Lately you may have noticed I have been obsessed with organizing! Well, not just lately, but most of the time. It is frustrating to duplicate research efforts because the original is hidden away somewhere, forgotten.. How often have you taken the time and trouble to print out or photocopy a document, only to discover you already had a copy?
Another problem I have is finding myself plugging away on a surname, only to be brought up short with the realization that the family is far removed, with only tenuous links to my ancestral lines. This is more about FOCUS than organization, I guess, but they go hand in hand.
My attempts at visualising the big picture have also been ongoing – I wrote a few weeks ago about a wish list for computer genealogy program features. One included a way to see more people – and their relationships -- at once. I reason that if I had a view of the overall structure of the important (to me) families, it would be easier to stay on course. But a computer screen is just so big and even the most elaborate program is constrained by its boundaries.
So I turned to wall displays. It is possible to download enormous charts, in printer-friendly format, onto external storage devices (floppy discs or CDs) and take them to a local copy shop where a plotter can turn out a big sheet. And some firms do this by mail. Also, of course, most programs allow you to print out a chart on several standard-size sheets and tape them together. These all are more or less permanent renditions of the family tree, however, and we know how often new or re-interpreted data requires adjustments to the Big Picture.
What I have chosen to do for now is this:
Printing out five-generation descendancy charts for the ancestors I am working on, I fasten them to a 2' x 3' magnetic bulletin board. Its "dry-erase" feature allows me to write in data and move it around. Magnetic 8 ½" x 11" sheets, thin enough to run through most home printers, were used to print headings for the individual at the top of each chart. (The sheets are primarily used to print photos, and have a glossy white finish on one side.)
I also made a list of all the surnames involved with each line. That is, the birth names of wives, and married names of daughters. This is posted above the computer monitor so I can check it at a glance.
Why does "Bostwick" ring a bell? Oh yes, Thomas's granddaughter married a Bostwick before she married a Hickman. But my chart indicates there were no children, so do I really want to pursue that line right now?
An article "Charting Your Priorities," by Susan Zacharias, appearing in the current issue of the NGS NewsMagazine (Jan/Feb/Mar 2007) also discusses treating surnames in this way. She advocates listing every surname back at least five generations, and emphasizing the names needing the most attention by the use of various sizes of type, underlining, and bold-facing of such names, adding what is known in the way of places and dates.
As these pieces of information are found, the list is revised, but it is always there as an aid in determining priorities.
And having priorities is as important as being organized, don't you agree?