96Source document filing systems
- May 1, 2006I have followed the discussion of source document filing systems in the
Legacy User list with some interest.
Here are some links to other discussions of filing systems:
General discussions on filing systems
Rene Zamora's LJ entry on numbering systems
The first of these mentions that many systems, such as the Dollarhide system,
were devised and developed before computers.
The only system I know of that was devised to use computers is the Research
Data Filer that used to come with PAF, but was dropped after PAF 3.0.
Unfortunately there has never been a satisfactory replacement, so I still use
The older versions of PAF (2.31 and earlier) had two programs: Family Records
and Research Data Filer. Family Records (FR) was the usual lineage-linked
genealogy program, while the Research Data Filer (RDF) was a program for
keeping track of paper files. There was no attempt to combine these in one
program, since they were conceptually separate and performed different tasks.
I believe this was a good principle.
The Research Data Filer (RDF) program was designed to keep track of paper
files in the computer age. The basic principle was LET THE COMPUTER DO THE
So there are NO colour codes, there is NO attempt to classify source
documents into different kinds (birth records, census records, land records,
obituaries etc). You can do that if you insist, but it is an unnecessary
For the physical filing, the main requirement is that you should be able to
find the document. So for this purpose, each document is given a number, in
the order in which you file it. The first one to go in the file is Document
1, the second is Document 2 and so on. It doesn't matter what kind of
document it is. In the case of Legacy this is the number I put in the "File
ID" field when recording sources.
Of course not all sources lend themselves to being filed in this way. You
can't lift a ruddy great granite tombstone from a cemetery, punch holes in
it, and put it in a file. But you can put a description and transcription in
your paper file, and maybe even a photograph of the tombstone.
If an original document is in an archive or library, you can file your notes,
or a photocopy of the document. If it is a book in a library, you file the
full bibliographical information, the library where you found it, and perhaps
some notes you took from it.
The paper documents you file could even be a printout of notes you took with
a genealogy note-taking program like Genota or Clooz.
The important point is that each document you file is given a serial number
so that you can locate the document in your paper files by looking up the
Research Data File has two files, Documents (.DOC) and Data (.DAT).
The first of these simply has the Document number (the sequential number of
the document in the paper files) and three lines of description. This is
where you say whether the document is a census, a birth certificate, a land
record, a will, a biography, etc. This is where you put location and surname
information. This is where you LET THE COMPUTER DO THE WORK.
The RDF program lets you "focus" on a group of records, based on what you
enter here. You can enter a place name, and it will focus on the place. Then
you can enter a surname, and it will further restrict the list of documents
to those containing that surname. Then you can enter a type of document, like
a will, and it will focus on wills relating to the place and surname you have
The Data file is an index of persons. It has several fields --
Document Number, the page within the document
Name - the person's name; I put surname first, for sorting
Id -- for this I use the RIN in my main database, and if the person is not in
my main database, I leave it blank)
Event (as recorded in the document) -- birth, death, marriage, military,
Date of the event (can be approximate)
Location of the event
Relations (as shown in the document). There are conventions for entering
information here F- for father, M- for mother and so on. Then three spaces
for Ids of relatives (I use RINs)
Notes - where one can record, for example, age and occupation at a census, or
any other significant information.
Again, one can "focus" - on a surname, a place, a relative, a date range etc.
Once one has narrowed the set of records, one can sort on any field, and then
print out the results (alas, however, it is a DOS program, and many modern
printers cannot print from DOS directly, so one has to use a utility to print
to a file, and then open the file in another program like Wordpad in order to
There are utilities available that let you export the "Data" file to other
programs - as a GEDCOM, or CSV to import into a spreadsheet or another
RDF is a bit dated now -- it was designed to store data in as compact a form
as possible, in the days when most computers were sold without hard disks,
and only two 360k floppy drives, so the field sizes are less than generous,
and the Notes field in particular is too small. But it did what it set out to
do, and it did it well. I have not found a satisfactory replacement, though I
really wish there were.
But the *principle* can work with other programs. One could use a generic
spreadsheet or database program to store the same information that RDF keeps
in its .DOC and .DAT files, though searching and sorting would not be as
easy, as the "focus" operation would have to be done by a user defined
function (UDF), which is probably beyond the skills of the average user.
But the filing system suggested by the RDF documentation seems to be one of
the best for the computer age, based on the principle of "letting the
computer do the work".
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