Organization Tips I

February 23, 2009 at 18:38 | Posted in genealogy | Leave a comment
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This past week I told about losing track of a source document on a family member. Being rather detail oriented about my research, this was a disconcerting issue to resolve. I maintain separate databases on each family line in addition to the combination file tracing the entire family. Each database is backed up and saved to avoid losing information in case one file becomes corrupted. Everything is backed up to an external hard drive every session as well as new discs burned and saved every month. Computers are wonderful time savers when they work but horrible when they fail. A contingency plan is not something just for a business but also necessary for anyone who depends on computers for their research work. Having these safeguards in place meant my recovery was only a matter of a couple hours to find my missing work instead of redoing years of family research. I knew that a recent upgrade in software was partially to blame for the missing documentation. Somewhere along the way I lost the physical piece of paper also. Fortunately I was able to narrow my searching to a specific microfilm to go back to in order to again print out documentation.

I keep Pedigree sheets on each family member. Although these are easily printed out from most software programs, I enjoy filling my out by hand. Information included puts as much information as known on each member. Most important is that each is color coded. My basic research started with my husband’s grandfather. As the tree then branched, grandpa’s maternal and paternal lines are both color coded. The male line is blue and the maternal line is yellow. All subsequent Pedigree sheets are printed on color paper to match those codes. This makes it so easy to know where each goes. I keep notebook binders with the Pedigree sheets to take along when I am working on research. Grandpa’s wife and the in-laws are color coded in different colors to track their family lines. By the time these lines go back a few generations, we begin to deal with 16 surnames to follow. Not being able to differentiate would become overwhelming! If preferred these lines can again be branched off into separate files that are assigned their own color codes to follow. As I file each sheet in the notebook, I use index tabs to notate the family surnames. It is easy at a glance to then find appropriate surname as I work on a line.

In addition to the notebook system I also make a manila file folder for each surname. The main surnames are color coded to match the notebook information. The surnames and sources are written on the front of each folder. All scraps of paper whenever I write notes are slid into the appropriate folder. That way nothing is lost until I have a chance to go back and research or document those scraps of notes. I can easily save information I might want later but not have to spend time on sorting it all immediately. This is especially true if also following collateral lines and not just the main branches. I often run across bits of information that I cannot immediately tie into family but do not want to lose track of until later. These folders each hold that information safely until I am ready. While researching online or at the FHL, if a familiar surname is run across, I simply print out the information. Internet URLs are printed on the bottom of the pages and I write in the proper information on the bottom of any certificates I print off of the FHL microfilms. These are slipped into the proper manila surname folders until I know what family they directly tie into. Then they will be rearranged into the proper permanent notebooks. Certificates are slipped into plastic sleeves to keep intact.

I won’t discuss what format to use to document your sources. There are books written on the subject and each proprietary software has templates to use. I will however warn you to document the sources. I document my sources not only on the computer but also on the Pedigree sheets and Family Groups sheets. Especially important is to document the microfilm numbers and complete dates. Even if you lose a piece of paper, those sources will allow you to replace what was lost. If done from the beginning, keeping track of the sources will be habit. It is a bit more difficult if you need to go back a year or two into research to find those sources but even that will be worth the time spent. After six years of research the paternal line along of my husband’s family is over 800 people strong – all thoroughly documented so I am not chasing someone else’s family. I should mention here that all of my in-laws are overseas. Yet all of the research to date has been done here stateside. Documenting and good organization have made this possible. Often information has been passed to me that others feel blend or merge with this family that I find does not. The first names are often repeated in a generational naming pattern and it would be horrendous to straighten out if the wrong information was merged into the files without proving who belongs to whom. By having names and dates documented, it is easier to verify if someone is a direct relative than if no sources had been kept track of.

All of this may sound time consuming and overwhelming. It is much easier to set up and not as frightening once you begin. The initial set up took only two or three hours to make the folders and notebooks with index tabs labeled with surnames. Once set up, it takes only a minute or two to add a new surname to the front of a folder or to make a new index tab for a notebook section. By having it done, my free time is not wasted looking for a surname or a piece of scrap paper. Instead even only 30 minutes of free time can be time spent researching instead of looking for notes and lost papers.

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