Saturday, December 4, 2010

First things First: The Historian Needs Organizing

It seems to me that my first project ought to be to organize what bits of paper I already possess. With Christmas break coming up, I'll have some extra time to devote to this project.

Right now all my family documents (such as they are) exist in actual and virtual file folders. The real ones consist of one file per family (Hood, Nordstrom, Eldridge, and Epperson), plus a fifth miscellaneous one which contains useful items like library maps. Oh and there is a bonus folder of notes I took while I was in Knoxville that have languished in the said folder since August. The items in these files range from copies of letters, death notices and those little programs you get at funerals, photocopies of newspaper clippings, handwritten notes and who knows what else.

The virtual files on my computer live in four places. There is the genealogy folder, the images from Ancestry folder, an FTM folder, and photos scattered throughout the official Windows picture folder.  Many of the the files within the genealogy folder are copies of notes. I got in the habit of typing up all my notes when I worked as an architectural historian. By the time I got to my PhD I skipped handwritten notes entirely; information went straight from the source to the computer.

I must admit the papers and notes I collected while doing my PhD are just as disorganized. I was always moving things from Scotland to the United States, on top of not being sure how to organize them in the first place. Actually, I think I am just a disorganized person. Everything in my house looks neat and tidy, but open any drawer, cupboard or file cabinet and the illusion is quickly shattered.

There was a discussion on the APG conference in Knoxville about organization and offices. Some people are terribly tidy, others were not; some used file folders, others notebooks; some had TONS of space, others not so much. One woman had NO paper files because she had no room for them - if it wasn't digital it became digital.

I have a medium amount of space and a small budget. Actually there is limited shelf space, but I could create more file cabinet space. But I do love the idea of notebooks. I am comfortable using the computer and kind of like the idea of making as much as possible digital.  Would I miss being able to handle actual paper?

There are too many choices and I need help. Since I'm basically starting from scratch, I thought I'd ask you for advice. How do you organize your family history files? What do you think is a good system? What works for you? Are there good "how-to" books?  Files or Notebooks? How cheaply can this project be done? Any experience using OneNote? Anything that ended up being a bad idea? Real or virtual?

Send your thoughts via the comments or contact me via email. I'll publish a summary of what everyone suggests and announce what I decide to do. Then, if all goes according to plan, I'll actually do it.


Michelle Goodrum said...

I primarily organize my family history files by surname. Some things are organized by geographical area.

I use a combination of files and notebooks and am trying to move more to digital using the same organizational scheme.

There are some great resources out there. Some of my favorites are:

Organizing Your Family History Search: Efficient & Effective Ways to Gather and Protect Your Genealogical Research by Sharon Carmack is my favorite book on the subject.

As far as digital organization on your hard drive, here are a couple of resources I really like:

First an article at AnceStories on naming your files:

Next, two podcasts episodes of "Family History Genealogy Made Easy"
Episodes 32 and 33 are on Hard Drive Organization.

Finally Lisa Louise Cook has a video on YouTube on this topic at:

Hope this helps some. It barely scratches the surface. The important thing is to develop a system that works for you.

amandasathenaeum said...

Welcome to the Geneabloggers!

TCasteel said...

Since I started researching in pre-internet times, I have a lot of notebooks. Over time I am reducing the paper copies down to essentials filed by surnames in filefolders. Since many doc (census records) can easily be seen on line now I feel comfortable not keeping the bulk of papers/xeroxes like I used to. It takes time though...but the upside is I am stumbling across notes or info that I had forgot about that now make sense & sometimes fill in blanks.

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

Dr. Bill ;-)
Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

Mavis said...

Welcome to the Geneabloggers community.

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