One of the most important tools you should use when doing your family history is completing a research log. I will admit, I am horrible at getting one out and using one but I am also a very scattered researcher. I flit from one side of the family to another and don’t think anything of it, and I also duplicate my efforts because as good as my old noggin’ is for remembering things, I can’t remember everything.
And that is where a research log comes into play. Not only do they allow you to visually look at what you have discovered in a specific source (be it a census, book, magazine, newspaper, etc.) it allows you to see where you didn’t find information, and that can be just as valuable.
Where Can I Find a Research Log?
Research logs come in many different formats and can be found pre-made for you to download. I know the one I tend to use can be printed from my Legacy Family Tree software. I can imagine most of the other brands of genealogy software have research logs ready-made for you as well. In the screenshot of my program below, I have boxed in red the “research log” tab where you can print one off lickety-split.
Here is what the research log looks like that Legacy offers. I’ll also show an example I downloaded from FamilySearch.
If you prefer to have an “online” research log, you can always create a document in either Excel, Google Spreadsheets, or even creating a table in Word or Google Docs. Thomas MacEntee has this handy dandy sheet available by just Googling “genealogy research log in excel”, it was the first item that came up, I clicked and it led straight to the directions on creating your own spreadsheet.
Every Good Research Log Should Ask a Question
Like my subtitle above states, a research log should always ask a question, and you should use 1 research log for 1 question on 1 individual. If you have another question about the same individual, you begin a new research log. And the question should be very specific in reference to your person.
I do not have any concrete evidence of who the parents of Oliver Charles Warner, my fourth great-grandfather on my maternal side of the family, are. I sadly must have done the biggest of no-no’s and just gone off the one big tree for who his parents are, so here I am, doing my due diligence to prove his parents are Joel Warner and Thankful Chapin (as Thankful would have been Joel’s wife in 1809, but now that I think about it, many don’t even have Oliver listed as their child, many only have Sharon Burke Warner, their oldest daughter).
Who are the parents of Oliver Charles Warner, born approximately 1809 in Franklin County, Massachusetts?
You are best to be as specific as possible for your question, to make sure you are not confusing the person you are researching with another potential candidate. I’d like to think that my Oliver Charles Warner was the only one born in 1809 in Franklin County, Massachusetts. But we shall see.
When I make a log for the documents that I do have on Oliver Charles Warner, not one mentions who his parents are. He is married in all the census records I can find, and his death record, which I should be able to open at a Family History Affiliate, came up empty when I went to the library (a FamilySearch affiliate). One day a Saturday will be free for me to visit the Family History Center nearby to see if I have luck there.
With Oliver Charles Warner being born in approximately 1809, this is the world of tick marks on the census. My goal is to first find a census that will show Oliver being born on the census with Joel and Thankful in 1810. Please note this will not give me concrete proof of any means, it’s just a start to see if Oliver is in the household with Joel in 1810.
When I go to consult my files, I find it strangely ironic that the only census I am missing for Joel Warner is the 1810 Census. Ideally, this census should show Joel Warner as the head of household, and other dependents including his wife, Thankful, his daughter, Sharon Burke Warner, and two sons, Anson, approximately 5, and Oliver, approximately 1 (possibly less).
When I found the 1810 Census using Ancestry.com, it had not yet been indexed so that could explain why the 1810 Census had been missing in my files and on my profile of Joel Warner on Ancestry (however, the 1810 census is now saved in my computerized files).
The perplexing challenge I face with the 1810 Census is that it states that “J Warner” and his spouse (at this time I do not know for certain if this is Thankful) are raising 1-boy under 10; 2-girls under 10; 1-girl 10-16; and both the man and the woman in the house are between the ages of 26-45. Why this is perplexing is that many records have Joel having another son, Anson, born in 1805, with Oliver Charles supposedly being born in 1809, which leaves him with 2-sons under 10. I am also unaware of any daughters under 10 and this lists 2.
This census also lists Joel’s siblings, Pliny and Roswell, which is why I’m confident my “J Warner” is Joel. Both of his brothers are listed as having sons under the age of 10 as well (or at least boys in their homes). Pliny has 4, while Roswell has 3, more possibilities on who Oliver’s parents might be. (Joel also has one other younger brother, Seth, who could also be a parental possibility, and Seth, like Joel, moved to Potter County, Pennsylvania).
Now while looking through some of the birth records from Bernardston, Hampshire, Massachusetts, it’s quite odd that on 15 November 1804 Alson Warner was born to Pliny and Jerusha Warner. I now wonder if the mysterious “Anson” could be “Alson” (the Anson I have found was born in 1805 and I’ve never seen any other record relating him to my Warner’s, I have a hunch I have found information on an Anson that doesn’t belong to my family as there are many Connecticut ties). But does that mean that Oliver Charles Warner is the “boy under 10” on the 1810 Census for Joel?
Also, Oliver was supposedly born in Franklin County in 1809. And though Franklin and Hampshire are next to one another, was Oliver born in Franklin County or in Hampshire? It’s entirely possible they moved, as Thankful died in Franklin County as well in 1812. In fact, it appears that Bernardston has changed what county it is in (or at least I have it down as two different counties, maybe Franklin was formed from Hampshire). A simple Google search provides me the answer, Franklin county was formed in 1811 “from the northern third of Hampshire county”.
So now my latest deduction is if Oliver Charles Warner was born in Franklin County, how accurate is his 1809 birth year since Franklin was formed in 1811? Oliver is not listed in any birth records for Bernardston, only Sarah Burke Warner, the oldest child of Joel and Thankful, is listed as being born in the vital records of Bernardston, Massachusetts. None of the other children that are represented on the 1810 Census are listed either. So, my next task is to look through other city’s vital records in Franklin County to see if Joel Warner is listed with offspring. This also includes me creating a new research log with the question:
Where in Massachusetts was Oliver Charles Warner born in 1809?
I’ll keep the year the same because as I look through the documents listed I’m sure if he was born a few years later I should still find him. It’s possible as I find the vital records about Oliver that maybe I will find information about the girls under 10 that are also listed in the 1810 Census under Joel Warner.
Other research logs I could work on were extending my research to the collateral members of the Warner family, finding out the name of the children of Pliny, Roswell, and Seth Warner as well, to make sure my Oliver Charles didn’t belong to them. It’s always possible that the girls listed with Joel could have been nieces of his, nothing is guaranteed that the girls are his daughters.
Research Logs Keep You Focus
If nothing else research logs keep you focused. You may end up working on multiple research logs simultaneously but it’s worth it to keep yourself from duplicating work. Not to mention we all know how easy it is to go down the rabbit hole when you get distracted by bright, shiny objects, I’m not saying you won’t still do that, but hopefully, you will have a new research log for each hole you go down, and then some.
As for me and Oliver Charles Warner… I am still in the throes of trying to find towns in the vicinity and going through the online records. Many of these vital records have been digitized but you have to go through each record page by page. Where Bernardston’s records are all alphabetical and are just beautiful, not every town is Bernardston. It is just taking me longer than I anticipated to narrow down areas and figure out where to look. Part of me thinks I should do more of the collateral search first to discover all the children of Joel’s brothers to verify the names of all of their children to aid in my search, and that finding those records may assist me in narrowing things down. But I am determined to find what I need, hoping beyond hope that Joel and Thankful are Oliver’s parents.