Thursday, October 28, 2010

Genealogy Lesson 17 - Should you keep a research journal?

 
There was something I found the other day that grabbed my attention, enough that I might drive down to Charlotte County. I found the grave of my great-great-grandmother, Malissa Jeffress Coleman, at least an indication of its location, on the Find-A-Grave website. Now it is going to drive me nuts until I drive down there to take a picture since there was none online.

A lot of researchers will tell you to keep a journal of what sources you have searched in the past, so that you do not duplicate your work. I think just the opposite is true. I go out of my way not to keep a journal so that I WILL duplicate the usage of some sources. To look at a source one time and rule it done is silly. It assumes that you did not overlook anything or that new information will not become available. I am not that cocky so I assume that I missed something and will check back a few months or years later.

A great example is this grave on Find-A-Grave. I had checked for it a long time ago and, if I had noted that in a research journal, I may not have checked again. Lucky for me I duplicated that search because someone just recently added her tombstone transcription to the site. If I had not checked again, I would have missed it completely.

The same holds true for old records, such as birth or death registers. You might scan through the names today but miss one that is critical. I check the same registers for the same people, over and over again, and get lucky once in awhile and find something that I missed all of these years.

I am not telling you to throw your research journal out the window but do not let it prevent you from duplicating anything. Some of my best discoveries have been made during a second look at a given resource.

I am also an advocate of letting a brick wall sit for a few years and taking a fresh look later. New resources may have been made available by then or you might just notice something that you missed before. Other research that you have done in the mean time may cause old items to stick out that you overlooked before. Believe it or not, you get smarter every day so the more time has elapsed since the last time you tried to climb the brick wall, the better equipped you are to solve it through your other experiences.

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