No-one warned me when I embarked on my study of the Heenan surname that I would very quickly be drowning in documents and notes.
When I first started researching my own family line more than 20 years ago I managed to keep all the certificates, photographs and research notes in reasonably good order. The paper copies are all in two large lever arch files, one for the maternal and one for the paternal lines. Each individual has their own pocket within the file.
Initially I had everything ordered by generation but switched after a friend who had taken a family history course, advised me that they should be filed alphabetically within each surname. The files on my computer marry the same organisation.
it’s worked fairy well though I still can’t get my head around her other piece of advice which is to file the record with the male partner (the husband), not the wife. Because I have many individuals with the same name I’ve labelled each pocket with the individual’s dates to make sure I know which Patrick Heenan I’m working on.
This system doesn’t lend itself however to my surname study on the Heenan name worldwide.
The scale makes it far more challenging for one thing. With my own family line I have about 200 individuals recorded. With the Heenan surname research I currently have 2275 individuals in my database. Bear in mind I’ve concentrated mainly on England and Wales so far with just a few family groups in Ireland, New Zealand and USA. In other words I’ve barely touched the surface.
And yet I’m surrounded by chaos.
It’s essentially a digital mess since I don’t keep many paper copies for this study.
Here are some of the issues I’m contending with.
#1 Numerous documents that I’ve downloaded from sites like Ancestry, Find My Past but forgot to change the file name. So now I don’t know to which individual the record refers. Some of those sites have file names that make it impossible to even understand just from the name, whether it’s a birth record or a marriage record.
#2 Documents that I found while researching but didn’t have the time to fully analyse at that moment. So I just added them to a computer folder called ‘to process’. They’ve been in there for months and I still haven’t got around to doing anything with them. I just keep adding to the folder. I also have a “to file” folder – when am I ever going to get around to actually doing the filing I wonder?
#3 Articles and presentations about research in different countries or about specific types of records. They’re all in a folder called “To Read”. Just like the ‘to process’ folder, it’s growing and growing.
# 4 I haven’t been very consistent in the way I’ve recorded the sources in my database. Sometimes the source type might be described as ‘civil registration England and Wales’ but sometimes it might be ‘civil registration, births, England and Wales’ Place names are similarly all over the place. With some sources I used Egremont, Cheshire- Lancashire, England but with others I left off the country name.
What IS working
It’s not all doom and gloom however. I do have some organisation in place.
#1 I have a folder for each country within which there are folders for each of the main kinds of records (census, civil registration, parish for example). In these I store my spreadsheets that I use for analysis.
#2 I have a folder for each family group – with sub folders for each generation in that group where I keep the actual records like registration certificates.
#3 Most significantly I have adopted a file naming protocol. I can thank Janine Adams at Organise Your Family History blogsite for this.
Every file name follows the same format:
Date_Type of Record _ Person’s Name_ Location_ family group number (if allocated)
As an example:
1838_parish marriage_James Heenan_London_Eng_114
The figure 114 refers to the family group.
This means that my computer system will automatically show the files in date order – making it much easier to locate information.
Getting Organised 2020 Goals
I did a post recently about the research goals for the Heenan surname study. Now I’m planning to add some goals focused on getting more organised and bringing order to the chaos.
- always change the file name when I download a document – using the protocol I described above
- always record the source of the file. Another tip from Janine is going to help me do this. I use a Macintosh computer and this gives me the ability to add metadata info to each file. So for example with this newspaper cutting I can record the name of the newspaper and the exact date. It’s visible only when I do a right click on the file and select ‘get info” .The screen capture below shows you how this metadata shows up – its in the comments section.
- go through the ‘to process’ folder, picking one file and adding all the relevant info to the database record. Then file the document.
- apply the same approach to the ‘to file’ folder, using the file naming protocol I mentioned earlier
- I need to print a list of all the ‘places’ used in the database and decide on a consistent format. Then edit every entry in the database to ensure they follow the new format.
- Do the same thing with sources.
That’s my plan. None of it is really much fun and I would much rather be researching than ploughing through files so I’ll do this in bite size pieces. I figure that 30 minutes a day will see me make good progress without feeling completely bored. If you have any tips to share on how to be better organised, do let me know.