I do the majority of my genealogy research at online sites. I am so happy with the amount of information that is now available online, especially through FamilySearch. But sometimes, the information that I’m looking for hasn’t been digitally recorded and I’m lucky that when I look at what’s available for a certain location on FamilySearch, they not only list microfilms, but also books.
If I see a book that looks valuable, I copy the name of the book and then look to see if my local library has it – and it usually does!
Because I don’t make it to the library as often as I’d like, I keep a list of books I want to make sure to look at when I do get a chance to go. The more planning I do ahead of time, but better success I have when I DO get to the library. I am able to prioritize what I want to look at and really think through exactly what I’m hoping to find in each book. This is the kind of thing I can do when I have a short period of time to PLAN rather than time to research. And I’m taking care of creating citations in the planning stage so that I’m ready to copy and paste a citation directly into my document when my brain is more engaged in thinking through what new information means to my research – when I’m more tempted to say “I’ll take care of that later”.
And how do you think I keep track of all this information? Excel, of course! I have created blank forms for the information.
I use my time at home to gather as much information as possible about the book as I can. I collect the full name of the book, author, publisher and the call number. Here’s where I cheat just a little. When looking at the book information on FamilySearch, I use the link to go to WorldCat and look up the book.
I then use the citation creator to go ahead and create a Chicago style citation and I copy and paste that into my form.
Then, if I add new information to my files as a result of this source, I have the citation ready, I just add the page number at the end of the citation. I doubt that my citation format is the “proper” format, but it works for me and it’s quick. I find that if I try to create my own citation, even from a template, it takes time and I tend to put it off.
I try to fill in as much information as possible before I get to the library, but I also print several of these to take along for the books that I find after I get there. For these “unplanned” books, I delete the text at the top of the form so everything is blank before printing. Here’s another cheat that I use a lot for these unplanned book – instead of writing everything down, I take a picture of the information on my phone and then I write on the sheet that I took a photo and then I add in the information when I get home. I can go back into my library website and use the call number to copy the complete title, find the publisher information, etc.
Often, I have my laptop with me and I’ll just go ahead and fill out the form while I’m there, but if I’m on a roll or feel pressed for time, I use the phone shortcut. Then I use the form to keep notes of what I found or didn’t find.
As soon as I find a book that I want to view when I get to the library, I fill in the form and I use the notes section to remind myself of anything specific I want to look for. When I’m actually looking at the book, I can add information about what the book covers or the condition of the book. Sometimes the layout is poor or it’s hard to read because it’s a copy of a copy. Sometimes there are 2 different book with identical information so I can add a note to save time from looking through both books. Sometimes a book gives me hints on other places to look and I’ll write that in the notes. But I always try to include what I searched for and if I found it or not. If I found something, I add the page I found it on. Anything I might need for my citation later or anything that will remind me if I need to come back to the book later is also included.
I’ve also included boxes at the top to let me know if the book has an index or not. Did I search the entire thing or did I skim it? Did I just look for a certain person? Did I look for every “Smith” in the book?
I have a similar form for microfilms. I use these forms whether I am at home or at the library. The blank for location is for the name of the library or website where the film was found. The WorldCat hint also works for microfilm citations.
Whether I’m scanning at a microfilm machine or downloading from the internet, I have place at the bottom for me to tell when the scans are located. The blue flashdrive? Dropbox? Transferred to external drive? In the “good old days”, I had several flashdrives in my backpack when I’d go to the library and I’d have to make a note about which flashdrive I had used. Things are easier now because so much is online, but I still like to keep track because sometimes, I don’t get back to the files right away.
The Excel file has 2 forms per sheet. But I also use the entire Excel Book to keep track of everything I find – kind of like a research log. To do that, I copy and paste the forms so that I have all of the Books or Films for a particular county together in one tab. (These forms could also be easily edited to keep track of websites.) If you copy these to a new sheet, be sure to adjust the margin settings including checking the boxes to Center on page.
For these, I don’t worry about being able to print them out, so I have blank columns between the forms to make them easier to read. The forms are the same size, so I can include books and films in the same tab. Do not include the blank columns between the sheets if you intend to print them.
In this instance, my tab would be labeled “Barren County” and whenever I want to do research, I can see exactly what I’ve looked at and what I want to look at next. If my notes are good enough, I can tell exactly which book would be good to go back to if I find another person to research from the same area. I would have a different tab to keep track of resources in other counties.
You can find these forms in the Downloads tab at the top of the screen.