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  • Writer's pictureDebora Ellen Blodgett

The Value of a Research Log

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

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Historical research, and, in particular, genealogical research involves viewing many source documents. How does one keep track of all this information?

One excellent way to document your research journey is through the use of a research log.

Why, you may wonder. Won't that be a waste of time? Well, actually, no - it is not a waste of time. In fact, keeping an accurate research log may save you countless hours repeating research you may have already done. What if you need to relocate a record you know you found before but cannot remember where you found it? If you refer to a completed research log, you may find the information in a matter of minutes rather than taking hours to locate the information again.

What type of information is documented in a research log? The research log should accurately capture the elements of the research objective you are documenting. Typical information collected in a research log include:

  • Research Objective

  • Date Searched

  • Repository

  • Call #/URL

  • Locality

  • Search Purpose

  • Search Criteria

  • Source Citation

  • Results

Before beginning a search, you should have a clear research objective. This will guide you to where you may locate the information you seek. It will also help to prevent you from running down a research rabbit hole. An example of a research objective is:

  • Was Mercy Wells living in Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1790?

This question will guide your research in the following ways:

  1. What record will tell you this information?

  2. Where was the record created?

  3. What repository will house the record?

Looking at a 1790 federal census record will help to answer this research question. After conducting the search, the following information can be documented in the log:

Research Log

  • Research Objective: Was Mercy Wells living in Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1790?

  • Date Searched: 25 January 2021

  • Repository:

  • Call #/URL:

  • Locality: Deerfield, Franklin Co., Massachusetts

  • Search Purpose: Locate 1790 census record

  • Search Criteria: First name: Mercy, Last name: Wells

  • Source Citation: 1790 U.S. census, Franklin Co., Massachusetts, population schedule, Deerfield, page 110 (penned), col. 2, line 12, Mercy Wells; ( : accessed 25 January 2021); citing National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm M637, roll 4; image 2.

  • Results: Mercy Wells located, 1790 census, Deerfield, MA, head of household, 4 males over 16, 2 females

It is important to record all the elements for a proper source citation. Although it may seem time consuming, jotting down this information fully will save time having to look up the information again should you forget a key element.

In your log, it is important to record both positive and negative search results. What are negative search results? In this case, it would be that you did not locate Mercy on the 1790 census. Tracking your negative results will prevent you from unnecessarily repeating the same search. In some cases, you may wish to repeat your search. For those times, it will be handy to know when you looked before and what search results you found. One must keep in mind that more sources are being digitized each year. In some instances, it may be prudent to repeat a search if you believe new sources are now available.

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Be sure to record the search criteria used, including any wildcards. Such as: Mercy Wells, Merc? Wells, Mercy Wel*.

How should the log be kept? You should use the system with which you are most comfortable. Some may use pen and paper while others will prefer an electronic format.

Whatever system you choose to use, be consistent in recording your search results every time you search. You will be thankful if you have a completed log when you pick up the research again months or years later.

For more information:

Copyright 2021, Debora Ellen Blodgett



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