Friday, March 22, 2013

Getting Organized?

I’m listening to Adele and cleaning my office. Again. Getting organized. I try every method that comes along but I still end up with piles of papers and stacks of half read book everywhere. I have a large trestle table for a desk but the top is rarely visible.  Why am I doing this now? The stacks have gotten unwieldy. I need to organize all the research material for my latest presentation on Indentured Servants, and I know the answers to my brick wall is here somewhere. I still have stacks of my earliest research attempts, the ones I did when I didn’t have a clue. I need to find the courage to tackle them too.

I have tried file cabinets, vertical files, binders, baskets, etc. I filed by surnames, location, types of records, time periods. Genealogists are like dieters; we try every new system we hear about, as well all the new software and gadgets. For me, simple is better. That is what I will use.

For example, I like spiral notebooks.  Each research trip or project has a fresh notebook. Starting with the plane trip, including details like an emergency landing in Omaha, and the annual family reunion with lists of attendees and addresses. The notebook serves as a travel log and a research log with each road trip, repository, and records searched with appropriate citations and notes.  I usually have pages of notes from conversations with relatives. I have learned to always have writing materials with me as these conversations pop up suddenly. Attempting to record them does not always work.
I always have a notebook and camera with me. I do travel with a laptop, but I find it unwieldy to carry with me all the time. If I am visiting a repository I have a list of information I want and family group sheets if necessary.

For paper files I use binders for the most part. I have heard some people talk about their binder system - have a binder for each surname they recommend. I have to confess, for some surnames, I have more binders than I care to admit. My Eastham family of Virginia has the most. Why? Colonial Virginia, that’s why. In my Virginia families there often a dearth of records for the early eighteenth century. The combination of burned record counties and families that always use the same names makes sorting families difficult, at the least. As a result I have, so far, two four inch binders of  Eastham deeds, most copied from deed books or microfilm. I started this research before it was possible to make digital copies, but I still like paper copies to read and transcribe.

I am a much better researcher than I used to be. When I stated researching I had no clue what I was doing. I know about proper citations and methodology. I use a threefold process now. Documents are cited. My spiral notebook is my research calendar. And I take a digital photo of everything I do. When I put the photos of my trip on the computer, there is a chronicle, complete with dates and timestamps of the entire trip. On road trips I take pictures of road signs and markers. At repositories I photograph the label on the box of film, or the label on the box of documents, the first page of the record book, as well as the documents themselves. Most places I research now allow digital photographs, and many are getting there. There are a few exceptions, of course. I was at a courthouse recently that didn’t allow photos.  I suspect it may be a financial decision. Iit was a rural county without many resources - the photocopies were $1.50 each! The  older records were in the largest books I’ve ever seen. Even with a large copier there is no way to copy an entire page.

I find it much easier to organize my digital files. I use a format like this:

The “fs” in the file name is FamilySearch.  I included the source when I download a file.

I use Picasa to organize photographs. I find it quite easy to organize. For general photos I organize by year and then topic. (The number in parenthesis is the number of photos in the album.)

This system works for me. I can easily find what I need. But everyone has to develop a system for paper and digital files that work them. I hope it doesn't take  as long as it took me.
I am determined. I am going to get organized. I am going to put every document in its proper place. Make sure they’re all cited. I will find the proper place for these Kentucky tax lists I copied on my last trip.
As soon as I finish this blog post.

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