Keeping a research log is another step in the research process that I’m learning about. It’s one of those things that makes perfect sense yet seems like it’s a waste of time. But what it actually does is make sure you aren’t wasting your time.

The idea is that every time you search for something you make a note of it and what you found or didn’t find. How many times have we just plugged in a surname, thought we found something new only to discover we already had that record saved. When you are researching several ancestors with records on different websites it’s easy to forget. There’s enough to do without duplicating our efforts! 

There are a number of templates online (links below) that can be used. Or you can make your own using Word/Pages or Excel/Numbers. I find Excel easier to use than Word, but in either case here are some of the basic headings to include:. 

ANCESTOR NAME: (can include date of birth, place of birth)

DATE: the date you searched for something. 

SOURCE: the place searched such as,, book, papers, etc.

TYPE OF RECORD: What did you look for? Census? Naturalization? Birth, Marriage or Death record?

MICROFILM / FILE #: make a note so it’s easy to find next time

NOTES: This might include the citation plus anything I feel needs to be added/explained. It should also include that “no record was found” if that’s the case.

Hopefully you’ll find that using a form will help you keep track of what you’ve looked at. For me, the harder part was deciding how to organize it. Originally I had one “master sheet” in Excel that I just kept adding to and eventually I color coded each surname so they were separated visually. 

Now I’m using one Excel file per surname with a separate sheet for each person. I haven’t decided which is better, but it’s easy to reorganize if I come up with a better plan later; at least I have the information.

Lynda Roddy Ozzauto, President, NWSGS

Next Month: Locality Guides


Midwest Genealogy Center

Bailey’s Free Genealogy Forms

Family Search    (use link on page to download)

Shoestring Genealogy (use link on page to download)  (lots of free forms)


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