When we are working on our genealogical research and we discover an ancestor came from a different place, an unfamiliar place, a new county, state, or country, do we stop researching because we don’t know anything about that place? No, of course not. We dive right in! Looking for databases for that place where we can plug in our names and find the answers. However, that is not necessarily the most efficient way to start research in a new area, especially if it is an area where you may be conducting a lot of research over time. I like to create a locality guide for these new locations.
You could call a locality guide by other names: a toolbox, a resource guide, a quick sheet. Whatever you decide to call it, a locality guide is what I like to call the “pre-research.” You encounter a new location on a document. Perhaps a death certificate indicates that an ancestor was born in a county and state where you have little or no previous experience. Most genealogists will just jump into the records and online sources, excited for what they might find. And that’s ok for a quick look, but if your research is going to be focused in that location for any amount of time, you want to be most efficient with that time.
There are many ways you could organize this “pre-research.” I’m going to share the way I do it, but it is not the only or “right” way, by any means. Take any tips from this series that you like and adapt this to something that works for you.
My locality guides have four parts: Historical Background, Geography, Records, and Repositories. You can collect this information in a number of formats. I recommend collecting it in an electronic document (i.e. word processor, spreadsheet, or a tool like Evernote) which will lend itself to creating clickable links for online resources. Having this guide will allow you to quickly look up valuable information, databases, and references. As you conduct your research you will invariably learn more that can be added to your guide.
Over the next several blog posts, I will share some of the more in-depth inner workings of my guides and some tips for making them easier, more efficient, and useful for your research.
July 25-30 – I am A STUDENT and attending IGHR! (Taking the Irish Course)
Our study group for Mastering Genealogical DOCUMENTATION begins on August 4, 2021. See more details here.
Not every website has their events posted yet. I still have a few things that are not under contract yet and so aren’t posted here. You can always click on my calendar to see my upcoming events. My fall activities are still shaping up. I’m doing everything virtually again this year and will probably do so for at least the early part of next year. Here’s hoping for a better 2022!
As I am working through George Long’s digital folder and corresponding binder, I like to include a couple of documents with the binder so I can see at a glance what is going on without opening more than the front cover. I use the white binders with clear covers so you can slip in papers in the front, back, and on the spine. For the spine, I title the binder: last name, first name of main couple, birth and death years, and a list of their children, noting which child will have their own binder. George Long’s current binder spine is on the left.
For the back, I like to include a simple cascading pedigree chart, printed from my desktop software, that shows George’s place in the grand scheme of things. At a glance I can see what generation I’m working on.
For the front, I print a family group sheet from my software that shows me at a glance, everything I know about the family group.
Inside the binder, usually in a plastic sleeve, I have a word document that is simply a timeline of the documents that are held within. This document has a couple of purposes. First, it acts like a table of contents. I can see quickly what documents I have for a given ancestor. Second, since they are in chronological order, they create a quick timeline for the ancestor’s life. I can see where there might be gaps and where more research could be done.
As new information is gathered, these documents are updated, reprinted, and replaced in the binders. I don’t do this for every single little change, but after four or five major additions to the information added to the binder, I’ll reprint these documents so that everything is up-to-date.
Years of doing research but not organizing along the way, has been a mistake. Getting the binders organized and up-to-date will allow my research time going forward to be more efficient. For a fantastic webinar on keeping yourself organized as you go, check out Cyndi Ingle’s presentation at Legacy Family Tree Webinars. (A subscription is required, but consider clicking this affiliate link to get a subscription. It’s the best inexpensive but high-quality education money can buy!)
Genealogy is a work in progress. You know that, right? It is never finished, can always be refined, one more thing can be researched, and so on…forever.
I did make a little progress in organizing my George Long binder. But as I was doing that, I discovered that I really needed to work on his digital folder so that it would match up with the binder, and then I could work on both at the same time as I work through documents.
My document process is (not necessarily in this direct order, but all of these things are done with each document):
Look at the document. Decide to whom it belongs.
Make sure the document is scanned if it wasn’t already digital.
Affix a citation to the image. If it is already printed I sometimes make a label to stick to the printed document. If it is possible, I use my word processor (Mac Pages) or Snag-It to digitally affix a citation to the image. I then reprint if necessary. But by whatever means, I get a citation on that document.
In my genealogy software (Reunion) I input the data if it hasn’t been already. I link the digital image to the source in the software.
I put the document in a plastic sleeve and put it in the correct location in my physical binder.
As I was working on George Long, I kept getting hung up when I needed to put the document in the digital folder. So, I took the time to get George’s folders titled and organized properly.
The digital filing is not complete, by any stretch. You can see some “Brandeberry” files that I need to put in the correct location. This was a second marriage for daughter Martha and I just need to decide how I create second marriage folders. Right now, I can think of two solutions. One, create a sub-folder within the folder titled “LONG (ch8) Martha & Jacob Hentges” that is titled “LONG Martha & BRANDEBERRY – second marriage.” Or two, create a folder “LONG (ch8) MARTHA & John Brandeberry” and leave it in the same level of folder. What I don’t recall and will need to investigate is did that second marriage produce any children? Are there any documents I need to store for John Brandeberry? If I don’t have much of anything or if they had no children, I may not make a digital folder. I may just put the documents in the Jacob Hentges folder. (I would still enter the data for this second marriage in my genealogy software, of course.)
These the kinds of decisions you have to make when you are getting your files organized. How do I do it? You have to decide what is going to work for you and stick to it. I will get back to organizing the paper files now that I have this organization system ready to go. I learned that I can’t think of it as two separate projects/systems. They really are each part of the larger system.
I’ve been slowly, ever so slowly, making some progress on my Spring Cleaning projects. I’ve made a small amount of progress scanning while also watching some Netflix (Hannibal, in case you’re wondering). And I’ve started working on one of my project ancestors, George Long and his family group. He came to the U.S. from Ireland (where? “North Ireland”), got married, had a couple of kids, and then was killed in a machinery accident in 1855 at a mill in Gilboa, Putnam County, Ohio. I’d really like to know where in Ireland he is from. Well, I’m not going to figure it out with the state of affairs that is his binder, digital folder, his entry in my Reunion file, and so on… it’s a mess, to say the least.
The George Long binder has loose pages I haven’t fully processed, sticky notes with to do items, no separate tabbed sections for all of the children… it’s a mess, as I said. So, my next project is to just get this binder organized physically. Then we will delve into the digital side of this project. As a forewarning… none of the digital records are organized either!
I have a whole system that I use to organize my genealogy. It is a hybrid paper/binder and digital system. This may not work for some. Some of you I know think it is ridiculous to keep paper files these days. but I just like to sit down with my binder and “read” about my ancestors as if their binders were their book. My binders also act as a visual timeline that just works best for the way I visualize and think about research.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The important thing is to do what works best for YOU.
Anyhow, after all of this scanning and sorting and going through my hard drive, I know I have some family digital files that I have not made match my binder system. I started doing this a while ago (several years now) and have just worked on it as I worked on a family project. But I think it might be time to be more methodical about it. (Here’s the blog post about that system.)
So, this will take many months to do, but I am going to go through each one of my paper binders and make sure its corresponding materials match in my hard drive. Wish me luck!
I don’t know about you, but my hard drive is something of a mess. I tend to take research trips, scan and photograph a lot of documents, and then never process those documents I scanned. I am not the only one am I? I mean, I have things I took pictures of from back in 2007 when I went on a trip to New Hampshire with my grandma. If I do the math correctly, that was about 14 years ago! I bet I will not know or remember what I was thinking or why I took a photo of that document or the page in book, let alone if I took a photo of the book’s title page!
I need to clean all of that up. Additionally, my hard drive just needs a clean out and organization session (or two or ten).
So, for the next week or so, when I have a moment, I am going to go through a folder on my hard drive that needs some TLC…and I’ll keep doing that until I get it done.
After getting settled in after moving, and getting my paper piles in some form of organization, I have a few piles that require scanning. I usually like to put on some music or watch some light-hearted YouTube Videos or something on Netflix, and fire up the scanner.
I use a ScanSnap to scan things that can be sheet fed. It really makes life a lot easier. Depending on what I’m scanning, I may store the file in Evernote, on my hard drive, or attached to my genealogy software. I have folders for newsletters and handouts from lectures that still come in hardcopy. I print some things so I can take notes in the margins. I’ll rescan those and store them so I don’t have so much paper. (It might be weird but it works for me.)
When it comes to getting organized, my most common answer to any question I get is most often “This is what works for me, but you have to do what will work for you.” And sometimes that takes a bit of trial and error. Later I might decide that I don’t need to keep some things on paper that I’ve been keeping, or I might decide to change how I organized my hard drive files, etc. I’ve changed how I do things several times over the years. As computers and the internet evolves, so has my organization system.
So, my goal for the next week or so is to get my scanning caught up. Any good Netflix ideas?
Registration is now open for the next Mastering Genealogical Proof study group which begins on April 21, 2021. If you are interested, now is the time to register! The class information is as follows:
This will be a beginner/low-intermediate level class to study the book Mastering Genealogical Proof by Tom Jones. We will cover the principles outlined in the book as well as discuss the workbook questions.
Details of the course (PLEASE READ):
There will be two sessions: Wednesday daytime (lead by Cyndi Ingle of Cyndi’s List), at 3pm Eastern, and Wednesday evenings (lead by Cari Taplin) at 8pm Eastern (so adjust for your time zone). Beginning April 21, 2021 and ending June 2, 2021 (so 7 weeks total). Each class will be about an hour.
NOTE: If this session does not work for you, we will be holding the next session beginning on October 6, 2021. To be notified when registration opens for the next session, please click this link to sign up for the waitlist.
If you follow me much, you know that during 2020 we decided to move out of Texas (and none too soon by the sounds of it) and back to Colorado, the state we love. We started out just moving into a rental while we got our house in Texas ready to sell. Then, just after the holidays, we bought a new home here and just last weekend finished the moving in and cleaning the rental, and all of that fun stuff. We are exhausted but happy to be in the new place and get settled again.
Now that my office is mostly unpacked, I found a huge stack of papers that just accumulated during the 6 months while living in a rental. We didn’t unpack everything while there so some things just couldn’t get filed properly. So, one of my jobs this week is to go through those papers and get them sorted, filed, or recycled. I will have a pile of things to scan as well and I will just put on some music and scan away until those are finished.
I also have a filing cabinet full of things that can probably be scanned and recycled or just recycled. There are some things that just don’t need to live in paper form if you file them in an organized way on your computer or in the cloud.
The biggest hurdle with getting organized is making the decisions. We, as humans, don’t like to make decisions. We like to know yes/no, right/wrong, good/bad, up/down, and so on. If we know what the “buckets” are, we know where to put the stuff. However, we get hung up on choosing the “buckets.” So, I have to decide what to keep, what to scan (and how to file it), and what to recycle.