Sunday, July 22, 2018

AmericaGen Chapter 7: Organizing Your Research

AmericaGen Study Group
Chapter 7 Homework 
Marceline Beem

Reference: Greenwood, Val D. “Organizing and Evaluating Your Research Findings.” In The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 4th ed., 142-164. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2017.

My research process is a bit different from what the author advocates in this week’s readings. I have never been very good at keeping a research log and filing documents. In fact, I hate filing so much that at every office job I've held, that's the one task that gets put off indefinitely. My hatred of filing doesn't change when it comes to genealogy research. I hate it, period. Mark that as a drudgery task for me. Keeping a research log is almost as tedious as filing, so I spent many years keeping rather poor logs or ignoring them all together.  That changed when I was introduced to the “write as you go” method for research reports. 

My document starts as a research plan, with a specific question and sources to answer that question identified before I start researching. I then type up my notes as I research, providing the citation details (e.g., page numbers) for each piece of information.  The result is that my research plan, log, and notes are in one document. Usually, I will write my analysis and conclusion in the same document, followed by images and transcripts/abstracts of the key documents used to reach my conclusion. I do initially type a transcript in a separate Word document, but by also including it at the end of my research notes, I can easily share my research with others in just one PDF file.

To get my research organized, one of my goals is to convert my family files to digital images, keeping only original records and photographs. I keep all of my digital documents in one folder called “Source Documents.” The files are named in the following pattern: LastName-FirstName_Year_Description. When sorted by name, the files are automatically arranged chronologically by person. Some examples:
  • My great-grandmother, Caroline Price, died in Florida in 1940. The digital image of her death certificate is named “Price-Caroline_1940_Death-Certificate.”
  • Rebecca Horton purchased land in Tennessee in 1832. The digital image of the transaction is named “Horton-Rebecca_1832_Land-Purchase.”

For deeds, I use both the grantor and grantee in the file name.
  • Richard Grantham purchased land from John Smith in Bladen County, North Carolina in 1775. The digital image of the deed is named “Smith-John_Grantham-Richard_1775_Deed-Bladen-p488.”

Transcripts use the same name as the original document, with –Transcript appended to the file name:
  • King-John_1798_Will-Transcript
I try to limit my use of subfolders to two circumstances:
  • Numerous images from one collection, such as the Draper Manuscripts
  • Specific locations where I am related to most of the community.  I use this to store census images and similar documents where more than one family of interest is on the page.
I’m not very consistent at putting census records and such into the second type of folder. Lately, I am more prone to store the digital image in the “Source Documents” main folder, using my direct ancestor’s name in the file name.

Here is a screenshot of my “Source Documents” folder:

You’ll notice that not all of my file names follow what I’ve described here. There are older files that were scanned or downloaded before I finally settled on my naming convention. One of these days, I’ll get around to renaming those files. But this also illustrates my main takeaway from this chapter: there isn’t one right way to organize your research logs and notes. If a particular method uses too many tasks you hate outside of genealogy (for me, filing paper documents and keeping logs), you aren’t likely to use it in genealogy research, either. Use Google and Cyndi’s List to find articles on how to organize your research. Find a method that works for you and incorporate it into your workflow. If you find a method that works for you, you'll be more likely to keep your records organized, easily finding them when you need to review your work or share it with other researchers.

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