I have been researching my family tree for quite a while now and, and like many amateur family historians, I have bits and pieces of information scattered around my spare room. Regularly, I realize that it's time to get back to the basics and get properly organized. You might ask: "But where should I start?"; "What is the best method of filing this important information so I can easily find it later?"; "I have lots of information, but I can't seem to find it when I need it!"; or "What should I do?" In this article I will try to address some of these issues and help you get more organized.
When I research my family tree, I follow a few simple rules that help me be as productive as possible. I'd like to say that I have always followed these simple rules. But unfortunately, I had to learn most of these things the hard way. So don't be discouraged if you have gotten behind and feel that you have some catching up to do. Use these suggestions as a guide. But take the time to develop your own system. Use the things that work and modify the things that don't. Here are a few simple tips that you can implement quickly and with relatively little expense:
Use standard size paper - preferably 3 holed loose leaf sheets -- they can easily be shuffled and re-sequenced or if necessary, moved to another folder easily;
Use only one side of the paper to record notes and information (it's easier to photocopy);
Make sure each page is labeled with the surname, location and dates that each note was taken;
Use a separate binder for each main family group (split them into subgroups when they grow too big);
Use acid free plastic sleeves to store photocopies, newspaper articles etc.; and
Store any items that won't fit in the binder in legal size folders -- they're easy to sort and file. Recording your sources is an absolute must. You will need this information sometime in the future. It is all too common to document a date or place and months later discover another document that shows an entirely different date or place. By having your sources clearly marked, you can have a better clue as to which fact might be more correct. Remember, if something doesn't seem to fit properly, or just doesn't seem right, make a detailed note of the issue and why you are skeptical. Later you may find another related fact, that together with your original note, will help you unscramble the facts and help find the truth.
Genealogy is a great hobby that can be very rewarding. However, it is just as important to properly document and store your findings as it was to make the find in the first place. Keeping track of all the original information, photographs, charts, newspaper clippings and the original source citations and storing them properly will save a lot of time and wasted effort in the long run. That work, together with all of the ancestors and stories that you uncover will help to preserve your heritage for future generations.
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