The other day a member of The Organized Genealogist Group on facebook raised an interesting question. "What is on your list of things you 'wish you would have know' about getting and staying organized" with your family research?" The question generated a number of great comments. I also found myself mulling over the question and comments, so much so that I finally have come up with my list of tips. Included with some of the tips are links to some of my previous posts on that subject.
Top 10 Things I Wish I Had Known ...
- Cite your sources. If you start from the very beginning to indicate where you find your information, your genealogical quests will be so much easier. Imagine having no photocopies of pages from unknown books, no "facts" in your family tree from an unknown source, no questions as to where you actually found information. More about citations.
- Talk with family while you have the opportunity. How I wish I had listened more to the stories my father told about his family! I'm glad I had actually started paying attention and taking some notes as my mother would reminisce in her later years. These family stories and names can be the starting place for much of our research. This can guide you to more places, names, events that can lead you to information about your relatives.
- Get information, record, and file. This is still the hardest thing for me, but I'm working on it. When I find some useful information online, or at the library, or in communication with another, I am trying to enter the information into my software, Family Tree Maker. Next, I file any paper document in my files or attach to the appropriate folder on my laptop. The pile of paper beside my laptop is actually shrinking!
- Read the WHOLE document. Taking the time to read the entire document, even transcribing it when necessary, lets us get all the tidbits of information. Looking at one entire line of a census record, for example, can provide a variety of information about one relative. Look at several pages before and after, and you may meet other family members or someone's future spouse. Military pension applications are filled with names, dates, events -- history through the eyes of one person. A draft registration card can tell us more about a man's work history and often includes a good physical description of him. After all, we're not just collecting dates, we're seeking to learn about individuals and their lives. More on reading documents
- Label photos and maps. This is something to do now with my own photos. This means labeling my digital photos with names, dates, locations. The same goes for print photos. This will help us avoid those "who in the world are these people" moments. More about labeling photos.
- Trust but verify. Shaking leaves on Ancestry, family stories, or our recollections can be accurate; sometimes they aren't. It behooves us to look for factual support in our research. None of us want to reach a point where we realize that we have been following Alice down the Rabbit Hole, working with faulty logic. More about verifying data.
- Keep a research log. Keeping a record of where we have looked for information can help us use our time much more efficiently. It can be a notebook where we list where we've looked and for what. It can be kept through an online program such as Evernote or Dropbox. Mine stays in a spreadsheet on Google Drive. Along the same line, I keep a Research To-Do List. When I'm off to Georgia, I know some things I can look for during that visit. I can keep a list of resources I need to locate and what I hope to find there. More about using Google Drive.
- Record names and dates in a standard, consistent manner. I follow the practice of recording all people as last name, first name, middle name. A woman are recorded by her maiden name. I list dates in the DD/MM/YYYY format, 3 June 1876. This way I know if a person is Smith Nelson or Nelson Smith. It helps to clarify that the date recorded is June 3, not March 6. More about recording names.
- Have a filing system. There are many ways to do this, and it comes down to what you are most comfortable with. If you want paper in front of you, fine; just invest in file folders and storage containers so each document you want to keep has a home. If you prefer digital storage, fine; just develop a file system on your computer or through online storage. Regardless of the type of structure you use, if you file with names in a standard format and use a consistent file structure, you should be able to file and find information whenever the need arises. More about filing.
- Develop a research toolbox. A research toolbox contains links to resources you use frequently in your research. When I first started researching my family, I bookmarked a number of websites on my laptop. As my number of bookmarks grew, I organized my 200+ bookmarks into topic folders, i.e. Georgia resources, military records, immigration, etc. Today I have these topic folders saved on one "Genealogy" folder which I can access after logging into Google Chrome on any computer. Finally, I added a "Research Toolbox" to this blog to list those web sites cited or referred to in my posts. I'm all for not spinning my wheels trying to find that great web site I last used two months ago. More about my Research Toolbox.
That's my Top 10 list. What's yours?