Thursday, 1 December 2011

Putting my House in Order

One of the first rules I made when I started Branches Leaves & Pollen was:
Put your own house in order before you try to help someone else with theirs.
Meaning that before I could help other people with their genealogical puzzles, I had to get my own house in order, I had to verify and publish my own research in such a way that showed the integrity of the information.

And when I started to do this, I realised my "working" tree was a mess - I had over 18,000 names in the tree, and very little of my research was referenced even if I "knew" where I had found the information. Of course, with that many names, there were bound to be mistakes and leaps of faith.

After researching for almost 15 years, alongside my Mum, between us we had literally piles of information. Some of it was in notebooks, various paper filing systems, on the computer, on external hard drives, on usb sticks, and even all over TWO of my computer desktops, as well as online trees at Ancestry and GenesReunited, and in Family Tree Maker (both of us had different versions installed on different computers in different houses and had only merged the GEDCOMs very occasionally).
    One of my genealogy piles pre folders!
    (But I think I can see a Tupperware receipt in there too)!
    The first thing I did was to devise a paper filing system that would work for me. Everything I had tried before had failed, so I turned to my trusty friend Google and started researching. In the end I created a hybrid system from all sorts of ideas I found in genealogical books, and online on blogs, organisation websites, and genealogical websites. I just tried to find the website I found the most helpful... and I can't! A perfect example of why bookmarking websites you like or have information you need is a vital part of organising your genealogical research! (If someone recognises my system, please let me know so I can give the right person credit.)

    In the meantime, I have found an e-book that looks great! Another blogger, Sassy Jane Genealogy, is an archivist, and she has an e-book available called Organizing Your Genealogical Research Using Archival Principles. I've just ordered it, so I will let you know how useful I find it.

    My own paper filing system works like this:
    1. I have a lever arch file (as well as a computer folder and an archive box) for each of the surnames of my parents and my boyfriend's parents, and I have allocated each surname a colour so it is easy for me to identify. So in my case that means Houston (Blue), Riebe (Yellow), Lehmann (Green), and Taker (Red).
    2. I then bought pocket dividers with 10 tabs, coloured sheet protectors to match my folders, and a selection of labels (I use Avery's 8mm multi coloured dots, 24mm circles, and 24x49mm white rectangles).
    3. Each folder starts with a five generation pedigree chart inserted into the first pocket divider with the label (Surname)0001 (for example, my Houston folder starts with a pedigree chart with my father as the first person, and the label H0001 in the tab of the divider).
    4. Each person (even if you don't know who they are yet) on this pedigree chart gets a number, starting at 01 for the first person, and ending with 15 for their great-grandmother. Each person in the fifth generation begins a new divider (i.e. H0002 starts with the first great-great-grandfather on H0001). So, effectively, each person gets an individual reference number made up of two components, the first is the chart number (e.g. H0001) and the second is their position on the chart (e.g. 03), so my father's mother is H0001-03. My father's great-great-grandfather is H0002-01.
    5. I then print out a family group sheet for every couple on the chart (H0001-01, H0001-02+03, H0001-04+05 etc.) and put them in sheet protectors behind the divider.
    6. Then I put in photocopies or print outs of each piece of evidence I have for those people in chronological order (e.g. behind H0001-01 I have copies of my father's birth certificate and marriage certificate). I use a small rectangle label on the top right hand corner of each sheet protector to label what the evidence is (birth, census, electoral roll, etc.) and whom it is for (H0001-01). That way I can see at glance what it is without having to read the document (very helpful when you start looking at images of old parish registers), and I can put it away easily if I take it out of the folder.
    My surname folders within easy reach of my desk and computer.
    Now, I find this an easy way to store and see the evidence I have for my direct ancestors. But there are limitations. What do I do with siblings? They can go in behind each family group sheet as well, but they don't have a reference number, making it hard to keep track of their evidence.

    Also, originals, especially old originals (the earliest birth certificate I have is from 1894), need to be stored separately in archival quality conditions. They should NEVER be stored in a "working" folder that is handled frequently.

    Much to my surprise, I filled the Houston folder to overflowing on the first day of reorganising, and have now started another folder (I simply called it Houston 2 and continued the numbering). The benefit of using the lever arch files and dividers is that they are instantly and easily expandable. My last divider is H3699 (I do have dividers "missing" in between), which contains information about a marriage in 1684.

    Once I had done this, it was time to fill in the gaps! Not necessarily actual gaps in the tree, I had very few of those, but I had a lot of evidence "missing" - some of it was available and already paid for on Ancestry or Scotland's People, some of it was saved somewhere electronically, and some of it I needed to order! And I decided to sensibly start with the evidence closest to me, ordering my grandparents' marriage certificate from 1955, and working backwards from there.