Saturday, September 16, 2006

That subject again

OK. Let's face it. I have gone on at length (some would say excessively) about the need to
1. Organize your materials
2. Identify and preserve your significant documents, including photographs
3. Cite your sources accurately

Do I practice what I preach? Well, the preservation part comes easiest because of my past library work in local history collections. It boils down to these commands: protect from the elements, store safely, and avoid repairs which may do more harm than good.

My source citations have improved, though I sometimes must go back to the earliest photocopies and notes I made to hunt down full information on their sources, including where, physically, I found them. (A good reference for this is Cite your sources, by Richard S. Lackey) Fortunately most items are found in the Family History Library and the complete description can be found online at For online material I copy and print out, I note the website address, or URL, with the current date (your printer's software may do this for you automatically).

As for organization, well, it is a never-ending process. Recently I have been burrowing my way through stacks of old notes, newly-found documents, correspondence with other researchers, and folders of annotated "strategy sheets" I took with me, and referred to, at libraries. It is like being an archaeologist and trying to excavate eons' worth of stuff. (It is slow going, too, as distractions await at every turn)

The oldest handwritten notes, if still valid, I am entering in the computer and then printing out, with as much identifying information as I can, even when it means including such shame-faced attributions as "undated, indentified notes by mm [me] possibly made at Sutro Library".

Then they can be filed with other like materials as I described in an earlier posting.

Newly acquired documents go immediately in the To File basket with a notation about where they should be filed (have to enter them in my Clooz program first) If you use a computer genealogy program it certainly has a "sources" feature, and you can use that to the same effect.

My correspondence, if it is ongoing, gets a folder of its own – sometimes referring back to older letters from other researchers gives new clues, in light of one's own recent findings. If a portion of a letter includes genealogical data which is deemed valid, it gets entered in the computer program (Personal Ancestral File, in my case). If it seems to be shaky, or is undocumented, be wary of accepting it without some further proof. (You may want to make a reference to it in your program's notes, however. "Jane Smith says Uncle George served in the Civil War. No papers found so far.")

But I still have those loose folders of "search strategies" I very ambitiously put together before research trips, some of them years ago.

Notes and questions for lines which I have since put on the back burner are being broadly sorted by surname and put in "future research" folders. (I would like to think I'll get back to those some day, but meanwhile, why spend extra time on them?)

Families I am still working on are another matter. For some reason it is not easy to come home from a research trip and immediately put everything in its place. Sometimes notes are hard to read, unanticipated questions arose and may or may not have been answered, sources one hoped to look up were not available – it all becomes a muddle. And then everyday life intervenes and by the time one gets back to genealogy, the thread is lost.

I have not come up with the perfect solution – maybe there isn't one. But I am trying this: the problems are about individual people. Where so-and-so is buried, whom another relative married, what became of the brother who went to Chicago and vanished from sight. So, right up front in my filing cabinet, where I can get at it easily, is a "Work in Progress" section. I have labelled folders (the stationery stores love me) for each of the individuals in question. In the case of a group of brothers who went in different directions (eight of them!), I did make a table showing them all, with their basic information, so I could see the gaps at a glance. I did the same for three sisters (remember Elvira? Her mother is one of the sisters). But as information is collected and the pile of documentation grows, each person gets his or her own folder with questions, notes, and ideas for further search. This section of my filing cabinet, Home of the Unanswered Questions, is where I need to concentrate -- WHEN I GET THINGS ORGANIZED!

If you, dear reader, have any ideas or suggestions about this issue, please let me know. Maybe we can all help each other.

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