Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Genealogy - Storing that Stuff!

I have been doing genealogy since I was a little girl.  I am well on my way to Medicare - so I have been doing genealogy for a very long time.  When I began, computers were not used to do genealogy but today, that seems to be about the only way to go...maybe even the best way to go.  I have containers stuffed full of materials I have gathered over the years - certificates, copies of my pedigree and family group sheets, tons of notes, photo copies of all of my research, and of course, pictures.  I have had a great way of organizing my work so that I could easily take what I needed to work on to the Family History Center to do my research but with the changing ways of doing genealogy, I have been confused with how to switch over to this new system of research.

So my old system was to make folders for each surname and a folder for each person with that surname.  As I gathered information, I would organize it into the proper folders (even making duplicate copies so that the correct information could be placed into each person's folder that the document applied to), and thus making a complete history of each and every person in my direct lines.  I taught this system and it seemed to work for almost everyone (maybe some tweeking here and there to each person's likes).  I called this system ABC-123 because the surnames are organized into ABC order and the names within that surname are in 123 order (putting the first name that introduces that surname as 1 - that person's father is 2, grandfather is 3, etc. - it has nothing to do with which generation they are from you!).  I stored all of these in a portable file case so that I could take it with me to the Family History Center (FHC) or I could pull just a few folders if I was doing a specific family research.

Then I got a computer.  I continued with ABC-123 for a very long time because I could not haul my computer around with me so I still needed the full information when I went to a FHC.  But, as computers got better and programs became so much better, I found a new way to do the ABC-123 system.  I got a 1 1/2" binder and set it up in the same way as my files.  I used this as my "working" folder.  So instead of hauling the whole file cabinet, I only had to take my binder.  Behind each name I had their family group sheets showing them as a parent.  They would be shown as a child under their parent's section.  As I researched, I would enter the information I found onto the pages in the family group sheet in different colors.  The colors dictated to me what the source was.  (ex:  1850 census Martin County IN - all information gleaned would be in red.  Death certificate of so and so would be written in green, etc.)  When I ran out of different colors and/or when the page looked really messy, I would transfer the information (and documentation) into my genealogy program (at that time I used PAF).  I would then print out new pages and replace the old colored pages in my binder.  If I photo copied any information, the copy was put into my hard files (so I still used the file system and kept it at home).

(The picture  shows the binder with a family group sheet - the purple page is a list of census records where I found this person/family.)

Now with the computer age upon us, I have lap tops that I take to the FHC, but more important, I only really have to take my flash drive (thumb drive or whatever you know it as) with me.  I use the Roots Magic program instead of PAF (I easily transferred ALL of my information from PAF over to RM in about 1 second) and my flash drive actually has my personal genealogy along with the program so I can use this flash drive on any computer - even ones that do NOT have the Roots Magic program on them. 

I have taught myself to record all of my research finds directly onto my genealogy program right as I am working on it.  (I say taught myself because I have been so bound to the physical paper that it actually was difficult for me to change and use only the computer.)  What does this do for me?  It reduces tons of paper work, it allows me to quickly look at any person in my program and know everything about that person, it greatly reduces what I now have to take to the FHC.  Now, all I take with me are my flash drive, pen and paper (because I still need to take some instant notes but they are not notes that I need to keep). a calculator (because my brain doesn't want to figure out dates), a small portable magnifying glass (my eyes are not the greatest these days), and a snack (because I get really hungry working on genealogy all day).  That's it!  So easy.  And more important, when I go home, I almost always have nothing extra to take home because everything has already been recorded.  Note:  I also save documents on my flash drive as I go so that I now have a digital record of the actual document so I can look back at it anytime I need to. By the way, almost all of my research is done on the Internet these days so it is easy to copy and save the documents in a digital file.  If I do bring home printed copies, I do file them.

So now I still have all of this paper stuff and what do I do with it?  I have discovered that I almost never get into my folders that I once treasured.  I am getting ready to teach a class at the FHC on this exact subject so I decided that I had better come up with some kind of program that I can use, that others might like, and that works.  By the way, my philosophy is - If it works for you, then don't change.  We all come up with ways to do things and if it is working for you then by all means, do not change it.  It is a huge waste of time to change to another program only to find that you liked your original program better.  If you find your system does not work for you, then look for a better way.

This last weekend I made my decision as to how I would save my paper items.  I have done away with my ABC-123 file folders - in a way.  I have kept the Surname folders (only) and kept the portable file case.  I still file the surnames in the ABC format.  In this case I put miscellaneous information collected that has no place on my genealogy program (yet).  I also keep some misc. packets of information gathered - like I have small books on say the "Smith" family so I file it behind the Smith name.  This is a "small" holding place.  I am trying to rid myself of unnecessary papers so I am only holding onto things that I feel are of value to my research or treasured for that surname.  I do have a box of information that I still need to enter into my genealogy program - after all, it takes a long time to extract information off of papers collected for many years.  As I enter that information, I dispose of the papers.

I have elected to keep the binders (I have several binders because I had too much information for just one.  I divided my lines into my grandparent's lines so each binder begins with one of my grandparents instead of me or my parents.) but honestly, I do not keep them updated.  I have them more for teaching purposes and for some family members that may need to see a printed version of my work.  I do store some papers in there that I am not ready to part with such as census records that I view often.  Sometimes it is easier to look at a hard copy than see it on the computer screen.

I have begun a NEW binder.  This is my Certificate Binder.  I am putting my original copies of certificates, letters, and important keeps, into this binder (in archival plastic slips).  I have set it up under Surnames in the ABC order but I also have a section in the back for non direct lines (somehow I have collected several birth, death, obits, etc. from non direct lines - aunts and uncles etc.).  I put the documents into ABC order of first names behind the Direct Line Surnames and ABC order of surname in the Non Direct Line section.  It may sound confusing, but it is really quite simple.  So under my Smith line, I have my grandmother's birth certificate and her death certificate.  All certificates that would apply to her will be kept close together except for her marriage or family related certificates.  Those I always file behind the husband's name.  (I do make copies of delicate original documents to preserve them as a backup.) 

The purpose of this book versus filing these bits of information in various places allows me to quickly find original documents.  I keep this binder at an easy to access area whereas I store much of the other hard copy information out of sight.  Basically, I eliminated the individual files for each person and save the space by just putting this vital information into one easy to access location.

This last weekend, I began getting rid of tons of stuff.  It felt so good to finally go through all of those records that I was no longer using and reduce the size of my files.  I am finding the new certificate binder a nice way to store my original documents and very easy to find what I want when I need it.  I love using my flash drive to record ALL of my findings as I do my research and it is so much easier now that I have trained myself to record things as soon as I find them.  Be sure to make back ups of your flash drive often or all of that work may be in vain.  I save my information in at least 5 different places (on several flash drives, on all of my computers, I send it as a file to an Internet email address, I keep a copy in my safe, and I make hard copies for my binders - I still do have my family binders with printouts of my pedigree and family group sheets with the sources and notes I have recorded on my computer program).

Bottom line - If you have moved into the computer age with your genealogy program but are still in the dark ages with mounds of hard copies and documents, try as I have done and re-think your research documentation and collections by entering it onto your genealogy program and working from your flash drive.  It really is nice having it all in one place and not having to lug around a ton of books and such.  Try it - you might like it!


  1. Well done...I use PAF for years and turned to Legacy...never heard of Roots Magic...between them do you think Roots Magic is tops...Really enjoyed your post and need to spend time doing the same with my work...Tootsie in Oregon

    1. Sorry to take so long to answer. I love Roots Magic. I love that it has the to-go feature where you can take your program with your data on a flash drive. I love all of the extra features it has and how it keeps adding more and more features to make recording my research so easy. I am almost paperless with the RM program now. I can link online research right to my data in Roots Magic. I can keep a research log there too. There are so many features that I just can't list them all but I just go "wow" as I learn how to use them. (Way far from the old PAF program.) The RM website (www.rootsmagic.com) has tons of helpful webinars that I can download or watch online whenever I want. I understand Legacy has pretty much the same things. I do not know if Legacy has the to-go feature (which is awesome). As I said earlier, if Legacy is working for you, I would not change. I know several people using Legacy. I tried it when I was searching for a program beyond PAF. I just found RM easier to teach (which I do a lot of teaching beginners). There is a free trial version (does not allow you the full access to the fun features) but it will help you to see if you might like it. Enjoy your research!