Monday, May 12, 2014

Genealogy Research Organization – Simple, Consistent, and Maintainable

Genealogists before Julie Miller's presentation

I debated whether I wanted to attend this particular session at the National Genealogical Society Conference held last week in Richmond, VA.  The topic, “Organizing Your Research,” was presented by Julie Miller (

Inherently I am a very organized person, but I'm always seeking new and better ways to arrange my research.  Julie’s presentation was a good reminder for me to revisit my files and carefully read the documents with fresh eyes and with a more experienced mind.

Julie began her presentation suggesting three goals: Keep your research files Simple, Consistent, and Maintainable.

Develop a Style Guide.  Set out a block of time when you make decisions on how you are going to deal with any number of issues. Will you spell out state names or use their abbreviation? When a maiden name is not known will you put – Mary [unknown] or use some other term?  Type up citation examples so you can easily copy/paste into your document and just change the particulars for each citation.  This is especially useful for the census.  A Style Guide will provide you with consistency that will save you many hours of editing in the future. The recommended reference books for style and citations are Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, and the Chicago Manual of Style. 

Research organization.  Julie showed examples of the Binder Method and the File Draw Method.  If you wish to keep your research in a 3-Ring Binder, go for the extra wide. You will need dividers, sheet protectors, spine labels and a helpful label maker.  For the File Draw Method, you will need hanging folders, archival file folders, archival pencils and pens.  As information on a particular family line grows, additional file folders can be set up for individuals you are researching.  The same would go for the Binder Method.  No need to run that census off for all the folks mentioned.  Insert in primary ancestor and put a cross-reference note in the others.

General Genealogy Research Files.  My husband and I both had files containing general genealogy information on using the census, ethnic research, writing, researching in Connecticut, etc.  We combined our files and now have two pendaflex files containing labeled file folders arranged alpha by topic.  Don’t have a “miscellaneous” file.

Digitize and Backup.  Digitize as much material as you can. Photograph heirlooms.  Label everything.  Then make sure you back up regularly.  Back up to an external hard drive, flash drive, or use the cloud. You can also email your documents to yourself for retrieval should your computer fail.

Keeping Track of Your Books.  Julie suggested using Library Thing for keeping track of the books in your personal library to prevent you from purchasing the same book again.

Although this session was the last one attended, it was the first one we both put into practice as soon as we arrived home Saturday afternoon.  We have our general research files set up, I removed files not genealogy related from the top drawer of my filing cabinet and replaced them with my family files for easy accessibility.  I will be photographing, documenting my heirlooms. I will also go through all my notebooks and cut out family research pages and place them in the appropriate family files.  Then I will concentrate on updating my Style Sheet.  Thank you, Julie Miller. 

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