09 April 2013

Filing, seventeenth-century style + Why understanding how records were filed is IMPORTANT to genealogists and family historians

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Nowadays when one discusses filing, it’s more associated with the state of the files on our computer and maybe the files in a filing cabinet (if you still use one).

This recent post on The Collation (via Folger Shakespeare Library) titled Filing, seventeenth-century style caught my eye because it talks about the organization of good old paper files!

Not that I have any plans to do any Shakespearean research and how the records that interest us were filed is actually very important to our research.

For example, if you don’t understand how and why Federal Records were created, good luck with deciphering how to figure out where and how they are stored (a day at NARA will be eye-opening). Sometimes you have to use one resource to get to the next one to then eventually get to the original documents.  Besides your research notes, do bring your patience with you.

Because of why and how records were created and then often "after-the-fact" indexes that were added, a knowledge of what records were created, how they are organized (which often changed through time), how they are indexed and the finding aids needed to successfully access these needed records is critical to having success in your research.

The same goes with local records.  For example, the North Carolina archives created some artificial collections as it processed the massive amounts of materials it historically received from 100 counties.  As I often say, 100 counties, 100 fiefdoms.  They each did things a little differently, from how they indexed deeds (format and content – are bills of sale, mortgages, deeds of trust included or not) to what clerks recorded in court minutes, etc. And, just because records were recorded and indexed in a certain fashion at one point in time, doesn’t mean that the same is true now.  Just look at NC death certificates.  It’s an art to learn how to actually find a death certificate.  Depending on time period, different indexing methods were used as were different means of organizing the death certificates.

We haven’t even talked about local cities and communities, institutions, and more.

When accessing a new-to-you type of record, do try and learn a bit about its history and its organization.  This will probably save you some headaches and also allow you to more fruitfully research the records for your ancestors.

Have you come across a set of records that you found particularly challenging to use do to either how they are indexed (or not), arranged (or not), etc?

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