08 March 2010

Organizing Your Genealogy

This bit of information is from Ancestry

Spring Cleaning--Family History Style
By Juliana Smith 03 March 2010
As a birthday present to myself each year, I like to schedule a little “Me-time” with my family history. I take a day and just focus on catching up on things that have gotten away from me (e.g., filing, transcribing documents, more filing, scanning photographs, still more filing...you get the idea). While I’m at it, it’s a good time to look at what’s working, and more importantly what’s not. Since organization is an ongoing challenge for many family historians, I thought I’d share some tips today to help you with your spring cleaning—family history style.

Make a List of Goals
Making a list is a great motivator. Not only do you get the satisfaction of being able to check off things from your list as you accomplish them, it also helps keep you on track and gives you an immediate focus when you get a minute to work on your family history. No more, “Where should I start?” Just look at the list and knock off the first item.

Look around your office and see what needs to be addressed. Where are the trouble spots? Is it piles of papers that have gotten out of hand? Books? Periodicals? All of the above? (Yes, my hand is up for the latter.) Start your list with the trouble spots, then think about things that have frustrated you while you were researching and add those as well. Too hard to get to files? Not enough workspace? (Will there ever be enough workspace?)

OK, so now you have a list. Let’s look at some of the common problems on it and some possible solutions.

Unorganized Books
When you need a book does your search for it take you on a seemingly endless hunt through your bookshelves? Perhaps it’s time to organize your books by topic. Reference on one shelf, geographic information on another, and local history on yet another. If you have a large collection, you might want to invest in a software program that allows you to inventory your books, and note their location. Or you could create your own inventory in a spreadsheet.

Too Many Loose Papers
If your filing system is separate stacks for each family and the towering piles are threatening to take over your office, it may be time to rethink it. Invest in some binders and clear plastic sleeves. Three-ring binders help keep those papers from escaping and beginning baby stacks, and if you keep plastic sleeves handy in the binders, it’s easy to just slip your latest find into the sleeve.

No Time to File
We all know that every so often, the perfect research session will be interrupted by everyday life. Dinner will need to be removed from the oven before the fire alarm goes off, dogs will need will need to be walked, and you may even find that you need to sleep on occasion. Keep a bin handy for temporary filing, along with a stash of sticky notes that you can use to note where you left off.

Not Enough Space
I’m convinced that there can never be a large enough workspace for family history. While I haven’t been able to convince my husband that a family history wing be added to the house, I have found some ways to maximize the space in my office. Although my desk is small, I have a small table behind my chair that I use for reference materials I will be using. The top of the table is also large enough for a historical map for the area I’m researching. I also keep a couple TV trays in my office that I can bring out when I need more table space for family history binders.

Too Many Possibilities
Throughout the course of your research, you’ll start seeing names not associated with your family that seem to keep popping up. Are they just friends, or could there be a connection? And how about that guy with the same name as your ancestor, who married a woman with the same first name? You don’t want to throw the records out, but at the same time, they don’t really fit in with your family records. And since you probably have more than enough paperwork on your own family, do you want to add to the stacks with people who might not even be kin?

A great way to organize these types of records is to start an online tree. It doesn’t have to be huge. Just enter what you know about the family, scan any paper documentation you have, and add the images electronically.

As you enter information, Ancestry.com will be searching its collections too and the “shaky leaf” hints will help you learn even more about the family. As the tree fills out, you may be able to determine whether or not they’re related to you. If you eventually find out that they are, you will have a good start on your research for that family. If not, it’s still a good reference that you can refer to when you run across other records for them. And if you make the tree public, you just might make someone’s day when another researcher working on that line locates the tree.