Have you ever really considered the importance of detailed source notes? Could a total stranger pick up your research log or family group sheet and find the pertinent census page, marriage record, or deed from your description?
Experienced researchers realize the importance of research logs or calendars. A research log is comprised of simply a list of sources searched, the objectives of each search, and the findings. I have recently wondered if someone could not only follow my research method by studying my log, but if they could find all the records with ease based on my references. It seems a simple thing, but in the excitement of finding important information it's easy to lose your mind and record only the bare minimums. Consider how much easier it would be for someone fifteen years down the road to find a book you referred to on your log if page numbers, author and publisher were all recorded. Having only a call number wouldn't be enough if the numbers were reassigned somewhere down the line. Also, you should always record negative searches. You especially don't want to inadvertently do a second search in records that yielded nothing.
Remember to include the purpose of the search, the dates and the specific family members you searched for. If you search for a christening between the probable years of 1805-1815 and then later discover that the parents were married in 1800, you can just pick up where you left off and search the years 1800-1805. If you had simply recorded that you searched the christening records without references to names and years and then set the research aside for a few weeks, it would be difficult to recall if you had really done an exhaustive search.
Accurate source descriptions are particularly important in connection with the dates and names on your family group sheets. Each date and name should have a reliable source (perhaps more than one) referenced to it. Other researchers or family members might want to check your sources in the future before they accept your work as factual, and they need to be able to find the records too. Therefore, provide detailed references to your sources; include repository information, call numbers, author or editor, title, publisher, volume and page numbers.
You should ask yourself, "Could someone else find this record using my notes as a reference?" If not, you know what to do in the future.
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2003.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
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