keeps all her research notes under (duh) Research Notes in Legacy.

I thought this was redundant, putting a census transcription under 'Actual Text of Source', (for instance) then putting it under Event Notes (Geoff Rasmussen's method for making a clear Chronology view) AND putting it under Research Notes. But it's really great to be able to see everything that's been found for someone including one's own ramblings about what it means, what doesn't make sense, etc. in one place.

Greta Koehl said...

I am very impressed by your research logs - excellent work. The funny thing is, when I first started research and knew little about the resources that were available, I took notes which, though not pretty in form, actually traced my steps. Later, when I knew more about resources, I didn't do this as much. And when I picked up research again this week I could see that there are a lot of gaps - I didn't check a particular type of record for a family, or I did but failed to enter the information. Must change these bad habits. And BTW, 19th Nervous Breakdown is one of my favorite Stones songs.

Karen said...

You are so right about keeping a research log. I'm a slow learner, and it's been expensive both in terms of money and time. I think it's imperative to do so when you are constantly having to stop and start your research. Great post - and thanks for sharing the fruits of your labor. :)

Nancy said...

I looked at your new research log and thought it was very, very detailed, possibly excessively so. I then looked at the link to your earlier research log. I realized why all the detail in your new log. You won't miss a thing with your new long!

I keep similar information in mine but don't have boxes for every event -- just date, what I was searching for, where I searched, and what I found or didn't find. It's been working but I think I sometimes forget to include recent internet searches, especially if I don't find anything. Of course, with the internet, you can search the same site a month later and possibly find exactly what you were looking for. And lately, in my gen. program I've been including notes about what I found and how I think it fits in with other searches and sources.

Thanks for a great post. It sounds like you're on the track to success now.

Michelle Goodrum said...

Great research logs. Your by showing negative searches in your frenzied log, you may save yourself from the next nervous breakdown! I need to work on that - the negative results not the nervous breakdown. Thanks!

Susie said...

Thanks for your post, I checked out the classes, and started my own research log on a brick-wall ancestor, and boy oh boy, did it ever put things in prosepective. You have probably just saved me from a nervous breakdown, so thanks again!

Jenny Lanctot said...

Susie, I'm so glad this was helpful for you! (For the record, Prozac and Valium are also very helpful). I have had quite an eye-opening experience going back and doing my research logs. It's really helping narrow down my to-do list as well.

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