09 July 2013

The Organized Genealogist -- How Do You Become One? Some "New" Resources & Tips to Help You

by guest blogger Susan Petersen, The Organized Genealogist

The Organized Genealogist began as a blog in early May of this year. Over the years, I've written blogs on a variety of topics and organizing genealogy research appealed to me. I thought I had a few tips I might be able to share. Next came a Facebook presence to support the blog. I initially invited a few of my genealogy friends and posted the link to the group on my Facebook timeline. Others began spreading the word and less than two months later, more than 2,300 people have joined the group. Then I created theorganizedgenealogist.net web site to serve as a resource for the Facebook group.

The web site is in its infancy. My goal is to cull through the posts contributed by members and create a web site full of resources for people who need help organizing their genealogy. It will include links to web sites to purchase archive supplies, web sites, templates and more. Members have already been generous in sharing files, templates, organizing ideas in the Facebook group.

Personally, my motto has been "I don't do paper." As long as I can remember, I've not managed paper well. Although once I tackle a project, I'm great at filing and organizing and even enjoy it.  I'm much more comfortable in a digital world - scanning documents and resources, making sure they are searchable so that I can find them on my computer. 

Since starting the Facebook group, I've learned that there are many genealogists who have been doing research for a very long time, have collected a lot of documents, photographs, books, resources from conferences - you name it. And that stuff wound up in a pile. And the pile became larger. And then it became multiple piles - until it reached the point that it became so overwhelming that it was impossible to even get started organizing it. Some of us even joke that there could be a TV show called Genealogy Hoarders.

An amazing side effect of the Facebook group is that it has turned into a cathartic, therapeutic and healing environment for those who have been unsuccessful in managing their genealogy paperwork for decades. Many of the members truly are transforming from being genealogy hoarders to having organized systems and work areas. We are supportive of one another and we know we are in a safe place where we can ask for help.

The ideas are abundant. Some of the simplest suggestions have been transformational. A member may post a photo of an inexpensive product they are using to organize some aspect of their genealogy and by the end of the day, a dozen other people have done the same.

Everyone seems to accept the idea that everything does not have to be accomplished in one sitting. It's perfectly acceptable to organize one set of family records, create one binder, scan a few photos. I particularly like the 15-minute approach. Set a timer for 15 minutes, organize something and when the 15 minutes are up, you can do something else. It's amazing what can be accomplished in small pockets of time. The key to organization is to start.

But how do I start, you may ask?

Here are the basic elements of being an organized genealogist.
·        Create a systematic filing system that is easy to understand and manage. The most common paper systems used are file folders, notebooks and binders, or a combination of all. Most systems are based on a surname structure, with family records filed together. Once a child marries, a new file is created for that family group - and so on for each generation. One of the popular color coding systems uses blue for ancestors of your father's father, green for ancestor's of your father's mother, red for ancestors of your mother's father and yellow for ancestor's of your mother's mother. Some computer programs allow you to color code your ancestor lines. Some researchers organize their research based on types of documents - marriage records, birth certificates, death records, etc.
·        Keep a research log or journal. Keep a list of books, reference materials, census records and web sites where you have looked for information. Include the date you reviewed the source and what you found - as well as what wasn't there. This way you won't be looking at the same book many times. However, check web sites every six months since more digitized records are coming online all the time.
·        Cite sources as you go. For every piece of research you gather, note the source, where you found it, and the library call number if applicable. Citing sources is essential to proving your research findings.
·        Use a genealogy software program. The days of maintaining a paper-only database are long gone. There are many free and paid genealogy software programs available for entering your information. You can print charts, tables, reports and books from these programs. This makes sharing very easy.
·        File, don't pile. Once you have collected documents or research notes, transcribe and file them immediately. Enter pertinent information in your genealogy software program. Process a document only once.
·        Digitize and discard unnecessary papers. Limit paper files to original documents and photographs.
·        Use acid free archival materials for storage of original documents, photographs and newspapers

For additional information:
The Organized Genealogist Facebook group:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/organizedgenealogist/
The Family Curator web site by Denise Levenick: http://www.thefamilycurator.com/
Evidence Explained - a guide for citing sources by Elizabeth Shown Mills: https://www.evidenceexplained.com/

Copyright 2013 Susan Petersen

Short bio: Susan Petersen is a genealogist, writer and journalist who began researching her family history more than 30 years ago. Her LongLostRelatives.net blog began as a tool to connect with others researching the same families. She also provides tips for genealogists, success stories and anecdotes about some of her colorful ancestors.

Editor’s Note: I have been so impressed just not with the growth of this effort and with the friendliness exhibited towards all.  One of the few places where there are NO “stupid questions” and everyone is so very supportive of one another’s successes while also helping all as they sometimes stumble and get frustrated!  Never mind the really neat, and often simple, ideas that can just completely change how you look at and handle your filing! 

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  1. Thank you for sharing information about The Organized Genealogist. I appreciate the invitation to write for your blog.

  2. NGS so appreciates you writing for the blog and sharing the great stuff happening on the various The Organized Genealogist fronts! You've obviously hit on a "key" need in our community and I love how you keep it "focused" with your periodic reminders about what its all about!

  3. Many thanks to Susan Peterson for creating the FB page for TOG. I have felt the inclusive-ness of the group and have scanned more photos this year than I have scanned total prior to joining the group. I like seeing the before and after photos of work spaces and hearing other methods of and tools for organizing the work area.