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The Struggle with Information Overload


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I think when I started researching online I must have gone through 500 pages of paper a month printing out leads from forums, printing out copies of census records, etc. etc. etc. It was quickly overwhelming and I think I still have portions of an unsorted stack of “leads” that are possibly related to one branch or another of my or my wife’s family. So, how do you deal with the avalanche of information that our day and time presents? And how do you manage to find something again? I’ve known some that scan information and then throw it out, I’ve never been that … willing to go without a hard copy backup, so here are some ideas that I’ve used to tame most of the data..


First off, buy a batch of manilla file folders. For printouts I organize by last name. In fact, I have a plastic “milk crate” that the current collection is in. (I really need a second crate.) Extra filing cabinet space will do as well though. Some will want to organize the last names alphabetically, others might like to organize it by branch of the family. I’ve done the later up until now, but I’m beginning to think the alphabetical approach makes more sense. When I’m away from my research for a while I have a hard time remembering where in the tree my 2nd great grandmothers family fit in, so I’d suggest going alphabetical.

OK. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your printed data won’t be either. Take it in small doses. You could try spending a few minutes a day sorting census records and other printouts into the appropriate family folders and then leave the main stack unsorted and tuck it out of the way and return tomorrow to make a bit more progress. That’s essentially the approach I took and partly why there’s still some work to be done.

What about data on the computer though? On the computer make a folder in your documents area called Genealogy or Family History. You may already have done so, the next thing I’ve done is create a folder for each family name. If you have two different unrelated occurances of a family name, you might combine them in the same folder or specify by the first name of the most recent ancestor. (Maybe a folder called Parker, John and another called Parker, Nancy) I think I would tend to just use one folder and then perhaps divide that up into two different folders.

As with the real folders sort data a bit at a time until the digital beast is tamed. To help keep things from getting out of control in the future, new data can be put directly into either the physical folders or the computer folders.

You might also make use of PDF printing to avoid having too many papers to file. When you run across a forum thread with a good lead you might print to a PDF file instead of paper and file that away in your neat directory structure. (There is free pdf printer software available for most any operating system now.)

To tie into a previous theme. This is the time to think about backing up your data. Having things sorted into file folders on the PC makes it that much easier to just burn a copy of your Genealogy folder onto a Data CD or Data DVD. Once things are sorted (or at least everything is corralled into your genealogy folder for sorting) go ahead and burn a backup disk for “our old buddy Justin….Justin Case”

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