Research Notes Using Narrative Reports

Do you ever feel like you are playing ‘catch up’ with your genealogy research? I know that when I first started, I would come home from a genealogy research trip with a pile of paper notes. That pile of paper would sit for weeks (months and even years) before I would get caught up working thru it.

As I’m reviewing my 3rd great grandparents, I feel like I’m in ‘catch up’ mode again. That’s because I’m finding poor citations and holes in my research. In the process, I’m finding that I need a set of research notes for each of these individuals so I know what I have and what I’m missing.

Since I use Scrivener to keep my research for a county/area along with transcriptions of records, I thought I could use Scrivener to keep these notes. However, after completing a few sets, I found that I either had to spend some time learning more about Scrivener or switch to a different tool. Thus, I re-watched several of Constance Knox’s Genealogy TV videos about research notes.

Following the tips from these videos, I started using her template (available $ here). I’m finding that I like using the ideas from the videos and this template better that what I was doing in Scrivener. Basically, this is due to the fact that my Word skills are better than my Scrivener skills.

In working thru the template, I was copying notes, transcriptions of records and citations from my RootsMagic program. Thus, I began wondering whether I could use a RM report to generate a set of notes. And I thought about using a Narrative Report. I attempted this process using the following settings for the narrative report.

  • One Generation
  • Include Notes
  • New paragraph after every fact
  • Include Private Facts
  • Include Private Notes
  • No Index
  • Endnotes: Print Research Notes
  • Endnotes: Print Comments
  • Reuse Endnote Numbers

When it comes to the Endnotes, this creates a very MESSY report. That’s because I wanted EVERYTHING that I have in RM to be included in the report, including the transcriptions of records that I put in the RESEARCH NOTE field for a citation.

By including those research notes, I discovered that I would also have to use ENDNOTES to create the report and not footnotes. This issue was discussed on the RootsMagic Community where a power user provided a very logical explanation. (See question: Unable to generate any sort of Narrative reports on my win10 laptop)

The problem arises when the footnotes take up so much space on a page that RM’s report writer gets flummoxed with pagination. That’s not an issue with endnotes which can be of any length.

I also found that editing the document containing endnotes did not allow me to remove an endnote and thus renumber the remaining endnotes. Nor, was I able to convert the Endnotes to Footnotes.

Because of these issues with ENDNOTES, I retried creating the report using FOOTNOTES and not asking the report to include the ‘research notes’ attached to the citation. While this report would provide a starting point, working with the footnotes was still problematic.

Not willing to give up, I tried creating the report without sourcing. This pulls the sentences and notes for the person that can be easily copied into the template.

Working with this document, I can add the bold headings.

As I work my way thru the document, I can see spelling and formatting errors in the RootsMagic sentences and notes. I can also add the sourcing for each event.

While creating these research notes will be time consuming, I believe that I will not only end up with better sourcing but also with a better understanding of what I’m missing.

Research Notes Revisited

Do you keep research notes? This is a part of the genealogy process that professional genealogists have incorporated into their research process for years. However, this is a process that I’ve never truly adopted.

My first exposure to the process of creating such notes was in an Ancestry video that I watched several years ago where Crista Cowan explains the difference between NOTEES and COMMENTS on the Ancestry family tree.

After watching that video, I tried creating notes for some of my ancestors. In the process of creating these notes, I found that I could create a PERSON NOTE in my RootsMagic file.

RootsMagic 8 Person Notes – Judson Crawford

With TreeShare, I can upload those PERSON NOTES to my tree on Ancestry where they appear as NOTES.

While this process works and achieves the goal of keeping research notes, I found several drawbacks in the process.

  • No spell checker for the PERSON NOTE in RootsMagic
  • Bold formatting in RM is not transferred to Ancestry
  • Bulleted lists is not available
  • Changing the color of the font or highlighting is not available
  • The note is NOT visible or editable while working on facts/sources for the person. In other words, I can’t have both windows open at the same time.

To get around these drawbacks, I created notes in MS Word. However, this hasn’t become a habit. Thus, the files I created have not been updated. Nor have I created files for the ancestors I’ve researched since then.

And then I watched the video by Connie Knox about what she would do if starting a genealogy project from scratch. And there at about 17 minutes, she discusses research notes.

While watching this video and thinking about my recent research involving my 3rd great grandparents, I realized that research notes would be very helpful. For example, the information I have for my ancestor Ozias Wells is based on a family Bible, two biographies of a son, and someone else’s descendancy report. I have not done exhaustive research of Ozias and have a lot of holes (questions) about his life.

Thinking about this need, I watched the video by Family History Fanatics about research notes.

After watching these videos, I concluded that I need to be keeping research notes — but they need to be a regular part of my research process and easily updated. In addition, they need to allow for the use of highlighting and other formatting tools.

While others may use One Note or Evernote to organize their research and maintain research notes, I struggled with these tools. About three years ago, I discovered another tool that I’m using to keep track of my research. While actually created for authors, I’ve found Scrivener to be very useful for my research process. I talked about how I use Srivener to track my research – including transcriptions of documents in my 2019 Research Notes post.

While I’ve been using the RESEARCH portion of Scrivener to keep track of my findings, I haven’t tried to ‘write a book’ on the DRAFT portion of the program. Thinking about this need for RESEARCH NOTES, I started thinking about putting them in Scrivener along with my research – but in the DRAFT portion.

Experimenting, I created Research Notes for Ozias Wells in Scrivener.

I found that I could use various formatting tools to help organize these notes – including the use of color to highlight questions. Since these notes are stored in the surname Scrivener project, they are alongside the notes I’m taking from various sources.

While creating the notes for Ozias Wells, I also found that I’m relying on about 3 sources for all of the information I have for Ozias. This process also helped me insert notes and questions that will hopefully develop into research questions to guide future research. Hopefully, this use of Scrivener to create research notes will become a habit helping me further my research.

Descendancy Reports

Do you research the descendants of your ancestors? Over the years, I’ve learned that the more I know about the children of an ancestor and the families of those children, the easier it is to locate information about the ancestor. Thus, my genealogy file contains information on a lot of descendants. And that research has paid off in terms of identifying DNA matches.

Thus, some of my goals for 2021 were to research the descendants of my 6th great grandfathers on my father’s side of my tree.

Most of this ‘research’ was simply going thru the Ancestry hints for the descendants. At times, I searched for other records to help document the lives of these cousins. This time consuming research resulted in a blog post listing these descendants.

Thanks to my genealogy software, creating those reports is relatively simple. With the release of RootsMagic 8, those reports have changed slightly. The Descendant list report has several different formats available.

  • Name (birth date – death date)
  • Name/Birth/Death in columns
  • Name/BMD Date/Place
  • Name (birth year-death year)
  • Name/BMD Date/Place wordwrap

My favorite version is the wordwrap version. I like this version because it has more information in a format that makes the family levels easy to visualize.

Unfortunately, this format creates challenges when I try to copy/paste the information from one of these reports into a blog post.

I haven’t tried to copy/paste a columns report, but I think it would be even more of a challenge to create a blog post using this format.

That leaves three formats with varying levels of information: years, dates and dates with places.

Name (Birth year – Death year)
Name (birth date – death date)
Name/BMD Date / Place

Since I believe that knowing the place in relation to a date is important, I will likely use the Name/BMD Date/Place format for future descendancy list reports. As I work thru my goal to complete these descendancy reports, I know that the research involved is valuable but I question the value of posting these reports. What about you, reader, have you ever connected with a cousin thru a descendancy report?

Evaluating Progress

Have you ever looked at a chart or table someone else created to display their genealogy data in a different way and wondered what your own data might look like? For many people, this happened when Paul Hawthorne created a pedigree worksheet color coded by birth location.

Well, today, genealogist Yvette Hoitink published a way to color code one’s research progress in her blog, Six Levels of Ancestral Profiles – Level Up Challenge.

Basically, she used the numbers on an ahnentafel chart to create a spreadsheet. Then, she color coded each person based six levels of research progress.

Using her blog as a guide, I decided to see what my research progress looked like. Even though there is no ‘fine line’ dividing some of these levels from another, I simplified my levels to the following:

  • Level 0 – No Information – no color
  • Level 1 – Names Only – pink
  • Level 2 – Vitals – orange
  • Level 3 – Family / Census – purple
  • Level 4 – Between the Dash – blue
  • Level 5 – Exhaustive Research – torquoise
  • Level 6 – Biography – green

Below is my color coded ahnentafel using the above levels.

Below is my dad’s side of the above chart. I used their ‘ahnentafel’ number instead of their name so the chart would stay compact. (See Wikipedia article for info on ahnentafel numbers.)

Followed by my mother’s side of the chart.

This chart helps me see where I need to do more research. The following images turn the numbers of my 7th generation into names.

I wasn’t surprised by my results. However, this visualization will help identify future research goals.

Research Logs

Do you have one task that ‘genealogy experts’ recommend that you just don’t seem to be able to tackle? For me, that tends to be a research log.

Even though I have a ‘research log’ from my early days of research, I haven’t been consistent with keeping that log — especially with Internet searching. And, I really could use a comprehensive research log now!

I have the opportunity to apply for a ‘brick wall’ consultation at the upcoming Topeka Genealogical Society conference in April. As part of that application, I need to submit a list of sources already checked. With forty years of research and a lot of same name issues, I could really use a complete research log!

For this application, I am going to submit James Crawford (1772-1854) of Preble County, Ohio as my brick wall ancestor. James married Sally Duggins in 1799 in Garrard County, Kentucky before migrating to Ohio by the early 1800s. The research question I would like assistance with is “Who is James Crawford’s father?

Seems simple enough, right. Unfortunately, there are a lot of same name issues with researching this ancestor.

  1. Next door neighbor in Preble County, Ohio was James Crawford (1770-1833) who married Martha Knight in 1793 in Lincoln County, KY. This James Crawford migrated from Preble County, OH to Warren County, IN where he died. Also migrating to Warren County, IN from Preble County, OH at about the same time was Nelson G. Crawford, the son of James and Sally (Smith Duggins) Crawford.
  2. There is a third James Crawford (1758-1836) living in Madison and Garrard counties in Kentucky prior to 1800. This James Crawford was married to Rebecca Anderson and migrated to Jennings County, IN and then to Jefferson County, IN.
  3. Garrard County KY histories refer to a Rev. James Crawford. There was a Rev. James Crawford (1752/3 – 1803) at Walnut Hill Presbyterian Church in Fayette County, KY. Rev. James Crawford was married to Rebecca McPheeters.
  4. DAR applications by descendants of James Crawford and Rebecca Anderson appear to have records mixed up with a James Crawford (1757-1836) who resided in Fleming County, KY. This James Crawford was married to Sarah Vansant.

So, I not only need to identify sources I’ve checked for James and Sally (Duggins) Crawford, but also sources I’ve checked for all of these other James Crawfords.

To start re-creating such a research log, I used RootsMagic to print an individual summary report, complete with bibliography for each of these James Crawfords. I then copied the bibliography entries into Notepad where I could remove the leading punctuation and clean up any other errors.


From Notepad, I copied the entries into Excel. Since there were blank lines between each bibliography entry, those blank lines copied over to Excel. To eliminate the blank lines, I sorted by the bibliography column. This pushed all of the blank lines to the bottom of the list.


Unfortunately, that only gets sources that I’ve cited in RootsMagic. I had drawers full of research that would need to be added to this list of sources used. Fortunately, I have scanned most of that research. Unfortunately, I named the scanned files with the Dollarhide code I used to file the paperwork.


Since the code was part of my citations in Master Genealogist, I can find the paperwork when working from a source in my program. However, these file names don’t tell me where I got the information in each of those files. When I open the file, it is usually a handwritten document (remember my research is up to 40 years old).


Unfortunately, I don’t have a full citation on these old notes. However, I usually have a fairly accurate title. When I started working my way thru my Ohio notes, I was just Googling the title. Part way thru, I realized that I could probably find the information faster using WorldCat.


In some cases, I didn’t have enough of the title to find it via WorldCat. In those situations, I used the FamilySearch catalog and searched for the place associated with the resource. Then I drilled down to the type of information (history, tax, deeds, probate, etc.).

familysearchbibSo far, I’ve been able to find the bibliographic information thru either WorldCat or FamilySearch. This bibliography information was added to my Excel spreadsheet along with the filing code.


In the process, I also took the opportunity to change the file name so that it included an abbreviated version of the title of the resource.


In some cases, these files were actual copies of records. In those cases, I changed the file name to indicate the type and source of the record.


Yesterday, I managed to make it thru the process of identifying and renaming my Ohio files for Crawford. However, I still need to do my Kentucky files and my Virginia files. Since I have done some FAN club research, I should also add the files for Duggins and Sellers along with the bibliographies for the females appearing on the early Kentucky tax lists: Rebecca Crawford and Mary Crawford.

Lesson learned:

Use better file names

Keep a research log!




Analyzing Sources

I recently have been working on a ‘go over’ for my 2nd great grandfather, George Mentzer. In the process, I utilized Scrivener. I had probably heard about Scrivener, but when I saw it mentioned in the recent Twitter #genchat, I decided to try it. In the process of learning more about Scrivener and genealogy, I discovered Lisa Alzo’s Ancestor Profile Template along with her 25 Genealogist Hacks Every Genealogist Should Know.

I haven’t used my George Mentzer Scrivener project to write his biography (yet). However, I have used it to transcribe the various documents I’ve collected over the years.  My research folder contains the actual document files.


I then used the dual screen option to transcribe the documents. I placed the transcriptions in my ‘draft’ folder.


I discovered that I could copy/paste the footnote for the document from RootsMagic into the +fn box on Scrivener.


As I proceeded thru transcribing various records, I also worked on the corresponding events in RM. I copied/pasted the transcription from my Scrivener project into the details. In the process, I also verified other details for the event such as the date.


Now, I have the various events in RM with the corresponding documentation. Since various documents cited differing dates for an event, I unfortunately have multiple dates for the same event.


Since this makes for a very messy report, I turned to the RootsMagic Facebook group to see how others handled this issue. One proposed solution involved selecting one date as the ‘official’ date and marking that ‘primary’ while marking the other dates ‘private’. This solution will ‘clean up’ a narrative report if hidden facts are not included. However, said report would not include the sources for those hidden facts. Thus, others would not be aware of the conflicting data.

Another solution was in a post by Dan Mohn where he discussed his solution for dealing with multiple birth dates. In his blog post, “Grandpa Joe Smith Was Born on __.” Are You Sure?, he discusses the issue and the ‘solution’ he is adopting. Dan is using the Note field for the event to discuss the discrepancy between records.

In a comment by Gina Gaulco to a post by Patrice Houck Schadt regarding the use of Alternate Dates, Gina explains her use of her custom ‘Analysis’ source. In the Analysis Source, Gina writes out her analysis of the various sources and places it in the ‘details’ for that source.

I checked the report options in RM to see if it would be possible to include either the notes or the source detail text in a narrative report and/or an individual summary report. On the main screen to generate a report, there is an option to print the notes.


On the Source settings for the report, there are options to ‘print research notes’ and ‘print detail comments’.


Thus, it is possible to include a research analysis in a printed report. Since I place the transcription of a source in the details for that source, I checked Ancestry to see whether that detail text was transmitted to Ancestry via TreeShare. By clicking on one of my sources from outside of Ancestry, I found that the detail text does transfer — but the line breaks are removed affecting the formatting of the text on the Ancestry side.


I will have to experiment with putting an analysis in the event Notes to see how TreeShare handles the transfer of formatted text in a Note.

In the meantime, I need to write an analysis of the data for several events. This, too, will be a learning curve. Wish me luck!