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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Organizing Your Information
It is most important to decide as early as possible how you are going to organize your accumulation of genealogical material. You will need to make decisions about how and where you are going to organize Facts (Data) as well as your supporting Documentation.
Whatever system is used must be capable of expansion since you are involved with a growing collection of materials. It must be simple to use and be consistent throughout your work. Spending time thinking and planning how you are going to organize before you begin is far easier on the nerves and leads to greater productivity.
Organization implies thinking out a system that will work for you, and planning the actual spaces to file facts (data) and the four types of genealogical information (oral, written, visual and artefacts.) We’ll deal with each of these in turn. Remember that the most efficient system for you will be planned around how you want to retrieve items from it. In other words, how you want to access it determines how best to set it up.
Computers and Card Indexes will store facts but not documents or other evidence, although scanning now allows more options. Certainly computers and cards can store citations for the sources. Both can be used to manipulate information, but card indexes are very limited in this respect, whereas computers are the ultimate luxury system. File Folders and Binders will store facts and information on paper (documentation), but will not sort and manipulate the data.
Nowadays most genealogists prefer a combination of:
- A computer for storage and manipulation of facts (data).
- Either file folders or binders for keeping a hard copy from the computer together with the documentation.
- Other appropriate storage facilities for oral and visual media and artefacts.
Warning: With family history one tends to get diverted into other fascinating areas such as local history, or particular trades or professions associated with one’s ancestors. If you develop interests in such subjects then you should set up separate filing systems for them, by subject. You would then choose storage and organization systems appropriate to that collection. For example, you may have all your ancestors in file folders, but find it convenient to have an indexed binder for your collection of documents on ships, or shoemaking, or ancestral villages. Do not try to combine subject material into ‘people’ files or binders. Mixed systems do not work!
Organization of Facts (Data)
Computers are designed to store, process and communicate information (Hawgood 1995) and this is precisely what you will be doing—storing, processing and communicating information about people, their family connections and the events in their lives. To find the latest information on available genealogy programmes and their capabilities consult:
- Wikipedia - Comparison of Genealogy Software
- GenBox Family History - Genealogy Software Features Comparison Chart
- Comparing Windows Genealogy Software Programs
- Cyndi’s List - Software and Computers
- S & N Genealogy Supplies
- TWR Computing Has details of the UK software Family Historian
- Software: LINUX-GENEALOGY Mailing List
Formerly, many genealogists used 3" x 5" or 4" x 6" card indexes for storing data about individuals. With a standard notation system on each card and arranged alphabetically by surname, then first name, then by date of birth this was a wonderfully simple system. A sample of such a card is illustrated here.
Index Card Notation System
NAME_________________________________RIN or ID #____________
FATHER _____________________ MOTHER _____________________ b.______ date________________place__________________________ c.______ date________________place__________________________ d.______ date________________place__________________________ bur.____ date________________place__________________________ m._____ date________________place__________________________
CHILDREN: ___ name_______________date of birth___________place_____________ ___ name_______________date of birth___________place_____________ ___ name_______________date of birth___________place_____________ ___ name_______________date of birth___________place_____________ ___ name_______________date of birth___________place_____________
[On Reverse—Census, Probate and other notes.]
Card indexes suffer from a few drawbacks when compared with other methods, for example:
- The amount of storable data is limited by the size of the card.
- Relationships are not easy to see at a glance beyond parents and children.
- One cannot store the documentation along with the data.
- Cards have to be rewritten when too messy with additions and alterations.
- Storage space is a problem with a large study as one long drawer only holds about 750 cards. I didn’t fancy starting my 35,000 JUPP study this way.
- If you tip the box over you are lost!
However, card files still have their uses in special projects, especially if you don’t have a computer. If you want to keep an inventory of all of the houses that your folks have lived in, or ships they have served on, or a bibliography file or list of heirlooms, and so on, a card file can be just right for your purpose. Most genealogists nowadays prefer to use a computer for storing and managing their data, and one of the next two methods for storing their documentation.
File folders can be combined with storage of documentation if you are not using a computer, or if computerized, at least a Family Group Record computer printout should be placed at the front of each couple’s file. Hard copies of all your data and documentation can be stored together, making it simple to review each person’s data. It is somewhat simpler to find the right family in files than in binders, but they are not as good to transport and display.
Indexed binders can be combined with storage of documentation if you are not using a computer, or if computerized, at least a Family Group Record computer printout should be placed at the front of each couple’s section. Printed copies of all your data and documentation can be stored together, making it simple to review each person’s data. Binders are easier to transport and show to your family than file folders, but perhaps a little less convenient to find a particular family.
Organization of Oral Information
Tapes should have labels and detailed lists of contents. Do this as soon as you make them or you will forget the details! You could keep all your transcripts in one file, or put them in the file for the person with whom you talked. Consistency is important: treat each in the same manner, then you will know where to look for any one item. Each fact gleaned from the interview should then be added to the appropriate person’s file, with a notation as to its source. For example if, when talking to Aunt Edna, you found out that Uncle George was married in 1928, then put that fact in Uncle George’s file as, “In 1986 Aunt Edna BROWN told me that her brother George STEVENS was married in 1928.”
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at email@example.com
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