Grandmother’s dish towels

Do you remember your grandmother’s dish towels?  The ones with the ‘to-do list’ for the housewife?

Wash on Monday IMG_9024

Iron on Tuesday

Mend on Wednesday

Clean on Thursday

Shop on Friday  IMG_9026

Bake on Saturday

Rest on Sunday

One Monday,  I printed our paternal grandparents’ family group sheet for my brother.  He has limited internet access and wanted print copies of group sheets for grandparents and each of their children.   I printed family group sheets for two of my dad’s five siblings, and group sheets for their children.  I was about one-third of the way done with the project.   The project includes multiple tasks associated with the Genealogy Do-Over ,  specifically tracking and conducting research (Month 4) , citing sources (month 5), and evaluating evidence (Month 6).   Minimal tracking, inconsistent citation of sources, token notes  to locate source records and nominal documentation of my thought processes are among the things that I am trying to improve.

I went to bed about midnight.  As I dozed off to sleep,  I thought about those dish towels.  How does this apply to my work week as a genealogist?  Well, here is a version to ponder.

Monday:  Wash.  Pick one  item (or a basketful) from your family tree.  Look at the facts and sources.  Fill in research log.

Tuesday:   Iron.  Iron out the wrinkles.  What information is inconsistent?  What information is consistent?  Identify the holes and gaps.  Complete research log, including appropriate citations.   Create to-do list.

Wednesday:  Mend.  Search for information to fill in gaps and close holes.  Check analysis again and revise as needed.  Trace the threads of indirect evidence.

Thursday:  Clean.  Clean digital and paper files.  Discard extra copies of documents.  Review documents and analysis again.  What did you miss?  What still needs to be done?

Friday:  Shop.   Shop for items/  information.  Use a new  source.

Saturday:  Bake.  Put item in your mental oven and bake slowly for 24 hours.  Test for doneness at regular intervals.  Remove and set out to cool.

Sunday:  Rest.   Allow item to rest for an indefinite period of time.  Pick up another item and set plan for next week.   Question:  Do genealogists ever really rest???

Did I follow that plan?  Well, sort of. . .

Monday:   Citations in genealogy software program need washing.  Washed and dried 2 loads – for Grandpa (John Ray Posten) & Grandma  (Jennie Amelia Richards) Posten.  Sorted citations for  their 6 children, one of whom is my dad.   Used  templates in program and Evidence Explained book.

Tuesday:  Continuation of Monday.  Added information from LaCoe family history [1] (privately published 2010) about Grandpa & Grandma Posten’s grandchildren.    Individual worksheets  completed  for each of dad’s siblings but not for each of their spouses – filling these in as I go.  Started research logs for each of dad’s 5 siblings.

Wednesday:  Answered emails from DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) prospective members – 1st draft of one application sent to prospective member.   Continuation of Monday and Tuesday for Posten family group sheet project.   Found digital copies of death certificates for dad’s brothers;  digital and paper copies placed in appropriate files;  citations added to  genealogy software program.

Thursday:  Continuation of Monday and Tuesday for Posten family group sheet project.   Followed one BSO – George G. Posten, son of James D. Posten and Meriam Mills and great-grandparents of Grandpa [John Ray] Posten).   Volunteer work at local library.   Checked cloud storage—discovered that files must be saved to the cloud program first, then can be synced to personal computer.  I was hoping  to leave files on personal computer and only use cloud storage as backup.  To-do:  Continue to explore how to use cloud storage programs effectively.

Friday:  Continuation of Monday and Tuesday for Posten family group sheet project.    Where did I put obituary of Joe Carpenter (grandson of  Grandpa  Posten’s sister and  an avid genealogist)?  OK,  his obituary isn’t really relevant for the current project but will be for the next one.    Scanned, filed, and created citations for 4 documents received from another cousin.  Original copies of documents placed in newly created ‘Posten BMD Certificates & Pictures’ notebook.   Office supply store for ink.

Saturday:   Continuation of Monday and Tuesday for Posten family  group sheet project. Followed one BSO – 1st husband  (William Allen) of dad’s sister, Grace; his grandfather was born in Scotland and his grandmother was born in England.  Started research log with complete citations and links; downloaded and copied documents for files.   Bought 3 reams of paper at a garage sale.

Sunday:  Continuation of same.  Estimated time of completion—next week??

[1] Susan A. LaCoe,  Lenay LaCoe Blackwell, and Velma Sue Miller, compilers/ updaters, Commemorative Record of LaCoe Family: Containing Biographical Sketches and Genealogy. Illustrated. 1750-2010, Martha L. LaCoe, compiler of first edition, edition 2010 (Pennsylvania: Privately published, 2010), pp. 45-51.


Analysis of experience:  Who knew that printing family group sheets for 3 generations of a family would take so long?  I thought that I could do this in one, maybe two, afternoons.  I have now spent 20+ hours on this project – not counting the BSO times!  Correcting and verifying citations in genealogy software  program is taking up most of the time.  Doing this now will save time later when I revise the Posten history written in 2012.

Addendum (one week later):  Family group sheets for Grandpa & Grandma Posten,  their 6 children, and multiple grandchildren are printed and ready for mailing to my brother.   Items for 2 people still need to be entered on research logs.  The act of writing down or typing a complete citation for each item forces me to slow down and think about the document – what does the document really say about this person? How does this help my research?  What is next step?   I am proud of myself for not  following several BSOs for distant relatives, such as mother-in-law of 2nd cousin.  For the next generation (my great- grandparents and their children), I want to continue researching  one generation back about spouses of  my great-aunts and uncles.  Files on great-grandparents are complete but files on their children are not.   For now, continue to focus on Posten family.


Of research logs and other things

As I searched for information about my ancestors, I wrote down a few notes and questions.   Loose pieces of paper (some of which are still in my paper files!) and scribbled handwritten notes on a photocopy of a document.  Where and when did I find  this document?  If the document was from an online source, I don’t have the complete URL.  When did I access the website?  The date isn’t printed on the bottom of the page!  What was I thinking here??   Some times, I didn’t write down any notes at all or only a word or two.  Why is this document  in this folder?   Sound familiar?   Complete notes make the job easier.  “Easier?”, you say.  “Seems like it just takes more time to fill in all of those forms.  I need to follow these hints, find more information, and go to more websites!”   My opinion, exactly, before I started the Genealogy Do-Over.     Although, I must admit that I do have a few research logs in my files but with only minimal information.   I don’t have time to fill in a research log! takes time

What is a research log?   Simply, a research log is a form or format to document the process used to look for information.  In genealogy, we discover facts about a person and sources (a.k.a. documents) to support that fact.  When and where was the person born? After 1850, census records show the person’s age, and, therefore, a year of birth (+ or – 1 year) and the state where the person was born. Caution:  this is self-reported information.  I found more than one instance in which the person’s reported age on a census did not correspond to other records.  Which record do you believe?  That’s where analysis of the evidence comes in – another lesson in the Genealogy Do-Over and a subject for another blog.

What should be included on a research log?  An article about the research process on Family Search:   step 2, ‘Decide what you want to learn’,  Prepare a research log, ” [1]  outlined that information for me:

 Keep your research log up to date.  Organize and document as you go. Record the following:

  • Your research objective.  Name the person and event as soon as you have chosen them.
  • The records you want to search. It is probably easiest to enter records as you select them (usually while still looking at the catalog). Record enough information about each source so that someone could readily find it again—the source footnote information.
  • The results of your search. As soon as you have searched a record, note whether or not you found anything in the record. You may want to include a document number for copies you made.
  • Your e-mail and correspondence. Include the address you wrote to and what you requested. Including e-mail and correspondence on your research log is more efficient than on a separate Correspondence Log.
  • Genealogical telephone calls and visits. Include dates, full names, and results. Put interview notes on a separate piece of paper to go in the file.
  • Notes about your strategies, analysis, discrepancies, and questions. Logs should be more than just a list of sources. Make your research logs as well the journals of your genealogical thinking and ideas.

I found multiple examples of research logs online and in books.  Here are a few:

From Family Search:    Research Log in PDF format

Genealogy Log of documents searched and/or search plan

Research Record Sheet

Ancestors Research Log

In March, 2017, I started using   Thomas MacEntee’s Research Log in Excel format.  When I first looked at this form, I thought, “This is way too much work!”  Now that I have filled one out for about 20 of my ancestors, I can see the value.  As I organized my paper files, I found multiple copies of the same document.  Three copies of the same census record for James Posten?!?[2]  If I had done a research log and individual checklist for James back in 2005, when I revisited his records in 2011, I would have known that I had already found that specific census record.   I would have also known that a similar 1850 census record for James Postens [3] in the same county had been found.  Which one was actually about my ancestor?  Update:   Months after finding the first 1850 census record, I discovered that James had died in 1914.  I sent for, and received a copy of his death certificate[4].  His parents were reported as Thomas Posten and Esther Brown.  James, living in Hamilton Township with Thomas in 1850[5], is more likely to be my great-great grandfather than the other James Postens.

So, what can I change to improve my research techniques?  then and now

THEN:  I made a mental note, maybe wrote a brief note on a copy of the census records and put the paper copies in a file folder.  With a little luck, both pieces of paper ended up in the same folder!  NOW:    I find two similar records on the same day. Look carefully at each one and compare to other data.  Record any discrepancies and possible reasons for those discrepancies.  Determine which person is most likely to be my ancestor.  Before continuing to search for other information, enter comments and notes on research log and other computer-based program.   State why I think person #2 is not my ancestor and additional references/ sources as needed.  List possible alternatives on research log.  Print copy of research log for paper files.

Back to thoughts at beginning of this post: “But this takes too much time!”  I am beginning to think like this – Time spent now, recording and cataloguing data, will save me time later.  I won’t have to look up the source or try to remember where I got it again- I have both the record and complete citation, including where I found the information on the research log.  I won’t have to ask– how did I come to that conclusion? Analysis is recorded on the research log as well as next steps.  I won’t have to shuffle papers and try to remember what else I need – the information is on the research log and to-do list.  Yes, it takes time- 5 to 10 minutes per document.  This forces me to slow down and look more critically at the information.

Question: Will I ever need to look at the original record or photocopy again?  Answer:  Yes.   There may be additional information on the document that I didn’t record earlier.  Research on various family lines has sometimes been set aside for weeks or months.  Can I make the same conclusion that I did six months ago?  Do I have additional information that supports, or doesn’t support, the previous conclusion?


What did I learn?  There are multiple research log formats.  I picked one format and am beginning to use it—one family and one generation at a time, starting with dad’s family.  Why dad’s family?  Because I wrote a family history five years ago and it needs serious editing.  The research logs will help with citations and as I revise/ write each person’s story.

What helped my learning?  Writing this blog.  Actually filling out 3 different types of research logs to see which one worked best for me.  Reading about research logs from various sources.

What didn’t help my learning?  Too many choices.  Frustration at time it takes to fill out research log completely.  Duplication of efforts, as in re-writing citation 2-3 times.  Realizing that I am more of a novice genealogist than I thought.

Suggestions:    Avoid duplication of effort  by entering correct citation on genealogy software program, then copy and paste to research log.   Still struggling with the concept of slowing down when doing the research.  Document positive, negative, and questionable findings.  Record how this specific information fits (or doesn’t fit) with other information.

One more link:   Using and managing a research log

Overall reflection on the experience:  This has been a very steep learning curve for me.  I thought that I was fairly well organized. But, if I was so well organized, why did I even start the Genealogy Do-over?  Because I knew, deep down, that my records were a mess.  Remember that some information will be negative—not what I hoped to find or not support previous conclusions. The skills that I am learning will, ultimately, help as I revise dad’s family history and pursue additional opportunities in the field of genealogy.

[1] . Family History Research Wiki, ( : accessed 14 June 2017):  “Prepare a research log.”

[2].1850 U.S. Census, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Hamiton Twp, p. 17B [penned], dwelling 220, family 220,  James Portons [Postens], age 19, born Pennsylvania; digital images, (  :  accessed 19 May 2017); citing National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., microfilm publication M432, roll 798, image 40.

[3]. 1850 U.S. Census, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Smithfield Twp, p. 127A [penned], dwelling 563, family 563,  James Postens, age 21, born Pennsylvania; digital images, (  :  accessed 19 May 2017); citing National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., microfilm publication M432, roll 798, image 251.

[4] Pennsylvania Department of Health, death certificate no 118955 (1914),  James D. Posten,  Bureau of Vital Statistics, New Castle.

[5] 1850 U.S. census, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, pop. Sch., Hamilton Twp. , p. 17B (penned), dwell. 200, fam. 220, James Portons [Postens].