Getting Organized Without Frustration

You’ve decided to search your family history.  But getting started requires taking notes and keeping them organized.  Nothing is worse than knowing you wrote down the information but can’t remember where you put it.

When I started I just filled legal pads with stuff.  Everything was scattered and I couldn’t find anything.  When I tried to put the tree together it was too frustrating. So I started over with a plan.

First you need to start with yourself.  Write down your name at the top of the paper. On a second page write your parents’ names and everything you remember about their birth, marriage, children, siblings, names of towns, countries, and deaths.  On the third page write everything you remember about your grandparents and everything you remember about their birth, marriage, children, siblings and death. Continue to add pages for all the generations that you remember.

Make sure you use a pencil with a good eraser, what you remember may not be accurate.  Your memory is colored by the good intentions of your relatives.  They will not have told you the bad things.  But you will have heard about how tough they had it compared to you.  I’ve heard the story of walking two miles to school in 2 feet of snow and eating lard sandwiches for lunch everyday.  My father told that story until I fact checked with my grandmother and discovered that the school was less that a block away and he came home for lunch everyday.

Now how do you make the data you’ve acquired easy to access?  When I started I did not have a lot of money and computers were only available to scientists.  My solution was to buy an address book/binder.  It was designed for keeping addresses, had alphabetical dividers and you could add more pages as needed.

Each page was for one person or family and was filed alphabetically by last name.  This way I could find the person I was researching and add or correct information with ease.  When I outgrew that, I moved on to a regular 3 ring notebook binder. I attached that pages from the address book to notebook paper and continued to add data.  I added pocket pages to hold census records, wills, birth and marriage certificates and other documentation.

Soon I had separate notebooks for my mother’s and father’s family.  On the front cover I taped a family tree showing who was in that notebook.  Later I added a list to the spine of the notebook that gave the surnames of those included in the notebook.  By the time computers became part of our personal lives in the 1990’s, I had sixteen notebooks full.  And a glance at the spine would give me access to the family I needed to access.

Somewhere between 4 and 8 notebooks I discovered that I was duplicating research.  It is frustrating to travel several hours to a historical library and when you get home a start to file the info, realize you already had that info.  To the new researcher that doesn’t sound right.  But if you think about it (2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 great great grandparents, 32 great great great grandparents and keep doubling that number with each generation) it’s easy to forget what you have.

I created a cover page for each person, it listed birth, marriage, death, children, wills, census and lots of blank spaces.  I would then make a notation of what documentation I had already found, where I found it and when I found it.  Now when I do research I take that sheet with me and at a glance I can tell what I have and what I need.

Then came computers!  But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to write it down.  I still have my notebooks and I still use them.

Barbara Capoferri

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