Monday, January 31, 2011

Starting out right

Ok, there has been a delay with my Isaac "Will" Atkinson project (the volunteer is sick and now there's a huge snow storm getting ready to come through IL and IN within the next couple of days) so I thought I'd take the opportunity to start this one out "officially". That is, to do this one strictly by the book from start to finish. After you get to do things a certain way for so long it's hard to change your ways and learn to do things differently. That is one thing that ProGen and the NGS Home Study Course are good for, amongst others. They both teach you how to most be more efficient in your research. I'm a perpetually disorganized person unfortunately, so I've got my notes on several projects scattered around all other the place. For this one though, I'm determined to make a better start and work according to the methods I should be using for all my projects. Yes, I'm unabashedly ashamed that I haven't been doing so regularly but really, when I am my own boss and neither side of myself is all that keen on confrontation it's not very likely I'm going to tell myself off for not doing so :)

So, back to the subject at hand. While I'm waiting to receive Isaac's death certificate, I decided I would get organized and would start with making a research log to keep track of what I've looked at so far and what each record tells me. I have another little hurdle though since it appears that I lost my scanned copy of Isaac's daughter's marriage application so I'll have to get that back (there's another little shout-out for cloud computing!) one way or another but I'll make do until it's revived. Though I don't currently have Isaac himself pegged in a census yet, at least not with any certainty, I can include the 1900 census of his former wife, possible widow, living with a new husband, new children, and their daughter Esther Atkinson. Obviously, the documents of Esther's marriage, which give the only concrete info currently maintained on Isaac, will have to be included once I get them back in my possession.

The ProGen book (pgs 287-288) state that the research log, also known as a master source list, is basically a list of sources that you have looked into during the project. It helps you keep track of those resources that you have already used and what they told you so you don't end up retracing your steps unnecessarily. The research log can also help you stay organized and keep all your pertinent info together to help you form your research plan and gather evidence for your conclusions. The research log should include:

~the date you used that source
~the citation for the source
~the time period covered by that source (generally regarding original source material, such as a ledger of death certificates which can often span a rather long time frame); you need to mention whether you searched the entire time frame covered in the specific source, or if it was only a portion of it, which you would then state in your log
~the name of the repository where you used it
~if the source mentioned is an original source, leave room for a notation about whether a copy was made and if so, write down the cross referencing info to find the copy of the source
~state whether the search within the source produced positive or negative results; did you find answers to your specific questions, or nothing at all?

What this format is basically pointing to is a spreadsheet like what you would make in Excel, but you can also make a standard table in Word, though it might be a bit more of a task as you continue to build upon that table with additional sources.

So with this in mind, I'm off to work on a research log for Isaac. I don't appear to be able to post Excel files on blogger so I'm not sure if I'll be able to upload it here, but I might be able to come up with an abridged version or scan it and upload it that way or something. In any case, I'm starting this one off right and hopefully I can stick with it throughout the course of the project.


  1. Thanks for the list of what a real research listing should consist of. I admit that after reading that I don't think any of my research has been up to that standard but I also didn't really have a list. Again thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi there! Thanks for the comment. The source is the ProGen book by Elizabeth Shown Mills. Most people who aren't interested in taking on clients neglect this book because they think it's all about the business side of the field. It's really much more and the lessons learned are indispensable for both individuals working for themselves and professionals alike. If you haven't place this book on your shelf (or better yet, closer to your work area) you should definitely grab it.