07 May 2010

Research Notebooks

Back a month or so ago I mentioned the research notebooks that I assemble when going on a research trip. I do take my laptop, but often the laptop is in use by my DH who is busy entering data for me or I didn't decide to take it into the repository where I am working.

The black "combs" you see are the 2 inch size, I get them at my local office supply or if you can't bind it yourself the office supply can bind for you in a comb that fits properly. These have a locking feature so nothing accidently comes open. They also lay flat so its easy to work with & write in.

The research notebooks are great - being comb bound means that if you drop it everything stays intact, no messed up papers. I index the material in the notebook, divide it up by County or repository depending on the length of the trip and number of stops. If I have cemetery stops to make my cemetery search lists are also included in the notebook. Group sheets on the families I will be working on are included along with printouts on the repositories & libraries I will be visiting. The photo above shows some of the lists & print-outs ready to be put into my notebook for this trip.

The photo directly above this text shows a completed notebook, open to some family group sheets. Note the handwritten notes. Once the notes that I have written in the notebooks have been typed in I place a red strike (line) thru the information & I know I've put it in the computer. Many times I continue to use the notebook as a "workbook" long after the trip is done. They are a great way to see the "holes" in your research. I do love my laptop but many times "holes" get lost in the computer and its hard to see exactly where you really need to be working!
Recap of notebook contents:

  • Maps
  • Repository/library printouts
  • Cemetery search lists
  • to do lists for each county
  • Pedigree charts for lines in area
  • Family group sheets on lines of interest
  • Blank family group sheets & blank pages for notes
  • hotel reservations (w/o credit card info)
  • any other pertinent information I might need

I use maps alot when I do research trips so there are always quite a few of them in the research notebook. This one below shows the state of Pennsylvania, with the counties I am researching in outlined for clarity. At a glance I can see where other counties are that might affect my research any given county. This particular one came from William Dollarhide's book, Map Guide To the US Federal Censuses, 1790-1920. Very clear and easy to use! To finish off the book I add an index of where everything is in the notebook, and then close it off with a white cover so I can list the surnames & dates of the trip, a dark cover on the back helps the notebook look cleaner & hold together better. For durability I use cardstock on the covers rather than regular paper.

If you have any questions about the research notebooks feel free to drop me a line or leave me a comment on the blog & I'll get back to as soon as I can. Hopefully someone will get something from this little tutorial, I never really thought anyone else would be interested.

To all of my followers who may be moms - I hope you have a wonderful mother's day this Sunday. Spend some time with those who matter most, & most important be sure to make some time just for you! Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Researching!


GrannyPam said...

Very nice system, and explanation. To my way of thinking, this raises organization to a high level. I pulled Dollarhide's book out myself yesterday, so I could be sure I have a good visual of the areas I will be researching in in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts. Have a successful trip!

Russ said...


What a great idea! One that I hadn't thought about, especially for a research trip. Guess I have dropped too many folders or loose leaf notebooks.

Going to visit my mother, today, on her Birthday. So, it's a birthday / Mothers Day combo visit.

Thank you for your Blog Post.


Linda McCauley said...

This is a great idea and I may use it for an upcoming trip in June. One question I have - do you run into problems with repositories (especially libraries & archives) that won't let you bring it in with you?


Carol said...

Nicely presented and explained Karen. I have added lists of restaurants when I am going to be in a strange city and Man is with me. We all know how much he LOVES to eat.

How bout a lesson on how you organize your cemetery lists, I know you do that very well.

TennLady said...

I think the Cemetery list organization could be a Relatively speaking topic.

Karen said...

Linda, Never had anyone refuse me entry with my research notebook. I show it to them, explain what it contains and they've always been okay with it.

Thanks Carol for your suggestion I'll keep it in mind for sure. I just did Relatively speaking so it would be a few weeks but its possible. Especially since I am putting some lists together for this trip.

Thanks for all the comments!

Lisa Swanson Ellam said...

I'm definitly interested! Thank you for showing the pictures. Since I'm a visual learner this really helps me. I leave in 4 hours for my research trip and really wish I would have gotten this organized. I know I could accomplish more if I had. Next time!

Leah Kleylein said...

What a great idea! Thanks so much for sharing - it's always such a help and so interesting to see how others organize their research!

Nancy said...

This is a really helpful idea. I haven't gone very far for research trips - I live near the state archives and find lots there. When I go there I take a pocket folder and a printed table that lists exactly who I'm looking for, events, dates, and which microfilms to pull. When going further from home and for longer than a day, I can see the great advantage of your notebook idea. Thanks for sharing it.

Becky Higgins said...

Great idea, Karen. I have a "working binder" that I take along on research trips but I really like your idea. My binder often ends up with loose papers that can easily get lost or out-of-order.
Thanks for the tip!

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

This is a fine idea, Karen. Thanks for posting that.

I like Levenger's Circa system for my college notes, but the real horrible drawback to a Circa is that if you drop it, it comes totally apart! The comb binding is a great idea, and I'm very familiar with that system, having been a fanzine editor/publisher at one time!

This is something I'll seriously consider for my research trip to the State Archive later this year.