06 March 2014

Post It Notes as a Great Research Tool for Genealogists, guest post by Shannon Combs-Bennett, NGGN

"Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net".

There are many different techniques employed by genealogists to help put their research in order, particularly when they are trying to solve complicated problems or are preparing a project.  Notebooks of paper, computer spreadsheets, and word processing software are all popular tools used.  One of my favorite items to use, however, are sticky notes. 

I don’t know how I would live without my sticky notes; they are part of my office supply addiction.  Some of my larger genealogy conundrums were solved using these colorful sticky pieces of paper.  Oh, and if you are a real techie, there are programs out there that do the same thing as these little scraps of paper, but on your computer!  While many people love them, I have to say I prefer feeling the texture of the paper and the physical act of rearranging the pieces of my puzzle.

For those of you who have never thought about using sticky notes in your research, below I have suggested a few ways they could help you.   Hopefully you will learn a new trick or technique to help you with a future problem.

My sticky notes get a real workout creating timelines.   When I have a serious problem, such as determining a personal or family timeline, I turn my kitchen table into a large blank work area.  On each note I place a fact with the date it occurred.  Then I lay them in order on my table (or sometimes my wall or white board if my table is already being used) to create a visual of what occurred in that person’s life.  It gives me a great all-at-once visual of what happened when and how long between events.

If you use different colors you can compare multiple timelines to each other.  This is great when you are looking at more than one person, multiple family groups, or trying to determine which John Smith is your John Smith.  When you are done take a file folder and place the notes in order on the inside of it.  They are now organized, safe, and ready to type up or put back out on the table later when you need to reexamine your problem.

[Editor’s Note – you might also take a picture with a smart phone or camera to make sure the order is preserved]   

Complex Families
The more complex the family dynamic, the more I use sticky notes.  Multiple spouses, dozens of children, or siblings marrying siblings are some of the instances when I break out the sticky notes.  Even though I could easily print out various forms from my software, I find it easier to make corrections with my note method instead of trying to correct already typed information on my computer.  Plus cutting and pasting here is just picking up the note and moving it to a new location.

Using a file folder, white board, or my kitchen table again, I use small sticky notes to start my tree.  On each note I write name, birth, death, and I create a symbol for the person.  Symbols (like colored squares, stars, or circles) allow me to trace lines forward and back as I move the notes around into the correct orders.  Different colored notes for blood relations and those that marry into the family also help distinguish between the lines.

I particularly like to use this method when I have a line that crosses multiple times.  I can see the double cousins, the shared grandparents, and how other family lines are associated with the main trunk of the tree I am looking at.  It can bring clarity to a muddy picture if you are struggling with how various people all fit together.

Brainstorming and Identification
Do you ever get a wild thought and just start jotting down notes on scrap pieces of paper?  Those ideas that just come to you from nowhere and then bug the heck out of you until you have to do something about it?  Usually I jot them down on my phone or the notebook I carry in my bag, or more often than not, on a napkin from the local coffee shop. But when I am at home guess what I do.  Yep, sometimes I brainstorm entire thought processes with my sticky notes.

They are a great way to organize your thoughts when you write. Remember the idea web from school? Simply put the different subjects on the notes and then rearrange as needed to the order you want.  It’s similar to the notecard method for research paper writing your middle school teachers may have taught you.  Except these are cool colors and you can see everything at one time!

Lastly, small sticky tabs are great for marking pages in books or files.  Use a color code system to flag information that you need to find quickly during your research.  Or hang the tabs out of the book a little more and write a surname or bit of information on it so you know at a glance where to find the information you need.  I go so far as to tab books I use frequently with re-positionable divider tabs so I can turn to the information I need quickly without thumbing through the entire book.

I hope these ideas have created a spark of inspiration in you.  For me, I am off to work on another writing project as my kitchen table is finally clean again!

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