Recording Genealogical Research Information
Richard A. Steele, former Clan Scott Society Genealogist

The following information was taken from an article written by Marjorie Simmons appearing in the March/April 2000 issue of Kingston Relations, the newsletter of the Kingston Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.  This article hit home with me - despite my training and best intentions, I sometimes make the errors described in the article.  (Some minor editing has been made to make the article a bit more readable.)

Memory plays tricks  when you are researching records.  It may be that you will be searching, studying and recording information from a variety of sources  several hours only to find when you get home that you cannot recall where you started or indeed which family branch you sought!  If time passes before you review your notes, the sharp differences between types of documents, the names you sought, or the details you were searching will have blurred even more.  Careful records are the key.

These details should be recorded with each discovery:

Date and place of search may be the Archives, Special Collections, a Public Library, a cemetery, or an interview.  The date is especially important - records may be updated or rearranged from time to time.

Types of records may be census films, tax assessment rolls, marriage registers, newspaper files, books, etc.  It is vital to record this information with your facts whenever you record them in your family history.  The source of the information may later be critical in determining the most likely of two or more conflicting facts.

Call Numbers refer to the identifying numbers of documents and records in an archives or library.  It will be useful to have these numbers should you wish to refer to them again.

Earliest and latest dates searched - the limits within which you searched on this occasion.  If you start at January 15, 1841, and read through November 12, 1849, record that fact.  It will save future duplication or missed periods of time.

Missing documents, missing pages, or missing editions will leave gaps in your records.  If the tax assessment rolls for your area of research do not exist for the years 1855 to 1858, be sure to record this fact.  It will help prevent you from wasting time on your next visit.

Types of information sought seems like an obvious thing to retain in one's memory, but we don't.  If you are seeking references to all NEWTONs, MONTGOMERYs, and FAIRFIELDs but only references specific to a Richard Mott, make a note of it.  Six months later you will not remember if you checked for all Motts or not.

An unexpected bonus may appear occasionally: a name, a date, a property, or other fact that was not part of your search but opens new doors.  Of course you will record it, but record it with the circumstances surrounding it - the context - the specific location in the records, etc.  You may wish to come back to it.

Here's a summary checklist for you to copy and put at the front of your notebook.  Remember to adhere to it rigidly!


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