Diggin’ Up Roots: RootsTech in general

I was so inspired by the RootsTech Conference last week and in the coming weeks I plan to share some of the tips and helps I found there.  Next year’s RootsTech is February 3-6 in Salt Lake City and I highly recommend it.  If you register, make sure you check the box for the “events,” as these were a lot of fun and were free.  RootsTech is sponsored by FamilySearch and their partners.  For beginners, intermediate, or advanced genealogists, it is wonderful!

Some of the highlights for me were former First Lady, Laura Bush and daughter, Jenna; Tan Le; and Donny Osmond.  Besides being so educational, the whole weekend was great fun, mostly because my sister from Wisconsin attended with me.



Time for the reveal: what’s in that magic research notebook?


(my favorite use of a 3-ring binder)

connie ward girl with a past genealogy blog research binder notebook

Just a few of my research notebooks

I learned about this research notebook from a LDS Family History Consultant, Jayare Roberts.  In the 30+ years since I took his class, I have changed this method very little.  When I finish research on a family, this essentially provides me with a family history complete with index, sources, and documents.

If you want to research exclusively from your computer and have no need for hard copies, this method is probably not for you.  I like to work with hard copies as I research.  I transfer the information to the computer when I am finished.

Here’s how it works:

Use a 3-ring binder for each family.  If the binder gets too big and you have accumulated a lot of info on the children, separate the children into their own binders.  You may also end up with “in-law” binders.  Separate the families out as much as needed, but for beginning research keep the family together.  Buy a set of ten divider pages with plastic tabs for each notebook.  (I often just make my own using old file folders.  I can trim them to the size I want and make the divider tabs any size.)

connie ward girl with a past genealogy blog research notebook binder dividers

Notebook divider pages

Set up the dividers and put them in the research notebook in this order:

  1. To Do List
  2. Research Report
  3. Maps/Reference Material
  4. Correspondence
  5. Chronology/Narrative
  6. Pedigree Chart
  7. Family Group Record
  8. Census
  9. Research Log
  10. Manuscript

Here is a description of what goes behind each divider that creates the magic of your research notebook:

  1. As you think about records you should find or questions you have, jot them down on the To Do List.  The next time you research, your To Do List is ready.
connie ward girl with a past genealogy blog research notebook binder to do list

A simple “to do” list

2.  Every time you perform any research on the family, take a few minutes when you are finished to record what you did.  Also record your thoughts, questions, feelings, everything that comes to mind about the family.  It is so helpful when you pick up the book the next time, even if it is ten years later.  It is also interesting to follow your research journey and becomes a research book of instructions for your posterity.

connie ward girl with a past genealogy blog research report binder notebook

Research report from one day spent at the library

3.  As you accumulate maps of the area or info about the towns and counties, put them in this section for future reference.

4.  Correspondence includes letters, emails, posts on genealogy websites, anything that can be considered correspondence between you and another person.  I keep these chronological by the person I am corresponding with.  I also make sure addresses and phone numbers are recorded here for quick lookup.

5.  A simple timeline of the family is a good way to start.  As you find more information, the timeline may become more involved.  Eventually you may want to turn this timeline into a narrative.  I will give you an example of how to do this in a future post.

6.  I like to keep a pedigree going both ways, ancestors and descendants, so I can see how this family fits into mine.

7.  There are many family group record forms available on the internet.  Pick one you like for research purposes.  Or print out a blank family group record from your genealogy program.  This is a place where you can quickly pencil in the information you find so you can see quickly what you have.  Eventually you will want to transfer this information to the genealogy program on your computer.

8.  I keep census records separate from the other research and I like them at the beginning of my research because I refer to them so often.  I start with a census checklist.  I will give you a couple of examples of these in a future post.  I then include hard copies of all the census records in chronological order.

connie ward girl with a past blog genealogy census checklist checksheet

One of several census checksheets I have created over the years. I think I’m also addicted to spreadsheets.

9.  The research log is the heart, or the magic, of this notebook.  This is where you record every record you want to look at and every record you find.  You can fill out a research log in advance if you are going to a research library by accessing their online catalog and recording the books and films that may have applicable documents.  When you go to the library, your list of items is all ready and you don’t waste precious time accessing the catalog.  (You should also use a research log for online research.  However, I find this goes so quickly that I really have to discipline myself to write down every website I access.)  The research log should contain the name of the record, the call number or film number, the date you looked for it, whether or not you found anything, and the document number you assigned to the records you found.  These document numbers are assigned in order, no matter what the document is.  If you found the death record first, it is #1.  If you found the birth record next, it is #2.  If you found a letter written to a cousin, it is #3.  This is the beauty of the method – it is simple, quick, and then easy to find the document later.  Make sure that you note “nothing” if the record you were looking at contained nothing on your family.  This will ensure that you don’t look at the record again.

research log example

This basic research log becomes an index to all of your documents

10.  The manuscript section is where you put hard copies of the actual documents you find.  If you find the death record first and have assigned it #1, write a “1” in the upper right hand corner of the document and put it behind “Manuscript.”  When you find the second document, put a “2” in the upper right hand corner and file it in the notebook next.  You can see that eventually you will have a notebook full of records with page numbers on them that will correspond to your index (research log).  It is really a genius way of keeping everything accounted for.

By using this method, if your research is interrupted (and it will be), you can pick up your notebook again in six months and begin where you left off.  Your research reports will jog your memory.  Everything stays nice and neat and you can find any piece of info in seconds.  Someone else can even take your notebook to the library and pick up where you left off.  I think it’s MAGIC!   If I have not made myself clear, please post your questions and I will explain in more detail.

Try My Tricks: taking advantage of cousins and classes

The first “Genealogy Miracle” I posted contained some great genealogy lessons.  They are tricks I have learned through the years and use frequently.

  • Genealogy research trips are fabulous adventures and should be undertaken as often as possible, both for research and for nostalgic value.  I have some great stories about research trips and new cousins that I will post in the future.
My daughter, Kimi, and I on  a Michigan research adventure trip.

My daughter, Kimi, and I on a Michigan research adventure trip.

  • Notice if a particular family seems to show up wherever your family lives.  This is a good indication that they are more than friends!
  • If the family moves to a nearby county, it may indicate that other relatives live there.  It is a good place to look for the wife’s family.
  • Another great trick is to stop and research a family that appears to have no connection, but keeps showing up on your family’s records.
  • Take advantage of webinars and online classes.  We can’t remember everything forever, so it is good to be nudged once in a while by a good class.  There are fabulous webinars out there.  Some of my favorites are those offered by Legacy Family Tree.  And classes taught at seminars such as RootsTech are always good.
  • Newspapers hold a wealth of information.  I located an entire family in Omaha, Nebraska and found out everything I needed (and more) because the complete Omaha World-Herald is available at genealogybank.com.  I have found dozens of events and dates in newspapers that I could find nowhere else and have been able to put whole families together just from newspaper clippings.
You never know what information will show up in the newspaper.

You never know what information will show up in the newspaper.

  • Descendancy research is the gem!  This is one of the best tricks of research.  Not only do I meet wonderful cousins that I didn’t know existed, but they are usually able to fill in the gaps and give me important information.  And as years pass, the older existing descendants get fewer and fewer, so don’t hesitate!  Phone calls are great, but meeting these cousins is an extra bonus.  Sitting with them in their living room jogs their memories and brings out the old photos and stories.
This is a sampling of the cousins I have found in Michigan and New York.

This is a sampling of cousins I have met across the United States while researching.

  • Be persistent, patient, and thorough.  Someone once said that if a document survives, you can find it.  Go with your gut feeling.
  • It’s good to have research helpers – someone to take photos, someone to help sort through papers, and someone to bounce your ideas off and to give you encouragement.