At one of my first repositories  I visited on my 6 week Midwest trip this summer, I realized I had not really thought about how I should record the findings or lack thereof. Realizing I would visit a large number of repositories, I stopped and gave it some thought. Here is how I took notes and gathered documents from courthouses, libraries, archives and other repositories.
I record my findings in a Word document. For my Midwestern research trip just completed, I created a separate documents for each geographic area where I researched: northern Iowa, southern Iowa and Illinois. Each document became a journal of my journey. At the top of the page, I titled the document with the name of the region and then I listed the repository and office name, if appropriate, and location, e.g. Hancock County Courthouse, Clerk of the Court, Garner, Iowa. This is in bold and dated. It also might include names of individuals who were particularly helpful along the way.
I then typed what I was looking for (e.g. deeds from 1895-1954) and the name of the person(s) of interest. This exercise formulated the research question for that particular repository and forced me to focus on the individuals who I might find in that particular repository. It also served as a reminder if I went off topic to do some “bright shiny object” research! All this could be done in advance.
Early in my journey, I mostly looked for deeds and I found many. For deeds, I recorded the grantee, grantor, the date of filing, the volume and page number and sometimes the locational information from the index entry. I did this for all the dates of interest for each of the person(s) of interest. Then, I gathered the deeds themselves.
Most of the courthouses I visited preferred me taking a photo rather than making a photocopy. A photocopy bends the bindings too much on fragile documents and a photograph can be taken in place and takes no staff time– or paper and ink. That was not true in Illinois courthouses where I could not even take my computer or phone/camera into the building.
If I took a photo, I always asked if they wanted me to pay them for the number of photos taken as if I had made a photocopy. Two courthouses willingly took my money. Most did not want to be bothered, but I think they appreciated my asking.
But, back to the recording…. Once I found the deed based on the information I had obtained from the index, I would copy it or take a photo,. I then changed the color of the index entry to green. If I didn’t find it (rare), I changed it to red. It stayed in black type if I decided not to pull it. I didn’t pull all the deeds I identified. Certainly if there were any anomalies to the deed or it’s recording, I would expand my notes.
For each document type, I made sure I had all the information necessary for a citation by taking a “stab” at writing it up. Then I made sure I captured all the necessary info in the photo for each unique deed.
In Iowa, the county courthouse is the repository for many of the documents genealogists seek. It was usually my first stop. The Recorder holds the deeds and the vital records. The Clerk of the Court holds the naturalizations, probate records and court filings.
Sometimes the office does not have the record but the records has instead been moved to a historical society, genealogical society or even in one case, to a person’s home to be indexed. I make a note of that and the contact information.
I record positive and negative findings.
If I were to start again here are some recommendations:
- I would create a separate Word doc for each repository and if a courthouse, for each office of the court.
- I would be as diligent about recording negative findings as I was at the end of my trip at the beginning.
- I would note if I took a photo of a particular document.
- I would be more prepared to take advantage of access to vital records. (These could only be transcribed; no photos.)
- I generally did an online catalog search the night before visiting, but I still made some rookie mistakes such as trying to take my computer into the IL courthouse or arriving 30 minutes before they opened.
- I would do more organizing of the past day’s findings at night–but I admit, I was exhausted!
I hope these experiences help you. Perhaps you have some recommendations to share with me? I would love to hear them. Just make a comment in the comment section.
You also might like to hear about how historians record their findings. Check out this episode of Ben Franklin’s World, hosted by Liz Covart, one of my favorite podcasts which I listened to while driving. I was happy to hear that of all the many systems discussed, a Word document seemed to be the best for Liz and her expert guest.
What I have done since the last post: yoga, cleaned out the car and getting charged up to work on my KDP tomorrow.
 Hardin County (Eldora, IA) Courthouse, 2016; photograph taken 9 August 2016 and privately held by Jill Morelli, Seattle, WA. Ms. Morelli took the photograph on her genealogy research trip to the Midwest in July-September 2016.