Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Organizing my Family History Research - First Report

This December I have been relentlessly followed by a storm cloud of doom and a train wreck of good intentions; otherwise known as finals week and a knitting basket full of unfinished Christmas gifts. In order to distract myself from imminent disaster, I thought I would study up on some of the organization tips kindly provided by readers Michelle Goodrum and TCasteel.  I am very sorry to report that this attempt at distraction only landed me in a pit of despair.

It started off well. TCasteel pointed out that census records are easily available online and can be downloaded, so it doesn't make sense to keep paper copies. Easy peasy. I only had a handful of handwritten census worksheets, so I found them all on Ancestry.com and saved them (in poorly named files for now) to my hard drive. The old census sheets are now in the "someday to be recycled" pile, where they will probably remain until Spring.

While reading through the posts from AnceStories and listening to the podcasts from Family History Made Easy suggested by Michelle Goodrum, I realized I do want to go digital as much as possible. I also want to utilize OneNote in some fashion as it combines what is nice about digital files and old-fashioned paper notes. I can also keep a copy of it on Windows Web Apps (or whatever it's called).  These two sources did provide useful information, which I will detail in another post, because while thinking about all of these suggestions, my brain went into overdrive. And things quickly went horribly wrong.

How many OneNote Notebooks? One for each family or one for Me and My Ancestors? If I did one for each family, wouldn't they keep increasing in number and make me insane? If I intend basically to paste copies of pertinent information in each digital notebook, where to store the originals? By person as suggested, by region, by document type? I also want to learn about the places and events of the past as well, should they get their own notebook, be filed with each person? Does this mean I should organize my family history research separately/differently from my other research files?  Which family members might have good information?  Would they share? If they did, where should I file it? Do I want to do only main lines or collateral families too? Where would all this get filed?

The questions and possibilities just wouldn't stop, the wheels of my brain were spinning out of control. All of a sudden, I was totally overwhelmed. I wanted to quit the whole project altogether. Not only was there a storm cloud of doom over me and a train wreck of good intentions headed towards me, I had now pitched myself over the edge into the pit of despair.

It seemed like a good time for a cup of tea. Tea makes everything better. It seems that my entire brain had not gone completely haywire. It told me, as I slowly sipped my tea, "Before you can know how to organize your notes, you have to know what your research goals are."  I took a deep breath. Another voice said, "There's nothing wrong with how you organized your dissertation research and no reason to change, despite what the podcasts and blogs say." Then, a deep sigh of relief.

What did I find when I hauled myself out of the pit of despair? Well, that my friends is a story for another day.

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