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More thoughts on organizing your research


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There are a few more thoughts I wanted to pass along on getting your research organized. I wasn’t sure if they were emphasized enough in the last article on the topic. The main thing is this. For a good while, I was content transcribing (writing down) what I found in my notebook and having my notes as the source. Eventually, that wasn’t good enough for me. I started photocopying anything that was a relevant clue. Marriage record? copied… death certificate – request a copy, (I have quite a collection of those now…. that’s a relatively obscure collectable.)


Having so many copies of census pages, certificates, sections of books made it essential to use file folders to keep them organized. (*Be sure when you make copies to either copy the title page of the book and keep with the other copies, or write on the back the book, published date and page number so the original can be found again.) Of course, you could merely scan pages. These days that would be one way to bypass the paper deluge of copies.

If you do go the scanning route I have a couple suggestions. One, transcribe (or use character recognition) to generate a text file of each page you scan. This will ease searching for information within the document. (To a computer a scanned document is no different than a picture if it hasn’t been parsed through OCR (Optical character recognition) or a human transcriber.) Two, if you’re scanning a source document give it a unique (but not too wordy) name. For census documents I like things along the lines of 1830_buncombe_nc_census_p_137.png (for example). Try to be consistent in your naming so that the files are easier to keep organized. You also might create a “meta information document” about your picture.

For example… take the census page I’ve named above. 1830_buncombe_nc_census_p_137.png, a transcription file could be 1830_buncombe_nc_census_p_137_transcription.txt the “meta info” file could be 1830_buncombe_nc_census_p_137_info.txt and contain information about where I found it, what I found that was useful about it or other information (this might be a place to speculate about what the information means.) For a book page this would be the IDEAL place to put publisher, title, year published and other bibliography type information.

Other people’s transcriptions are nice to work from, but look for the original and obtain a copy of that wherever possible. Who knows, maybe the transcriber needed new glasses? Interpreted things differently than you or I would? Or simply misread. Find the original if at all possible.

Now, truth be told I still have a long ways to go to get all of my copies and printouts sorted well. (I’ve got an unsorted folder (or two) to help keep track… *(unsorted census scans, unsorted printouts, unsorted death certificates). On the back, their labelled, but they haven’t been filed to a particular family name folder. Maybe it would make sense to take a different angle as well, maybe for locale based information (census pages), maybe I should have folders based on location with duplicates of the pages I’ve copied? (Buncombe County census scans 1830 folder for instance?) I can see some advantages to ADDING that to my indexing.

I don’t know that organized is a destination, but organization is a path (journey/odyssey/quest) that I suspect I’ll be on for many years as I continue to pursue this hobby.

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