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Organizing Genealogical Data

Genealogical  facts and notes will accumulate very quickly and at an amazing rate.  In addition, there will be pedigree charts, family group records, personal, legal, financial and other papers.  There also may be photocopies, publications, newspaper clippings, photographs, audio and video recordings, computer files and other material.  It is obvious that you will be quickly overwhelmed unless you can establish a record keeping system to handle this material and provide access to the accumulated data.  A filing system organizes genealogical facts and materials and shows family relationships.  It enables you to add new information on a particular family and see what research has already been completed.

The individual family is the basic unit of research, identification and record keeping and the best way to arrange genealogical  data such as documents, notes, abstracts, photocopies, and letter/e-mails pertaining to different ancestors.  File Family group sheets, pedigree charts, biographical and historical data, copies of original old documents, abstracts of government records, letter/e-mails from relatives, photographs, computer print outs, newspaper clippings, and various kinds of certificates for a particular family by the family unit in file folders or in three-ringed binders with tabbed dividers.  Large envelopes with three holes punched in the sides are useful to collect small loose items in a binder.

Record where each item came from and the date it was received or researched.  Always clearly describe the record type (primary or secondary), its location, archival reference numbers, author or other data for each fact discovered. 

Create a cross-referencing file or index to link different types of records relating to the same family found in different parts of a collection.  This can help one speedily locate information in one's files.  Assign numbers to each branch of the family and write these numbers on the "Research Planning" sheet in each file. 

Identify and list non-paper archives such as computer files, microforms, audio and video recordings on a location chart to help find the items.  Date, title, author, and physical description can be used to identify maps.  Reference to such items can be inserted into the "Research Planning" page for a particular family.

Use black ink for permanency and write on only one side of a piece of paper to prevent accidentally discarding data.  It is wise to put notes, extracts and abstracts on paper of uniform size.  Some record data on blank sheets of paper, others prepare their own pedigree charts and family group sheets to organize their research.  Other researchers buy their forms from a local stationery store or from a genealogical  supplier.  Still others have computer genealogical programs that produce required forms and charts.  Before filing family group sheets and pedigree charts check to make sure data on the sheets is complete and accurate and that all facts are footnoted.

Keep a "Records Search Sheet" or a "Research Calendar" with each family unit where you can record the type of document, location and page number where individual facts obtained on a particular family are located.  You can explain why certain records were searched, and describe the discovered data.  In this way, you will be able to refresh your memory at a glance concerning completed research.  By doing this you will not waste time repeating searches.  Some like to produce a "Locality Research Calendar" to list records and resources available for a particular locality.  After consulting a record for a place, make an annotation marking the record off the list.  Such a checklist helps make sure all valuable materials have been consulted, and nothing has been missed.

Keep research notes and narrative details discovered on a particular family under separate headings such as education, early childhood, activities of youth, military service, occupation, accomplishments, travel, etc. and file them with the appropriate family group sheets.  File notes or abstracts made from parish, census and government records with the appropriate family.

Consider keeping a second set of family records.  Use this second set as a working copy to be taken on research trips and the other, a good or permanent copy, would remain safely at home.  This takes extra effort but will prevent the accidental loss of valuable research work.