|by Diana Smith|
Finding ancestors and other relatives that's what genealogy is all about, right? And there is tons of information out there on all of them (even if some of them intentionally seem to have made it difficult for others to track them down!). The trick is, once you've learned something about an ancestor or relative, put that information into a readily-accessible, "user-friendly" form that will help you proceed to more research.
Here are some "tips and tricks" on organizing your research. Although these methods have been tried over many years of genealogical research, it is important to realize that not all methods work for everyone. Please think about how these ideas can help you in your research and organization. If you aren't comfortable with a system, you won't use it consistently and the whole purpose of using it in the first place is defeated before you even begin. Think about your habits and preferences as you adopt the methods that are appropriate for your purposes.
This system has been found to work best when all the pieces are combined the proof files, surname files, the "portable" files, and computer files. When putting together your system (or revising your present system), please consider carefully before "skipping" any of these areas I'll explain the reasons as I go along.
As you can see, each of these types of files has its own function; and used together they will keep your data in accessible, usable form!
Before beginning on the types of files, there are two overall bits of preparation you need to do:
Once these tasks are completed, you're ready to begin organizing your data.
Type I Proof FilesThe key to keeping your Proof Files organized is having a system for identifying each family group to keep the data separate but accessible. Keep these files by surname (for marriage records or information pertaining to the wife, try to keep two copies one with her father's family, one with her husband). If you find that a particular file is becoming too cramped, separate them by generation, labeling each file with the identification numbers of the parents (the ahnentafel numbers assigned above).
Also this file includes the abstracts of censuses, deeds, wills, and so forth that you have made. You should keep copies of the same documents in your Surname File.
Take care of your original proofs. Use good preservation methods for old documents and photos; handle them carefully; use acid-free paper on everything possible. Make copies of whatever material you think you may need to take along when researching. DO NOT take along your originals! You've heard people say, "I know where it came from, I can always request another copy." But the horror stories pop up frequently of courthouses that have lost all the records from a particular period or worse, a fire has destroyed everything; or laws change and those documents are no longer available to the public or for genealogical research! So even if you know where a document came from, and you have all of the information, you may not be able to get another copy. Keep your originals safe!
Type II Surname FilesThe Surname Files are your working files. These are arranged by surname so that you can take this file with you when you are researching a particular name. These files should each contain as much of the following as you have available for each surname:
Part II (beginning with the most recent generation in the front):
These, then, are the files you take along to do your research, or in which you make notes of "things to do" or possible connections. Your originals are protected, but you have a handy reference available with all the detail on a given family.
Type III Portable Files
When you are going to do research, you will want to take along your Surname Files for the family or families you're planning to work on. But what if you find someone else for whom you don't have a file with you? You may start out intending to research only one particular line, but discover that it seems like that family is "hiding" or another family pops up where you weren't expecting to find them! Without your Portable File, you may end up with files of research on individuals to whom you are not related! The names and places may be right, but the family turns out to be cousins or sometimes not related to you at all!
The purpose of the Portable File is to enable you to take enough information with you to be sure that the family you've found is one you're looking for. It should include your pedigree charts, a location directory (so that you can double-check to see if you have ancestors in a particular town, county, or state for which you've found vital records), alphabetical listings of surnames of interest, family group sheets, and other notes.
The family group sheets should contain the basic information (birth, marriage, death, burial) with dates and places. It's easier if everything is cross-referenced by both surnames (husband and wife), so if you run across information on a Susie BEEDLEBUB, you don't have to remember who she married to find her she's right there in the Bs, along with all her BEEDLEBUB ancestors.
Type IV Computer FilesIt seems everyone is getting on the bandwagon to do everything on the computer. I'm no exception! I don't write if I don't have to. Here are some of the advantages and capabilities of recording your genealogy on the computer:
First, the Good News!
By using this "four-pronged" approach to organizing your records, you will have the data you need, where you need it, when you need it. Establish a sequence of handling new data for example, update your Portable File, then Computer File, then Surname File, then file appropriate records in the Proof File. Stay with this system, and all your records will stay in sync, making them more valuable to you, and allowing you to use your limited genealogy research time more efficiently!
About the Author
Diana Smith and husband Gary have had an interest in family history since childhood. She is currently a volunteer librarian at the local LDS Family History Center, a Genealogy Forum host on America Online, speaks to genealogy societies on a variety of topics, and occasionally teaches a course at Polaris Career Center (in the southwest suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio) on "genealogy on the computer" (featuring Personal Ancestral File).
Copyright © 1996 by Diana Smith. All Rights Reserved. This article was first published in the Journal of Online Genealogy.