I Needed to Stay Organized
I like all my research materials at my fingertips. If I need to review a census record, I want to have it readily available. If the review of that document triggers an idea about a place to look or generates another question, I want to have my research plan and to do list within reach to add those ideas and questions for follow up later.
I bet you are the same way.
In the beginning, I would make those notes in my spiral (see Use Loose, Archival Paper for that discussion.) That did not work so well. Where were my questions and ideas when I needed to make the next steps? They were buried in my notes on some page in one of the spirals.
I watched other researchers. They carried briefcases and file boxes full of folders and papers. (Remember, this is in the pre-laptop age.) And I noticed that they still were digging through piles of papers, trying to find what they were looking for.
Why Use a Research Notebook?
I keep the "project" together until I have accomplished my goal. When I am done I take everything out and file it in my permanent archive. Then I use the notebook for a new project.
Sometimes I get frustrated with the lack of progress on a project. With this system I can take a break and work on something else. Since all my materials are together, it is easy for me to go back, read through what I have accomplished so far and look at everything with new eyes, without having to re-gather all the related materials.
By using the notebook system, I can have two or three research projects going at the same time. The notebooks help me keep everything straight and separated.
What I Keep in My Notebook
I tried a regular 2 inch binder but it became to heavy to carry around and labeling the outside was unsatisfactory. Now I use a 1 1/2" 3-ring, view binder. I make a cover page labeled with my project name and slip it in the front pocket. I also make a spine label that I slip into the spine pocket. I can easily change the cover page and spine label, allowing me to recycle my binders for different projects.
This chart shows how I organize my notebook. You could organize it any way that you like. What is important is to have all of these items listed in the contents section in your notebook.
· Research Goals and Objectives
· Research plan
· To Do List
· Family Group Charts
· Pedigree Charts
· Census history
· Individual data list
· Individual Chronology
· Documents list
· Keep documents acquired in sheet protectors
State(s) Research Guide
[one section for each state; you may have 3 or 4 for a single project]
· Catalog of films, books, etc to search
· Local histories
· Repository information
· Research log
· Correspondence log
· Use as needed. For instance:
o A third state to search
o Blank forms
o Surname Analysis (spelling variations, meaning; country of origin, etc.)
o Analysis of each research session
o Research Journal
I use a census history, an individual chronology, transcriptions and abstracts to have my data on hand. This allows me to leave my original and/or best copies filed safely. Using these techniques, I am able to organize my facts in a logical way, which in turn makes them easier to retrieve.
What I Learned
I learned to never take the original or best copy of my documents with me when I am researching. Too much handling and exposure to light cause them to deteriorate over time. I also do not have to worry about losing them.
I learned that I am more effective and efficient when I have all my materials organized and together.
I learned that when I keep good notes, complete research and correspondence logs, a to do list and a well-written research plan that it is easy to keep track of where I am in my research on a particular ancestor.
I learned that having a section for maps and repository information helps me generate new ideas and find new sources for information.
I learned that a 2" ring binder becomes too heavy to carry around.
I learned that when I have filled a 1 1/2" binder it is time to restructure my project.
I learned that I can carry a census history, individual chronology and transcription or abstract of documents and save a lot of extra paper and weight in my notebook.
Click here to learn more about Research Techniques and see a sample notebook.
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