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Rated: E · Article · Genealogy · #1576534
How to organize research and presentation of family data
Once you’ve decided to research your family tree, you’ll find that at times it’s really rewarding and exciting. At other times, it will bore you to tears and may make you think about dropping it all together. You’ll have to visit a few places with no results, and you’ll do a lot of reading which will either be fruitless or make you think that everything you’ve done for six months was barking up the wrong tree, pardon a little genealogical pun.

Sometimes it is frustrating. You have to spend days surfing the web with no results and just when you’re ready to give up, bingo! A lot of information will show up, getting your adrenaline going again. It is tedious most of the time. And you can waste a lot of effort. One professional genealogist with LDS (Latter Day Saints) said that for twenty years she pursued a family before she discovered they were the wrong people. She had to discard all their data and stories. She felt like she had not only lost time and effort, but she lost family and friends.

Trips to courthouses and cemeteries and libraries can be fruitless. You have to prepare yourself for things not to work out before you start out on a day trip or a vacation to do research. Find a way to enjoy the time even if you don’t learn anything. Of course, visiting relatives you’ve never met or haven’t seen in decades can be fun.

The first thing you need to do is get organized. I suggest a loose leaf notebook, one for each grandparent you’re researching. You’ll need to be flexible about the space you allot each person. Two months or two years after you think you have everything you can get on your great-great grandmother’s family, you’ll find some great story that’s worth keeping and will have resources to back it up. So plan on expanding your files continuously.

Have a notebook or two handy in your travels or at your PC and just record what you find. Keep your families separate, but if you find info on more than one, write the family name at the top of the page to make sure you don’t get them mixed up, when you’re transferring notes into a permanent file or a computerized file. Keep your paper notes after you're done transferring the data, even if they're sloppy, maybe in a plastic tray or box with a lid. Keep the notes you’ve already transferred separate from notes you haven’t processed yet. By keeping your jotted notes, you'll have a back-up and the source name on it as a back-up.

Decide how you want your information set up. Do you want to do each family name as a separate tree? (Every female marrying into your family name presents a new family tree to trace.) You won’t be able to do all your ancestors on a single sheet of paper. However, computer software is available that will allow you to keep adding on parents and siblings endlessly. You’ll only be able to print small branches at a time. I tried to keep the relationship to my grandparents on each new person I found, such as Granny's 8 great grandma or 12th, etc. Because names are so similar, after a while you start to get confused. And if you decide to record all their siblings, you’ll really get confused, so a reference to another person helps, such as Granny or Lucille McGillacuddy, if Lucille is someone solid in your tree that you can use as a focal point. When I would come back to one family group a week or a month later, i couldn't remember the relationship to my tree, and would begin to wonder why I was tracing this family. I would think that I'd gotten off track and was tracing family not on my tree. So labeling them in relation to Granny helped.

Decide early on if you want to record every conceivable name related to anyone in your tree. You’ll end up with thousands of names that will keep you busy forever. If you like doing this work, by all means do it. Post your results when you are confident on the web so that other people can benefit from your research. You will become a resource for others who want to piggyback what you have found. Don’t get high and mighty about what you post. Some people do excellent jobs of research, post it for the public, and then get snippy when someone uses it. I’ve seen people write that they weren’t given credit for the research; some complained because no one got permission to use it, even though they’ve put it in cyberspace for all the world to see. They forget that anyone who can afford to travel or read other languages could as easily do the research themselves. Whether you set up your own web page or write a book, or use the available software programs, the idea is to share information, not be stingy, protective and hoity-toity about it.

Which brings us to crediting the source of information. You could put your facts on index cards and the source on the back. However you keep your data straight, do keep a record of where you got your facts or stories. If it was from a family Bible, record whose Bible it was. Or if it’s from a tombstone or grave marker, write it down. If the cemetery is on private property, be sure to write that down, so that others looking at your data won't go to see for themselves without the owner's permission.

If you get data from the courthouse, definitely record the document, page number, file number, etc, so that if it doesn’t match what someone else has, they can verify it for themselves. Where you get the info sometimes adds interest to the story, like a probate record or a land deed. Probate records sometimes include specific furniture, or the names of slaves; while land deeds will have neighbor names, too, who might turn up as in-laws in the next generation.

If you get something from a book, definitely, record the page number, publishing date, etc. LDS records are given a file number. If you got the spelling off a marriage license, but the name is spelled differently everywhere else, make a note of it. Go back far enough and someone in your tree will be in several other trees, all with different dates, or different spouses. You need to know the source of your data to determine if someone has made an error, or a typo, or a generation is missing.

If you supplement your data with official documents, like a captain’s log, or a general’s log from the Civil War, be sure you name the document and give a date for it. When you’re ready for a presentation, a report, or Web page, or a book, include general information at the front, like maps, or clan info, or history lessons, but be careful of plagiarizing. You still want to follow all the rules.

I chose not to record every single relation to anyone in my tree. I opted at first for direct ancestors only. But I discovered that recording siblings helps to make sure you have the right person. In German and Swiss families, names were repetitive, more so than America, so record all the children of your grandparents, even if you don’t make separate pages for each entry. In most cases I did not choose to record the children’s spouses or their children. But I must warn you that you may miss some important people that way. By not recording those, I missed Russell Stover, the candy maker, Dwight D Eisenhower, and Meriwether Lewis.

You don’t have to make pedigree charts; many people don’t. In my paper collection,I devoted one page to each person and tried to use the same format for each one. But I still needed flow charts or lists to help me keep straight the names and generations. For each one, you will need a line for the birth date and place (you might end up with several variations the longer you research), one for the death date and place, one for the burial, a line for mother, a line for father (you might want to include birth year with father's name, since so many men will have the same name), one line for spouse # 1 and marriage date. List all children by that wife. This might be data that gets changed later on when you discover spouse #2 and #3, or you may need to add lines for their children. If you know the occupation, record that on a line by itself. Record all other data, like: christening date, date appointed mayor, army regiment, immigration date and ship name if available, where buried, any other data, one line for each fact, more if it’s a story.

Here’s a novel idea I tried: I listed my grandmother’s parents in the first column. In each succeeding column, I listed the parents of the ones in the previous columns. You can’t line them up after a few columns. After about six generations, one family name fell off the chart, but the wife’s family kept going. Each generation added a new wife, and sometimes I would have five or six or twelve generations of that particular family. Sometimes I didn’t have any last name for the wife, so she stood alone. So no one family name went all the way from beginning to end. But I still came up with about twenty generations.

You will have that same experience of families dropping in or falling out of your tree. Only a lucky few are able to trace one name through all the fathers back a long time. It requires that every generation have at least one male heir to carry on the name.

A word about privacy: I don't believe there is any danger in listing current generations in the family tee, even on line. But your cousins may not like that.Keep that info in your private files or just between family members. On the Web, refrain from printing info on anyone under 21 for sure, Over 21 you shoud get permission before placing on Web; most won't mind, since it doesn't include addresses or phone numbers. Or you could just be safe and not include anyone still alive in Cyberspace. Some software will allow you to type it all in for your personal use and family members with passwords, but for other readers, mark it private, with no info except gender. That doesn't make sense for people who've been dead for generations. I've seen some trees marked private on individuals or whole branches in the 1700's or before; yet that info is readily available on other people's trees.

There is no right or wrong way to record your info. However you decide to do yours, don’t be discouraged because you get confused or you can’t keep it straight, Everyone thinks differently, so use trial and error to work out your format. Change you method as you go along to suit your personality and research habits. Good luck as you pursue your own roots.
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