One thing that many family history researchers have in common, is that they switch from one part of the family to another, or pick up and lay down their research from time to time, sometimes after several weeks have elapsed. In this situation a research journal can be invaluable, because very few people are able to retain all the information they have gathered and why they did certain things with certain facts. Often the information you discover will reveal a situation, but may not be noted on a marriage record, for example.
For example, suppose you have been researching a particular line of the family, and discover that one of your female ancestors was married before, and so the name given in her marriage is not her maiden name, but her previous married name. If you do not note down that discovery, and return to that person to continue your research weeks or months later, you may do a lot more research on her maiden name before remembering that you’d discovered that fact.
The solution to this problem is to keep a research journal in which you record not just what records you have searched, but also what information you were looking for. And what information you have found, of course.
This can mean that you are recording the same information in more than one place, but it can be enormously helpful in refreshing your memory if you have to lay down your research for a few days and then come back to it cold.
Making sketches of family trees can also help very much – keeping them to one family and adding information – and questions which need answering – can be added to the journal to refresh your memory.
I’ve also included lists of actions – certificates to buy, further research to be done, people to talk to – it is amazing how much time this can save.