Saturday, July 08, 2006

I've GOT to get organized! -- Part One

For those of you just now logging on to this web site, greetings! I hope you enjoy these postings. For a fuller description of what I hope to do here, please look at the June 11 entry.

Today I wanted to write a bit about the problem of organizing your materials, something we touched on in the Vintage House series, and in a one-morning workshop last winter.

Getting organized, and staying that way, is an ongoing effort, and must be attended to or you (and I) will sink in a sea of seminar handouts, handwritten notes, computer printouts, correspondence, and miscellaneous scraps of paper – not to mention half-finished charts and tangential projects. And what about those sources you've seen and want to remember so you do not duplicate your work?

I began genealogy the way most people do, just so excited about actually finding family names in books and on microfilm that I scribbled notes or made photocopies and left them stacked on my desk, along with household bills, recipes (I did some cooking in those days), and PTA announcements. Gradually they made their way to folders in a real filing cabinet, and were somewhat manageable simply because the volume was rather modest.

Eventually, however, the stacks grew, and I had to get serious. And the thing is, you are never "finished" either with genealogical research, or with keeping your results in order. Besides adding to the paper load with new research, you may discover that the filing system that works one year may be inadequate the next. What is fine for one small family, whose members never strayed from their home territory, may not work for another line, where families were seized by the urge to move on, and went in all different directions. Even if you find system that works for you, it will need tweaking at some point.

The first step is to separate the background and resource materials from the actual notes and documents relating to your family lines. I have folders for local history and maps of a particular region or state, and for potential resources for finding my families in that region – this includes booklists, addresses of libraries and archives, and information on historical and genealogical societies.

The actual family documentation – the really important stuff -- is arranged by major surname, and if it becomes necessary, this is subdivided by location – very broadly. The trick is not to get too complicated in your arrangement of files, or the system will collapse. (I use different colored folder labels and binders for the three major family lines I am working on.)

Within those surname/location sections, I have gone a step further (remember, I have been collecting material for 30 years!). Taking a lesson from Elizabeth Kerstens Kelly, developer of the computer filing program called "Clooz," I have sorted family documents by type – land, military, vital, etc. I do use her computer program, but this method can stand alone, and, for me, makes it easy to find a particular piece of paper even without going into the computer.
(Don't bother trying to arrange these materials in chronological order.)

It helps to keep a list of the documents – a "table of contents" -- inside the front of the file (or binder, if that's what you prefer). You will want to assign a numbered code to each document, so it can be kept in order. The format is this:(location)(record type)(number). For example, in a blue-labelled folder(for Cains) I have: Indiana/Land/007.

A useful tip: get all those notes and scraps either fastened to a standard size sheet of paper, or retype them onto full-size sheets. That way they will fit uniformly into folders or three-ring binders and are more easily retrieved.

If you have precious documents such as baptismal cards or marriage certificates, make photocopies for these "working" files, and store the originals -- chronologically, if you wish -- in an archival binder – what some people call their "showoff" album. (A good place for photographs, too.)

There are of course, items that are neither background/resources nor family documents. You may have copies of indexes to various vital records, family trees and genealogies that seem to relate but have little or no documentation, and of course printouts of census pages.
How to manage them? I will discuss those – and more -- in my next posting.

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