24    Feb 20080 comments

Organize your research

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While some people may think finding records is the hardest task of a genealogist, my problem is organizing and keeping the projects organized. I am a procrastinator, which translates into piles of papers instead of nice neat labeled file folders.

Here are some tips that I try to follow.

1. Understand how you want to organize your project. There are various methods, and folders can be filed by surname, geographical location, time, generation or branch. Personally, I prefer hanging folders, as these are easier to flip through than manila folders crammed into a drawer or box.

When I used boxes for hanging folders, I used a specific color label for each family and added another to designate the branch. Thus, all TALALAY had a blue label, plus a branch color (yellow, orange, green). All DARDASHTI had an orange label, plus a branch color label. It is easy to see if any files are out of place and to return them to the correct location.

Color coding works with manila folders, hanging files, cardboard boxes, clear plastic containers ... in fact, any storage system. This might not work if the researcher is color-blind!

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When I had more room and could utilize clear plastic stacking containers, I would also label these (on the cover and on the sides). I could look at a stack of the containers and find exactly the one I wanted, by color or name. And, again, if a box went in the wrong stack, the label color made it obvious. I color-coded the tops as well. Why? Think about it - are you sorting many papers, have you spread the boxes out on the floor where only the tops are visible? This makes it easy to see into which box each item paper needs to go.

There are so many materials these days to choose from. If you have space, traditional file cabinets are always useful, but you can use different sizes of stackable clear containers. Label them clearly with one of those label-maker gadgets and you'll always know what's in each one. Some even fit under a bed. Get the boxes in easy-to-handle sizes, so when you must move them, you won't hurt your back! Depending on size, they'll stack under a computer table, in a closet corner, or you can even hang shelves and keep them there. The most important thing is labeling on top and on the sides, so you'll be able to find what you need at a single glance. Color code your labels so you'll know immediately when something is out of place.

For example, I have many TALALAY branches. Taking a cue from many medical offices - which use color-coded filing systems - I may use blue for TALALAY and then a different color for each branch (green, yellow, pink, etc). For the DARDASHTI family, the main color might be orange, and the different branches tagged in other colors. If I see a big patch of blue in a pile of orange, then I know someone (could be me!) has put a TALALAY folder in the wrong place! It's a handy system.

Sorting sessions can be difficult, and the best way is to just do one pile at a time, going through and putting each item in the proper file. Save yourself a lot of repeat work by just placing each in its proper container. I used to sort the piles and then put them in the right place, but that's handling things too much. Once the paper is in its "home" you will be done with it. You will likely have to make additional folders, so make sure you have enough of them, labels (for writing) and rolls of label material for your handy-dandy label maker. You know you've accomplished something when you can see your floor under one pile of papers!

I do have a box in which I throw things I can't file immediately, but I try not to let it get out of hand. When that is full, I have to sit down and file them, otherwise I'll be back to carpeting the floor with paper piles again!

The main problem is keeping up with whatever system you have selected. Don't let it get out of hand again.

As a journalist, I am used to keeping notebooks, and I have several types for different purposes. If I am at a conference and want to take notes on different programs, I'll fill three or four books for that event. If I'm interviewing one member of the family, I'll keep it separate and not include information on another family member.

An important tip is never to write notes on small pieces of paper (unless there's no choice, like the notes I've written on restaurant napkins!) or to write notes about different things on one sheet of paper. The small pieces get lost, so when you get home, tape them to a standard sheet of paper and file in the right place. If you must make notes about different subjects on one sheet of paper, then make as many copies of the paper as there are subjects and place one copy in each relevant file. Today's fax machines are also great at copying and scanning and help make work go quickly.

Also make sure you have archival materials for photographs or historic printed materials.

There are many resources, online and in books, to help with choosing the right system for your project, what sorts of folders, containers, labels, etc. However, once you've purchased the necessary supplies, you must use them. They won't do any good if you leave them empty, surrounded by piles of paper on the floor.

Here is an article with more tips:

Organizing Filing Systems

I look forward to reading your comments.

24    Feb 20085 comments

Writing on the Wall is a good thing!

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There are many ways to let people know you are searching for a specific family: Submit information to specialized ethnic or geographic genealogy sites, join discussion groups or send letters to everyone you find with your name.

The Southern California Genealogical Society (Burbank, California) has a good idea.

The SCGS has just launched a free Virtual Surname Wall that anyone can inscribe with their unique names and origins.

It's simple (and free) to write your names on the Wall, and more than 1,000 people from around the world have already joined in. To see if any of your surnames of interest are listed, click on the link "Search the Virtual Surname Wall," at the SCGS homepage.

Once you're there, search by surname, location, Submitter ID or any combination of these parameters.

Features: The site is a "begins with" search, which means that if you search for the last name TAL, you'll also get TALALAY, TALL, TALMADGE, etc.. There are also good search tips.

To enter your names, click on the link "Add Your Surnames." For each name submit the following information:

1. Surnames including spelling variations
2. Geographic area where they lived or the migration path, indicated like this example, Paris -> New York. SCGS asks that geographic information be listed in this order: city, county, state and country. Abbreviations such as two-letter codes for US states should NOT be used to avoid confusion.
3. For time frame, DO use abbreviations (such as approx., abt., or ca.) to indicate approximate timelines.

Visitors may submit as many names as they desire. Each entry screen accepts up to 10 names, but visitors can enter multiple screens. If a message appears saying "the survey has already been completed," just click "take the survey again" and continue adding names.

The Wall is not limited to just California; researchers from around the world are encouraged to submit their names of interest.

I am also impressed by the privacy options offered. Submitters' contact details are not displayed online, and submitters have the options to allow the SCGS to release only an email contact, or full details, or to have SCGS serve as the intermediary in the event they receive an inquiry regarding a possible connection. This is a reassuring way to deal with differing comfort levels.

Participation is voluntary and free and the society asks submitters to let their colleagues, friends and family know that they can also write on the Wall.

As entries are added to the database, the Virtual Surname Wall will become a more valuable resource. And with the publicity this innovation is garnering, check back often to see if you find a match.

Some statistics prove it is catching on: On Friday, January 18, there were some 1,500 visitors and about 5,000 page loads. However, as the genealogy world learned about the Wall - thanks to the genealogy bloggers, the following Monday saw nearly 6,000 visitors and almost 21,000 page loads.

There's also a handy widget that shows where visitors live. Go to the site, scroll to the bottom right hand corner for a world map showing red dots, which represent visitors to the site since January 9; click for a larger version.

Readers in California and neighboring states might be interested in the SCGS Jamboree, set for June 27-29. This excellent regional conference grows every year; some 30 experts will speak this year. Last year, about 1,200 researchers attended; more are anticipated this year. To learn more, go to the SCGS homepage; click on the Jamboree link to learn more about the program, the speakers and for registration details. SCGS has also launched a Jamboree conference blog; for more information.

Good luck in your quest. I look forward to reading your questions and comments.

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