Methodology · Research Logs

Polar Bear Principle

This past week I presented a hands-on workshop for using Ancestry and FamilySearch, two of the genealogy mega sites. I didn’t want to dive right into best search practices for these websites without giving the students a foundation based on planning. People newer to genealogy tend to see search fields on these websites and immediately start hunting for their ancestors. Frustration may set in quickly when the results are less than fulfilling. Perhaps the opposite happens with positive results. The novice may start clicking, following clues, and finding information. If they are not documenting what they found, they may be left wondering where they found various pieces of information.

To help resolve this problem, I created the Polar Bear Principle for online research. It helps remind people to slow down and conduct focused research. Most elements of this principle apply to traditional research, as well:

P – Plan your research before you begin.

O – Obtain details about the databases that you research. Know what they contain and what they do not contain.

Polar Bear

L – Log the results of your research in your research log or report.

A – Access a copy of the original record described in the database. Make an appropriate entry in your research log or report.

R – Repeat, repeat, repeat. Websites are always changing, so check back in a few weeks or months to see if new content has been added.

BEAR in mind that MOST records are not online.

If you are unfamiliar with a research log, please take some time to explore them. A research log is a place to record each and every search that you do related to a genealogical problem. Minimally, it should contain the date the search was conducted; the source consulted; the purpose of the search; the search criteria used; and the results of that search. Forms for research logs may be found in various places (see Resources, below). Many of the forms that you find online for these logs make it look like you only have one line to enter the information. Do not be limited by such a form. Use a digital form (which expands as you type) or document your research in a report format so that full details may be captured.

While planning and documenting your research may slow you down in the short term, the dividends will pay off and lead to more research successes.

Happy Hunting!


Ancestry. “Charts and Forms.”

Cyndi’s List. “Charts and Forms.”

Cyndi’s List. “Research Methodology.”

FamilySearch. Research Forms.

Leary, Helen F.M. “Problem Analyses and Research Plans.” Elizabeth Shown Mills, editor. Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001. Chap. 14, 268–270.

One thought on “Polar Bear Principle

  1. Thanks for your great reminder. I can remember POLAR BEAR! Your blog is as wonderful as your presentations. Thanks, Teresa.


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