Remember when personal computers first came out? The gurus of the time said we'd become a "paperless" society. Ha! -- THAT prediction certainly hasn't come to pass, has it? If anything, we tend to accumulate more than the typical household of the pre-computerized age of the 1950s and 1960s. As genealogists, we take accumulation of paper to a higher level. Our extended family members, let alone members of our immediate household, are well aware that our family history work has taken over the computer room, the guest bedroom, the top of the dining room table, the buffet and two kitchen counters -- and that our photocopies threaten to extend into the outer reaches of front room, and will eventually dominate plans for installing a solarium out back behind the family room.
So what's a respectable family historian to do? Give it up, and scan everything? Maybe that's a good idea, though I still like to pour through copies (in page protectors) when I am reviewing a family history challenge.
Randy Seaver has written two blog entries about organizing genealogy files on his computer. Is this my new computer genealogy filing system? - Post 1 was followed quite shortly thereafter by Is This My New Computer Genealogy Filing System? - Post 2. Randy also spotlights Thomas MacEntee's Genealogy Filing System - Data Files.
I've heard about color-coded file systems, which seem to work fine, unless your lines do as mine -- cross-over with inter-marriages among cousins, etc. In my opinion, the color coded system is also unwieldy if your database of names gets quite large.
Why I still use binders
Basically, when my brother David comes to visit again, I won't have to run all over the house pulling photos from one shelf, census records from a file cabinet, birth and death certificates from my fireproof locked box, etc. My binders read like coffee table books and why not? To Ol' Myrt here, our family tree is more interesting than Audubon's Birds of America, though the later is certainly a worthwhile study.
For years I've espoused a system where my 263 surnames are filed in 3-ring binders, with dividers for each surname. I have about 100 research binders, since some surnames have only a printed family group sheet, and only one or two supporting documents. (Oh dear!)
Other surnames extend across several binders because I've collected more info on those families. Where I have two seemingly unrelated family lines with the same surname, they get two sets of binders with divider tabs.
I primarily use binders because it is easier for non-genealogists in the family to relate to my work. They don't have to learn to use any particular genealogy program, or even know how to turn on a computer.
What about digital storage of documents?
Ol' Myrt here is committed to scanning everything from here on in, and eventually scanning the previously-gathered documents.
At this point I file everything in my documents folder on my computer, in a sub-folder called genealogy data. Then I name the file with the SURNAME in caps followed by given name and short description of the item. Notice, when it's a census record, I chose to add the census year and locality at the beginning. EVERYTHING is in the same folder, but right now I only have about 300 scanned images.
OK, here's what THAT last file looks like! Yes, it is me, when my hair was still a wonderful dark brown! I think my mom cut those bangs! Eeek!
The reason I put all files in the same folder is that unlike earlier versions, Windows Vista allows only so many characters for file names, and since the location of my documents folder is quite a few levels down from the C:\ drive as follows..
I have to take those additional characters into account. Also, since some documents concern more than one family line, I don't have to hunt all over the place to find the photo or scanned image when I wish to attach it to an additional person in my genealogy management program.
A little more about those binders
They are organized so that when you open a binder, you'll find (in this order):
What is behind the "direct line" tab divider?
I print out family groups sheets on 3-hole punched paper, and arrange them in chronological order with the youngest family first. Let's use the example of my PLAYER family 3-ring binder.
-- First Family Group Sheet
I am the youngest direct in my PLAYER line, so I appear as a child on a family group sheet with my siblings and parents Glen S. PLAYER and Barbara ______________. Next you'll find documents and photos pertaining to my siblings and self as children, my parent's marriage certificate, and two circa 1950s LDS Church Census records where I am listed as a child to my parents. (No, Ol' Myrt here doesn't show up in the most recently available 1930 US Federal Census. My granddaughter just came in and saw this picture of me as a 3-year old, and said "Oh, you had CARS back then?") Geesh.
-- Second Family Group Sheet
My father Glen S. PLAYER now appears as a child in the family with his siblings and parents Shirl PLAYER and Myrtle Eliza WEISER. Supporting documents and photos follow. There is also a map of Salt Lake showing the location of the old family home. Shirl built it across the street from his father's home, with his father's assistance. I have a picture of my Dad as an infant sitting on a blanket in front of that home. The family moved to Seattle when Dad was eight years old.
-- Third Family Group Sheet
My grandfather Shirl PLAYER now appears on a family group sheet as a child in the family with his siblings and parents Alma Oades PLAYER and Mary Elizabeth WRIGHT. Supporting documents and photos follow. There is a map of the Salt Lake City Cemetery, showing where these individuals are buried.
-- Fourth Family Group Sheet
My great-grandfather Alma Oades PLAYER now appears on a family group sheet as a child in the family with his siblings and parents Charles W. PLAYER and Betsey OADES. Supporting documents and photos follow. I particularly remember locating a clearer copy of Betsey's death certificate online than the old black with white letter wet paper copy I had from the early 1970s. (Guess I have been doing
research longer than I thought!)
What is behind the "collateral line" tab divider?
When I run across things on the SIBLINGS of a direct line ancestor, I print out a family group sheet, and file them in chronological order with attendant documents and photos. This is where I put my sibling Mike's family group sheet where he and Becky are the parents, and David, Marissa and Morgan are the children. I file my sister Sharon's married stuff in the DAINES family binder.
What about the "unproved" tab divider?
Sometimes when searching through an area, I find other people with the same unusual (it has to be unusual) last name. Sometimes these end up to be cousins, sometimes the individuals are totally unrelated. Until I can totally eliminate these folks from my family tree, they are there in the same surname notebook, but clearly labeled by the "unproved" tab divider, and my handwritten note "unproved" on the top of each family group sheet.
What about information on the mom in each family?
Information on a woman as a child appears in the surname binder for her maiden name. Once she is married, related marriage documents and photos appear in the surname binder for her married name. I am careful to reprint the family group sheet where she is a child so that the new information about her spouse is briefly mentioned, thereby referring people to that married name surname notebook in my collection.
Things that haven't made it to a binder yet
Admittedly there is a delay getting things into my binders, and it has to do with coming home EXHAUSTED from doing research at the Family History Library. Remember Ol' Myrt's commitment to scanning everything new? Well that is ALSO a bottle neck for me. So I have a vertical file drawer called "to be scanned/filed", with those Pend-a-flex hanging folders for each letter of the alphabet. Some of those hanging folders also have a surname folder IF it happens I am collecting a lot on a specific surname. So no matter how tired I may be from the rigors of a research trip, I've promised myself to immediately file the newly acquired photocopies into the appropriate hanging file folder.
Check only 2 places
Myrt's filing system means that I only have to check two places if someone asks me about documents supporting my lineage assumptions for a name in my family history:
- The 3-ring binder for that family name.
- The "to be scanned/filed" folder for that surname or related letter of the alphabet.
I don't have to worry about a stray document somewhere else.
But what about scanning from microfilm to a flash drive?
Yes, I do that. But when I get home, I also print out a copy (since it is cheaper to print at home than at the Family History Library's reader/printer.) So you could say that I spend about 30 minutes printing and filing when I get home from a research outing. While the printer is working, I rename the next digital file using my naming scheme described above.
On a day when it's raining or the snows are blowing, I make myself spend 60 minutes as follows:
- Locate the paper copy in my files.
- Determine if I have a scanned image copy to attach to the first ancestor mentioned in my genealogy management program.
- Scan if necessary, then place the document in a top-loading sheet protector.
- Pull the appropriate surname notebook from the shelf.
- Transcribe the document (word-for-word) and place that transcription with the principle ancestor mentioned in the document in my genealogy management program.
- Copy/paste info to additional ancestors mentioned. For instance the bride, the groom, her parents and his if mentioned.
- Attached the scanned image of the document to all ancestors mentioned as a source or multi-media file in my genealogy management program.
- Insert the paper copy of the file behind the appropriate family group sheet (in the case of a marriage behind the family group sheet for the couple in question.)
No, sometimes I've given up and made two copies of a document, placing it first under a woman's maiden name and secondly under her married name. This was in a case where a woman was married four times, and things got a little confusing. I am sure there are other pitfalls to this system, but this is what is working for me now.
Greatest organization tip I've ever heard
Back in 1989 or 1990, Bill Dollarhide once taught an all-day seminar in Bradenton, Florida. He told us to quit writing research notes on the back of a bank receipt on an old torn envelope. Everything should be converted to 8 1/2 x 11 inch pages for ease in filing. (Even if you have to tape the smaller note on a piece of photocopy paper.)
Happy family tree climbing!
Your friend in genealogy.
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© 2008 Pat Richley All Rights Reserved.
This and previous blog entries are fully searchable by going to http://blog.dearmyrtle.com/. Myrt welcomes queries and research challenges, but regrets she is unable to answer each personally.