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.
Last week I described why a research plan/log or PLOG, is a good idea. This week, let’s get into some of the nitty gritty of what a research PLOG looks like.
First, you will want to have several research plans. They should be based on a particular project you are working on. Remember, we are past the “collecting” phase and are now into the FOCUSED phase of our research. (Refer back a few weeks to the post on Getting Focused.) Your research plans and logs will want to reflect that focus. I have a research plan for each individual project I’m working on. And my projects are generally driven by my research questions. So, I have a PLOG that holds research tasks and findings relative to a particular research question I am trying to solve.
You can create these PLOGs in any platform that works for you: word processor, spreadsheet, Evernote or One Note, Scrivener, and so on. Even paper. I’m not here to tell you which one to use. But I will share what I use: Evernote. Now there was a recent Evernote update that had a lot of people upset, they didn’t like the changes. Well, who likes change? I know I don’t. I am still working with the new update and forming my opinions, but so far, everything has been working ok with a few minor hiccups.
I like Evernote because of its ability to sync between my laptop, my phone, my iPad, and a web version, so I literally have access anywhere I have the internet. I can also access my notes offline as long as I synced everything before I left the land of the internet. It also acts like a word processor and I can add tables, images, links to other notes, and more. I can also search my notes by keyword or tags (if I added them).
When I create a research plan/log in Evernote, I put the research question at the top so that I remain focused and my notes are categorized and organized. I then have a table with the following column headings: Call#/Location, Title/Description, Names/Information I’m looking for, Results (notes, or a link to another note that holds the scanned images), Notes reflecting my thoughts. See the example below:
I have several variations, and they change depending on circumstances. Sometimes I add a column for the date or the repository if it is a PLOG that covers many repositories. Most often, I have another note that contains the actual contents of what I found, usually photos I took with my phone and uploaded to Evernote. On those Evernote notes, I will write out the citation for that item, so they are together.
I also have research PLOGs that are repository focused. Pre-pandemic, there were repositories I visited on a semi-regular basis, so as I worked from home and identified things I wanted to examine at a particular repository, I would add them to those PLOGs, with a link to the overall log for that research question.
You can do a similar thing in other platforms. In a spreadsheet, for example, you can have multiple tabs in one spreadsheet. Perhaps you have a spreadsheet about your John Smith family and organize those tabs by the particular generations, brick wall problems, repositories, and so on. Or, if you prefer word processing documents, organize your hard drive in a similar way: a folder for each surname, then perhaps broken down by generation or research problem, and then the various documents within that pertain to that problem. The sky is really the limit in terms of how you organize.
The main point with the research plan and log is that you create a system whereby you can collect what you plan to look at and what you found, in an easy, effective, and efficient way that works for you. Then, when it is time to sit down and really analyze what you have, it is all logged in one location.
If you are a longtime reader, you know a phrase I often say in this blog and when I’m presenting to an audience: “Do what works best for you. But do it!” So, go get a system set up that you think might work for you. You’ll end up modifying it as you learn and grow as a researcher, but just get started.
Every genealogist starts out in a “collection” phase. You just gather up anything and everything that pertains to your family tree, with very little focus on a particular project. I think this is the right way to do it. You have to have a base to start from and collecting and gathering important items and information from family members now, while they are still alive, is so important. But after a while, you may have noticed, you have quite a “pile” (whether physical or digital, or both if you are like me).
I’ve talked about organizing those piles before in my series about getting organized, so I won’t belabor it again. But you have to get organized before you can really move forward. OR you’ll do what I did and order the same records several times, download the same wills, search for the same obits, etc. Don’t do that. Get organized now, while the piles are small-ish, so you can be more efficient later.
Once you’ve gotten organized, you can start to see where your challenges are, the proverbial “brick walls,” or the research projects that are going to take more effort to solve. Filling in the gaps will require more structured research. When you get to this phase, it is helpful to define your research by establishing good research questions.
A good research question is a well-defined research goal. It needs to be as specific as possible, defining exactly who you are looking for, but not so specific that it isn’t possible to solve. The question has to be answerable for it to work. Here is an example from my own research:
Too broad: Who was the father of Fred Miller?
Well, which Fred Miller. There are about a billion of them in the world. And about a hundred in Wood County, Ohio in 1850. (Ok, I might be prone to exaggeration, but it sure feels like that sometimes!)
Too narrow: What is Fred Miller’s exact date of birth?
Well, for this one, we may never be able to find an exact date of birth due to record loss or just no records at all. The question may not be answerable so it is better to broaden the question a little bit. Perhaps to simply say “when was he born” which could be answered with a date range or something like “about 1805.”
Just right: Who were the parents of Fred Miller, living in Perrsyburg Township, Wood County, Ohio, who was 45 years old in the 1850 census?
With this one, I have identified a unique person in time and place, and I am asking an answerable question, “who were his parents?”
NOW, you can start planning your research to answer this question. Next we will talk about research plans and how to create and execute them.
If you are brand new to genealogy or if you want to do a refresh here are some solid starting points.
Start with yourself and work back in time.
Begin with what you know and work toward the unknown.
Start with the basics: birth, marriage, death
Add more details: military, education, residences, employment
Utilize common family history forms or genealogical software to help you build your family tree. Start with yourself and record everything about you, your spouse, kids, etc. Then work on your siblings and parents. Don’t stop with your direct line. Write down everything you know about your aunts, uncles, cousins, expanding out from your direct line.
Start in your own home. Look through your old papers for:
birth and death certificates
letters or diaries
I’m not going to tell you that one way is better than another. The best way to do anything is the way that works for you. I will tell you that I started with paper forms. Then I used an old Mac program that no longer exists. I’ve used a Mac since the beginning of time and so I have been a Reunion user almost since their beginning. I also use online family trees, but I treat those more like a holding place while I’m using their website. All of my research is housed in Reunion. I also print everything and organize it in my binder system.
Once you’ve exhausted everything in your own home, you’ll want to start talking to your relatives. We will discuss that next time. That’s where the fun begins!
I got most of my order from Gaylord. Everything but the three-ring clamshell box has arrived! It is on backorder but should ship next week.
In the meantime, the scanning has resumed since classes are over for my daughter and her work (lifeguarding) has not opened up yet. We came across some funeral registries where none of the front matter had been filled out (like whose funeral it was). Though there were some clues (like obituary clippings) and a tiny date written in the corner. These funeral visitor lists are chock full of surnames I recognize as family members or family friends.
If you were looking for an ancestor’s “FAN Club” (Friends, Associates, Neighbors), this is a fantastic list! (For more on the FAN Club, visit this post from Elizabeth Shown Mills.) I have had a fun time remembering the names and my childhood memories of some of these folks. Researching some of these folks might hold some clues as to the Miller lineage. (I’m stuck at John and Mary Miller! Talk about common names…)
Once my scanning assistant is done scanning, these photos, clippings, and other items have just been going back in the box or envelope for now. I don’t have on hand the items I need to store these treasures in archival sleeves, albums, or boxes. I do have a few archival boxes but they are the kind for documents, not really set up for small photos. So, a shopping “trip” was in order.
A friend and colleague has been working on the same kind of project (hi, Yvette!) and her photos of her archival albums got me to shopping. Gaylord Archival is a fantastic resource for archival materials: binders, albums, photo sleeves, folders, boxes, and so much more! I ordered some archival photo sleeves in two sizes, a binder box, and some folders for booklets.
This is part one of this series because, I’m only reporting that this week all I managed to do was get that order in. And they are located in New York. At the time of my order, the state was on lockdown for the COVID pandemic. When this posts, they may be open and shipping. We shall see. I will have to report back when the items arrive and more progress has been made. In the meantime, we get a little scanning done in between finals and AP tests!
If you have read this Box series since the beginning, you know the size and scope of the photos I received ten years ago. It was a huge box with rather random photos and papers included. My daughter has been doing the scanning. We’ve been doing the titling together. Luckily, when I picked up the photos ten years ago, I managed to ask my grandma or aunt who certain people were and made notes. So they aren’t all completely unidentified.
If you undertake a project like this, you will likely develop your own system and methods. Do what works best for you and makes the most sense with your filing system. Ours goes like this:
My daughter, Ellie, scans an image. She asks me who about the image if there are no notes. If there are notes, she can figure out the title.
She titles the images along the lines of “surname-firstname-event or number-year” so that it might be “Dimick-Leland-1” or “Kindervater-Ernestine-Wedding-1895.” If we don’t know one of the elements (such as the year) then we just leave it off. These might change after I do some of the research, but for now, they are titled in a way that lets me know what is in the file.
Later, I download the scanned images to my hard drive to the folders where I keep all of my family history photos.
The Google Drive looks like this:
The eagle-eyed among you might notice a difference in file types. We had settings set up for .tif (my preferred file for photos). However, when we moved to a new scanner, we didn’t get the file type set for some of the photos and didn’t notice until she had done many. We decided not to redo all of those .jpg files for now. Someday we might go back to it. But for now, the images are digitized as well as in an archival box and that’s good enough for me.
Those digitized photos will sit in the Google Drive for a while. I have not decided if I will leave them there. My hard drive gets backed up to a cloud backup server, so I don’t feel the need to duplicate them in another location. However, I will leave them there until I get my filing done on my hard drive…just in case.
Mainly, when tackling a large project like this, figuring out a system and sticking to it is the most important. Then it’s just a matter of hiring a teenager to do the repetitive tasks. If you don’t have a teenager you can hire, especially in these times of social distancing, the task of scanning and titling your photos is not difficult.
Put on a movie or audio book or music and get scanning!
I like to write in “bits.” By ‘bits’ I mean short thoughts, a couple of paragraphs on one idea, or a page at a time. My ‘bits’ can be found everywhere: notebooks, margins, on my phone in the notes app, in emails or texts to myself, slips of paper on my desk, sticky notes sticking to all kinds of things, in Evernote, and in other places. This is not very organized! Unfortunately, many writers that I’ve talked to are like this. When an idea hits you, you have to take a moment to write it down wherever you can.
How do you manage all of those ‘bits’? Here are some ideas I’ve developed over the years:
Keep a notebook on your desk. I have a notebook that I use as a holder for my writing ideas of whatever kind. I prefer paper most of the time. I find it easier to jot my ideas down rather than finding my phone, opening an app, being clutzy with the typing and dealing with autocorrect, and so on.
Evernote. I already use it a lot for research notes. This one is easy for the mobile aspect of note-keeping. I may not always have my notebook, but I’m rarely without my phone. Now, instead of texting myself or emailing myself or using the notes app, I try to put thoughts into my Evernote app in a folder called “writing ideas” if it is a general idea, or in a particular folder if it has something to do with something I’m already working on. And if you aren’t an Evernote user, use your software/app of choice.
Use timelines and tables. When working on certain research projects, especially trying to determine if I’m working with one man or two (or more), timelines and tables can be helpful in organizing the evidence I’ve found and then make a reasonable determination.
Use note cards. Yep. I said it. Use that old-school item, the 3×5 notecard. I use them when I’m working on how to organize my evidence items. They help me decide when to introduce a new evidence item, concept, or individual when working on a larger writing project such as a case study.
When you accumulate a lot of ‘bits’ you need to do something with them to keep them organized. Some of the above might work for you, or you may find another system that speaks to your way of doing things. However you do it, your system should help you keep your ‘bits’ in a logical order, contained (to avoid tangents), and on topic or theme.
I find that over time, that I can take those ‘bits’ and put them into a larger writing piece. And nothing is better than getting a larger writing piece put together!