by Ruby Coleman
Beginning researchers have the best of all worlds ... easier retrieval of sources and data, sharing of information by electronic communication, plus the use of genealogy software. Many genealogy software packages are on the market today. Most provide features for saving information, documenting it, adding notes, creating research logs, plus attaching scanned objects such as documents and photographs.
Even so, researchers soon discover that they are drowning in paper. They also discover it is more fun to do the research than file, sort and create order in their research. When it becomes unbearable it must become manageable.
Manageable is the keyword. How you keep your genealogy, from information to actual documents, is a personal preference. It must suit your needs and make you happy. The management of your genealogy project must also suit those around you. If you are leaving your diligent research as a legacy for future generations, it must be manageable for them.
Once you have decided to come out of the genealogy slob stage, it is time to make a list of how you want to manage the project. Even with the use of genealogy software and a computer, there will be paper piles and items to categorize and file. For storage of these items, most genealogists prefer to use file folders, binders or notebooks. On your list determine how you will categorize (by family units, surname) and file (by notebooks, file folders).
Begin sorting the stacks of papers and documents. This can be done by family surnames or family units or locations. It may take some experimenting to determine the method you wish to use. The method must be suitable for retrieval of records plus storage available to you. If you have more than one family file in your genealogical software, it may be desirable to categorize the stacks of papers and documents according to those files. They can also be sub-divided into other categories.
Several years ago I visited with a scholarly genealogist who had some wise information about record keeping. One of his suggestions was to index. After all none of us enjoy books that are not indexed. At the beginning of your file folder, binder or notebook, include an index. As you add pages to it, briefly detail the information on the index sheet.
Documents and photographs should be stored in archival folders or protectors. Many of those are available in office or art supply stores, as well as on Internet. Once again, make an index of the documents and photographs. Information entered into your genealogy software file can be referenced to a specific file folder, notebook or archival box.
Correspondence logs, research logs and other charts and forms can also be placed in the file folders or notebooks you are creating. Information from those should be transferred to your genealogy program. If you are taking a laptop computer on research trips, be sure you have these logs and other needed information on the computer. Lists of surnames, their soundex codes and a location list where your ancestors lived (town, county, state or country) are beneficial.
It is very important to record information, document it and create research logs on your computer as you do the research. Saving this for a rainy day is non-productive. Once the stacks of paper are neatly filed in a retrievable format, it will be easier to keep up with the papers, documents and information generated from your research.
Preparing for a research trip can be exciting. I have a Traveling Research Notebook that is on my desk year round. In it I jot down ideas for various research trips I need to take. This usually includes libraries, courthouses and what information I need to check. Closer to when I will be taking a research trip, I review the information. Maps are placed in the notebook. These are maps showing cemetery locations, directions to the courthouse, street maps, addresses and phone numbers. Once on my way, everything I need is in the notebook.
Never take original files or documents on research trips. Make copies of what you will need and leave the originals at home. Those copies can be utilized over and over as you go to libraries, courthouses and other areas to do research. DonŐt leave home without the copies.
Do you take notes on those research trips? In the library perhaps you jot down ideas or information from a certain book. Some people prefer to take notes in notebooks, file cards, spiral notebooks and many take notes directly on their laptop computers. Keep your record keeping method uniform. Scraps of paper or file cards may not file once you get back home.
From the looks of my genealogy room, I am a slob. We all prefer to do the fun things rather than the mundane things such as filing. However, it is time I practice what I preach and enjoy sorting and filing. Tomorrow I will do the research!