Saturday, August 15, 2015

How I Research, Part II

A couple of weeks ago, I started this mini-series on my tips and tricks on researching genealogy. During my first post, I discussed some of the types of forms I use to record my research. This week, I thought I would show you how I organize those forms after I create them.

Organization is something that is key when doing anything of the scale of genealogical research. It's important to realize, though, that organization is something that is often different for different people. What I think is organized, may look like a "hot mess" to someone else. It's all about how your brain works.

I'll even tell you now, I utilize several different organization strategies myself for different projects I'm working on. So, one of my methods may work for you; or all, or none of them may work for you. I'll do my best to show the differences in them though, and you can pick for yourself how you want to organize your own research. Since I do use so many different methods, I will only focus on one method in each post so I can more thoroughly explain each one.

First, for my direct line of ancestors, I have a single notebook set up.

It is currently housed in a 1-1/2" binder, and I have simply named it "Brittany's Ancestors." I have it set up with a couple of different types of dividers inside.
The dividers I use in my Ancestor Notebook
The first set of dividers is actually a set of dividers I have split up between two notebooks. It originally started as a set of eight-tab dividers that have an opening for you to label them yourself. (Half of the set is in my ancestor binder; the other half of the set is in my husband's ancestor binder. I used to keep us both in the same notebook when I first started working on his family. Now his family is more researched than my own! So he has another binder just for his family now.)

These dividers house my Ancestor Charts. The tabs are divided with a couple of different kinds of Ancestor Charts. The first tab is the straight line of ancestors -- the chart I showed you in my previous post. The second and third tabs are for Step-families and Adoptive families.
Stepfamily Ancestor Chart from Family Tree Magazine
Adoptive Family Ancestor Chart from Family Tree Magazine
These forms are also available from the Family Tree Magazine website and are great if you have situations like this in your tree where you want to research both a step-parent's or adoptive parent's lines. I don't have many adoptions in my family, but I have a slew of second, third, fourth, etc. spouses that I try to research in addition to my own ancestors.

Unlike the other ancestor chart, which is clearly laid out for you to number them, these charts do not include any kind of internal numbering pattern. I have chosen not to number these lines myself, but I have considered it for some of my collateral lines where I may need help remembering who the central person in the chart is. (For my own ancestors, when I see my dad's name in the middle of the chart, I know we are talking about some of his step-parents; I don't need a note that tells me my dad is "person 2 on chart 1.")

The second set of dividers I have in my ancestor notebook is from the "Ready Index" line from Avery.
Avery Divider that I use for my Ancestor Notebook
It has 15 numbered tabs that you can customize only from the Table of Contents page. It worked great for me though because I have it set up so each number is a "generation."

Generation 1 is me and my husband.
Generation 2 is my parents.
Generation 3 is both sets of my grandparents.
Generation 4 is all four sets of my great-grandparents.
... And the pattern continues.

For each generation, I keep a couple of different forms in there. I have my Family Group Records with the Source Summaries printed on the back. I discussed these forms last time, so I won't go over these again. I will say though, that sometimes I will print out a very small (about 1" wide) copy of a photo for each person, sometimes a tombstone if that's all I have, and tape it next to the person's name. I only do this for the "parents" on the Family Group Sheet since the children in the family are positioned so close together. So far, I have only done this with some of my husband's family though.

I also have copies of a couple of those records that I had already printed out or photocopied. Not every family has copies of records in the notebook. Even in the ones that do have records, not every family has all of the records relevant to them in their section. I stopped printing them out after a while, and I simply keep digital copies now. More on my digital organization in another post.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Do not store original documents with your research notes, even if everything is acid-free and you think it's okay. Use the strategies I discussed in my last post on Archiving instead. Among other reasons, you'll thank me when you accidentally leave your notebook somewhere and either forget it or it otherwise gets damaged.

I also have a couple of the other forms Family Tree Magazine provides on their website set up in each of the generation sections. The Military Records Checklist and the Census Checklists are definitely my favorites.

I'm actually in the process of redoing my Military Records Checklists because I used to just list all of my direct ancestors in one big list, so the "big list" is in the front of my notebook before my Ancestor Charts. Now, I am working to set it up the same way I do my Census Checklists.
A page of my "big list" for the Military Records Checklist from Family Tree Magazine
You'll see, I block out the options that are outside my ancestor's lifespan. This gives me a clear view of what branches/engagements I should spend my time researching for each person.

One thing I will mention about this form is that it is centered around American military records. The chunk of ancestors at the bottom of this form without any marks is from my Mexican side of the family. This form doesn't work very well for them -- another reason I wanted to re-do this form and switch it over to individual family units. I'm hoping to create my own checklist of sorts for other countries' military records sometime down the line.

For my Census Checklists, I have a new page for each individual Family Group Sheet. This way, aunts and uncles get accounted for in each census as well as direct ancestors.
A page of my Census Checklist from Family Tree Magazine
It takes up more pages this way compared to my old method of listing just my direct ancestors in a continuous stream. It's hard to see in the above photo so I've attached a closeup below, but you'll notice I don't just "check" whether or not I have a copy of the person's census record; I write in the location I found the person in the census. I like doing it this way because it helps me see at a glance if families moved as a unit or if certain branches left on their own.
Closeup of Census Checklist shown above showing locations of census records found
You'll also notice the worksheet only goes up to the 1930 census. I have added a column for the 1940 census in the margin of the document. In a few more years when the 1950 census is released to the public, I will need to make my own version of this document if Family Tree Magazine does not update theirs by then.

I'm hoping, with the Military Checklist broken up this way too that I'll be able to see if entire sets of siblings joined the military, as was often the case in my husband's family, or if only a handful of siblings joined, or if there was any impact on joining the military when a parent served.

The last thing I have in my notebook, though not always in each section, is a small to-do list written on regular, college-ruled filler paper. I keep a much larger to-do list in my Family Tree Maker program, and the Checklists I use serve as their own kind of to-do list showing which records I still need to find; but if there is a particular place I want to remember to look for a record or a particular story I want to remember to try to prove or disprove, I will often keep a note of that in with that family's worksheets.

That about covers it for this particular notebook. Again, this set up may work for you, or it may not. I'll discuss some of my other notebooks and their purpose and organization techniques in future posts.

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