Monday, February 14, 2011

"F" is for Filing

I don’t mean to harp on the problem of organizing, but isn’t it every genealogist’s challenge -- or nightmare?
I have been going through my Tanner/Blount/Waldron/Driggers files with fierce determination lately.  They were so badly in need of rearrangement!  At one time I tried to sort these items by surname, state, and county.  Not the best idea, as I could never remember which location was involved.   Stuff just got lost.
As I have mentioned before, I decided to sort this collection of documents by TYPE, creating a numbered code for each (Vital 001, Landxxx, Militaryxxx, etc.). The most significant items, like some marriage licenses, baptismal records, and obituaries, get space in the “show-off” archival album, with references from the appropriate folder. Of course I make sure to include the location code in each individual’s notes, in my computer genealogy program.  
All the material for this line is being placed under the Tanner heading (my maternal line).  It seems less confusing than subdividing it into more surnames.  My mother was a Tanner and these are her ancestral lines, so I’ll just leave it at that.  
And while I’m at it, I’m transcribing a lot of hard-to-read handwritten notes, as well as relevant correspondence. Which brings up another matter.  How do you file letters? I prefer to consider the content (genealogy, biography) rather than the form it came in (correspondence).
So I have a code for Biography/Genealogy, or, for short, BGxxx.  The label can be applied not only to letters and emails, but also those printouts of online  “trees” (documented or not), biographical entries from mug books, Bible records, and even obituaries. That takes care of just about everything in this category I feel is worth saving.
Some other categories I find useful are: Public (voter lists, appointments to pubic positions, etc.), Probate (obvious), and Other (newspaper articles that aren’t obits, for instance).  Early tax records go in the Land category because most are based on land ownership.
I used to print out census records for just about everyone, keeping them in a separate binder, arranged by location and census year.  But now that census pages are so easy to examine online (HeritageQuest, FamilySearch, Ancestry), I’m considering saving just the printouts that relate to my direct ancestors, and ditching the rest.  Good citations in the notes field will make it easy to retrieve the others as needed. (Though it’s hard to throw anything away!)
Going through all these papers again has had several benefits. For instance, I have found that transcribing family letters not only makes them easier to read, but, in my case, has led to some rediscoveries.  It embarrasses me to admit I  found family information in a decades-old letter that I had spent time hunting for at the Family History Library last fall. Oops. 

But I haven’t just unearthed old forgotten data.  I’ve been able to take a more seasoned view of all my notes and references.  Some lists, of marriages, tombstone inscriptions, and the like, are available online now, so can be discarded after a bit of checking.  Other vague notations take on new meaning now that I have more research experience.  And I’ve actually been able to throw away some old notes! Amazing!

Do you have a special system for organizing your papers?  Tell me about it!

1 comment:

Jenn said...

I'm in the process of "re-organizing" as well, and I'm doing the same as you - labelling documents with a code (depending on the type of document - births, deaths, census, church, etc.) and referencing that code within my family notes. This system seems to suit my "thinking processes" best. Good luck with your filing! :)