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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lessons in research

I am still plodding away on the applications for the DAR and the GSMD.  Why did I think this would be so quick and easy?  Honestly, it is not that hard, just a bit on the tedious side. I mean, all I have been doing is gathering records, calling court houses, cajoling relatives into giving me copies of things, and etc.  While it is taking months longer than I thought to gather these items, I have learned a lot along the way.

First lesson:  how to talk to irate, and at times unhelpful, court clerks on the phone.  I would never have guessed that people who work for the public could at times be rude and condescending.  Not all of them, thankfully, but a few out of the dozen I have talked with on the phone had an unpleasant attitude.   Now, please understand, I am always polite, courteous, and clear when requesting information.  Just the way I was taught; easier to attract flies with honey instead of vinegar you know.  However, one woman actually told me that she had more pressing issues that dealt with living people and didn’t have time for my nonsense.  When I explained that I lived a thousand miles away and would be happy to pay the office for the time it took to retrieve the files and copy them she hung up on me.  Thankfully she wasn’t working when I called back.

Second lesson:  keep an accurate phone and mail log.  It is embarrassing to write or call the same person twice for the same information.  Lucky for me the librarian thought it was funny.  That embarrassment drove me to making an official log, like so many researchers do.  I had been using the inside of the folder I had made to collect the documents in as a on-the-fly note keeper.  That obviously had a flaw, one that I could still repeat, because I had to remember to keep the notes up to date.  So far so good now that I keep an official correspondence log with each file.  Also, this helps me keep a trail of places that I have contacted without success when tracking down where an ancestor’s record may be.  That information can lead me to the next place I should look or contact. 

Third lesson:  cite your sources immediately.  Nothing is more embarrassing than finding an awesome online record and forgetting where you got it.  Worse, is when you have to ask your readers to help you find those lost records (thanks guys!).  In the past I would copy the information or image and attach the web site to it.  Then, when I had the time, I would go back and insert the correct source citation.  For books and paper copies this is much easier since you can just photocopy the title page or write the source on the back of the page.  Now, I make a point to take the few extra minutes to do a correct source citation immediately.

Fourth lesson:  making a spreadsheet to keep track of what you have and what you still need.  Seems like a simple thing right?  Something someone should have started at the beginning of an epic quest such as this huh?  Well… sometimes my brain makes decisions contrary to what should be done.  I printed out the application forms and started to keep track of what I had on there.  However, after about 6 months of notes, additions, deletions, and multi colored pens the chicken scratch was hard to be straight.  My solution was a check list that I stapled to the outside of my paperwork folder.  Now I have a list off what is in the file and what I still need to gather for submission.  No need to try and read the scribble or hunt through each file trying to figure out what I still need. 

There you have it, the lessons that have now been firmly planted in my head about what to do and not to do when conducting a specific research project.  Now, let’s hope that I remember it the next time I start one of these!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent advice. I am going to have to work up to lessons 2, 3, and 4. Alas, I still manage to convince myself that I'll remember where I got selected pieces of information. I do remember for a while. But that memory does not last, and the notes I do take often surprise me! Your first lesson is extremely useful, and from my childhood in the South I've learned it well. It works, and it's humane. Often, the "nicest" person wins the information. Thanks for this post!