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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Research Logs and To-Do Lists

This month at the Special Interest Group Meeting for both Roots Magic and Family Tree Maker the discussion started with Research Logs and To-Do Lists.

The difference between To-Do Lists and Research Logs is that a To-Do list is a simple list of things you need to do. Such as find the birth certificate for your grandfather, write a letter, find an obituary or many other things. A research log on the other hand is a record or log of the research you have done. Research logs can be for an individual, a couple, a location or a repository. These two software packages handle the solution in different ways.

At the RootsMagic group meeting, we first watched a video through the Roots Magic’s website at This video was very informative and even though it was shown using an older version of Roots Magic, you should be able to do everything and probably more with a more current version.
Select List on the Main Toolbar and you will find both the To-Do List and Research Log options. The research logs will let you keep track of the research you have done on a person, family or place. 

Options include Add, Edit, Delete or Print your research log. You will probably not be deleting too many research logs, I could see deleting a log you might have for the wrong person, family or place, or if you accidentally created a duplicate log, otherwise you want to keep your logs. The purpose of a log is to be able to review what you have done to determine what you still need to do.
To find out more about what each field could be used for see .
What I like about the Roots Magic research log is that it is basically “fill in the blanks” and you won’t forget to put some important information or fact into your log. Since the log is really easy to use, there should be no excuse not to use this feature. As with anything, you may need to develop a habit of doing a research log.

Now on to Family Tree Maker, under each person, you will find Notes, you have person notes which are by default public, you have research notes which by default are private and then you have tasks which would be a To-Do list. Now the private and public notes are important to remember when you share your database to or as a Gedcom that it will include public notes but not private notes and facts.

To find out more about how to use research logs within Family Tree Maker please refer to

Anyway, the Research notes field is an open area where you just type. So take a page from Roots Magic and think about some of the fields they give you that you might want to include in your note. Such as today’s date, your research objective or goal, what source you used, what was found or not found and conclusions you came to or new goals you may need to make.

Even though not as dummy proof as Roots Magic, it is still a very useful feature to have. I have decided to create a template of sorts under my record in my database. Most likely I will not have research notes for my information therefore it will be an easy place to find what I want for my notes.

Family Tree Maker has been handling To-Do Lists for quite a while. They call them “tasks”. You can access them through the person view and then view them all from the Plan view. Even though through the Publish feature you can print out your tasks, you will find the print option via the Plan view much more useful. You can filter out your task based on user defined categories. Categories could be surnames, locations, record types, etc… I love being able to create any category I want. Plus you can assign more than one category per task. For example: Perhaps you need to find a death certificate, you can assign it to the category by surname, by the county it is in and that it is a vital record or death certificate. Finally, you can flag them completed when you do the task. I love printing out To-Do Lists by category. If I will be visiting a cemetery and I want photos, I can assign them to the exact cemetery and then print out a To-Do List. I just check them off as I walk around taking my pictures.

I may like Roots Magic Research Log, but I love Family Tree Maker’s Task list more than Roots Magic To-Do List. One nice feature of Roots Magic To-Do list is the ability to transfer the completed item to the research log. If you are on a person and select the To-Do list, you have the option to create a list for a person, or family (person’s parents). If the person is married you could also choose your person and spouse (family) for the list. You are given the ability to select an address or repository for the location.

However, Roots Magic doesn't give me the sort option like Family Tree Maker does. As for addresses, I created general task for my repositories and if it is a county look-up, I make sure I have a task with the county courthouse information. I have addresses for not only courthouses, but cemeteries, and libraries. I always have my Task list of just my repositories and it is the first thing in my research folder that I take with me on all trips. I don’t haul my laptop with me to all my repositories, I will write notes on my Task lists and when I get back to the hotel or my home, then I update my research logs and task list with my notes.

Therefore, my Tasks (To-Do) Lists and Research Logs work closely together. My To-Do lists are Tasks that I need to get done and my Research Logs are the results of said tasks.  So now go out there and start recording all your research, not just the successes through your source citations!