From the editors: The In-Depth Genealogist would like to thank N.P. Maling for being our guest blogger this Saturday! N.P’s specialty of Pacific Northwest research and knowledge of various documents makes him a researcher that you’d like to read. Please be sure to leave him comments of thanks, and after you’ve read his thoughts be sure to visit his website, SeaGenes for more great articles like this one.
One way to help you along with your genealogy is to keep a journal of what you have found: Observations on the records, the repositories, and the evidence you find in these areas. Any evidence and the preliminary or final conclusions you find can be written out as prose, bullet lists, or just jottings. These items can help you focus on the issues at hand, and how you deal with them. It is not necessary to write formally in a journal, as if it were for publication. Nor is it necessary for our journal to be your research log. A research log can help, but in terms of journaling, it is a different thing altogether.
My journal this year consists of a small Moleskine notebook in which I keep track of blog article ideas (on genealogy and other topics), business items, research notes, and observations on those notes. I also write notes from the group meetings that I attend. Therefore, I have a roughly chronological log of what I have been researching.
I keep the notebook as pen and paper rather than online so that if the computer is lots, then all my work is not. It is not strictly necessary to use a hard-copy journal, but one of the things I like about it is that it makes me think, and consider, a bit more, what I’m actually writing. It is a contemplative thing.
Having a hard-copy journal also preserves for the next and future generational an artifact, which can be held and touched, rather than just seen on a screen. It will mean much more to the future generations if you have left an actual object as it shows them that you cared about what you’ve done to leave such a record.
I find such things kept online tend to be more finished than in-progress, as a journal is. This means that by showing the thought process in progress that you have given some thought, over time, to what you are writing. In-progress writing like this is more feeling than what I find online, in an ephemeral state, not unlike live television, that is not kept as a permanent record. It is there once and then it’s gone. A journal like this is more permanent and can be referred to repeatedly. One other good thing about keeping a journal is that items, which don’t fit in the database, are still kept. The work required to write a journal like this is not really any greater than the discipline needed to do the research it documents, it is just a simple addition to mull over the results of that work.
Working with a genealogy journal is a good way to become more familiar with the records and repositories that you use on a regular basis. By recording what you have done there, with, you become better able to work with those things in the future. You also become better attuned to other records and repositories by the process because of the similarities you find in them as well as any differences.
You might want to expand your journal at some point to focus on one aspect of your family history research. In this case, opening a new volume and transcribing, or simply referencing, the passages about that family from one to the other journals is the way to go. If you do keep separate journals on each family, be sure to keep them all together so you can refer to a bit in one or the other when you need to. In addition, separate journals on each family make it easier to compile a comprehensive story at some point in the future.
Journaling can supplement the steps in Genealogical Publishing Company’s Genealogical Problem Analysis worksheet steps 4–6. The appraisal and analysis of the records found and the records sought is good material for a prose explication of what you are working on. The section on “Basic Elements to Appraise” is a version of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), which forces you to explicate the analysis you can do as a writing exercise instead of in your head. The items to appraise are the usual found in the GPS but serve here as fodder for thinking.
By walking through each element on the worksheet, you can determine whether you have a good piece of evidence and the veracity of the research in hand. These data points, combined, can be the basis for your proof argument. You can ask questions about the veracity the sources you have and the possibilities of what you might find. Any issues or problems with the records you have found can be documented in your notes or on the database you are using.
For more advanced genealogists, a journal is a good place to keep reminiscences of past work, and as a place to review past assumptions about research. Reminiscences of one’s life are also good items, as they will relate you more strongly to the work that you’ve done documenting your family history.
Journaling for genealogy makes sense in more than just recording names, dates, and events. Journaling is a reflective exercise on the meaning of what you do as a genealogist. Keeping more than just bare-bone statistics means more to others than just those numbers and names. As genealogists, we have an obligation to the future in which our descendants will research us; leave them something, won’t you?
I am a professional genealogy look-up provider based in Seattle, Washington, United States. I focus on providing genealogy research services to genealogists looking for details of their ancestors or other persons in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington states. I’ve been working with genealogy and family history for about 15 years.