Research Notes

Do you keep a research log? I have to admit that I would likely get a ‘failing grade’ for this part of the genealogy standard. I’ve tried using a paper log and a spreadsheet log, but don’t seem to be able to keep it up. Thus, I don’t have a ‘master index’ to locate my research notes.
In May, Pat Richley-Erickson, posted a question to the Facebook group, The Organized Genealogist, asking group members how they organize their research notes. This was followed up by a Wacky Wednesday presentation, Organizing Active Research Notes.

I’m just now starting to watch this presentation, but have already picked up on a hint that I would like to implement in my own research: incorporate the link to the actual file in my notes. (Thanks Cousin Russ for sharing this hint from Drew Smith.)
Even though I seem to fail at keeping a formal research log, I have found a tool that helps me keep track of my active research. That tool is Scrivener. Scrivener is actually a tool designed for writers to organize their research. There are a variety of resources that helped me learn to use Scrivener for genealogy.

I’m not using Scrivener to write a family history. However, I am using it to collect and organize my research notes. Having discovered Scrivener, I have started creating a Scrivener project for each surname I am actively researching. Within a project, I create a folder on the Research corkboard for the county. 
My current research project is my CRAWFORD research. Since much of this research involves counties with shifting county boundaries, I’m using the date the county was formed as part of the folder name. 

Even though I have to manually sort the folder, having the year the county formed helps me realize that I likely have to look in multiple counties. This date is also a clue to approximate start dates for records in that county.
Then within that county folder, I can

  • create a file to take notes
  • import images of documents
  • transcribe the images of documents

When I take notes, I try to put all of the information needed for a citation at the top of the page. Then I add notes from the source.

When I import an image, I can switch to a split screen with the image on the top and a ‘transcription’ file on the bottom.

By transcribing these records, I can copy/paste the transcription into notes or the citation detail in my RootsMagic. I also am copying this information into blog posts so that I can more easily share them with other researchers.
These files can also be exported in a variety of formats.

As I’m researching several different Crawford families in early Kentucky and beyond, I’ve found Scrivener to be extremely helpful. All of my notes are in this project. Thus, this tool has become my ‘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!