TIP # 41




I live in Indiana as some of the rest of you do. Granted, some fortunate ones reside in those wonderfully warm climates that seldom vary that much with the seasons.

However, for those of us in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and any other area that changes drastically in the winter months; I find that it is the perfect time of year just prior to the holidays to reorganize our files and see what we have.

Much as I hate to admit it, the time of year we spend mostly outside is quickly subsiding and we are again to be pent up for months of cold weather. True, we are not forced to remain inside, but for many of us, it is the preferable option, unless we have to venture out.

I am not much into watching television, and you can really just play so many card/board games for evening or weekend entertainment, so I turn to researching...in wait of a time when I can again walk the cemeteries.

(Gosh, that sounds like something that Vincent Price would say, doesn't it?)


Get that cup of coffee/hot chocolate, settle down with your files, turn off the computer if you can...or at the very least limit it to just your family file system. If I don't do that, I quite often find myself getting WAY off track by searching something and never quite return to the original task.

First of all, look at your files and see if they are in good organizational shape. If they aren't then you might want to start there in getting them ready to be more useful to you. As "Hoosier" as the next statement sounds, it is the only one that I can think of that really describes how I feel about a disorganized file system in your researching.

"You cannot sew on a button, if your needle is "lost in a haystack".

And basically, that is just what your various documents are if they are not organized for easy retrieval.

I am certain that many of you have read the professionals advice on cleaning closets, etc.

"If you haven't worn/used it in the past year, or aren't going to/won't use it in the next year and it has no other value, then get rid of it".

I find that I have other ways that are similar when dealing with my genealogical filing systems. It doesn't necessarily fix all the problems, but does help me put things in a better perspective to avoid just hanging on to junk in a haphazard way.

I think the three following items and it normally assists me in gleaning everything properly.

1. I pretend that I am making an extended move across country and although I CAN take my files with me, it is most beneficial that they be in the most condensed format as possible, while still maintaining all documents/papers of importance.

This helps me to really make those hard decisions about what to keep and what is just junk.

2. I pretend that someone is going to approach me and offer me really good money (talking lottery winnings here) for a piece of my data at their random choice, BUT only if I can find it in a few seconds time.

(This one REALLY helps with the organization.)

3. I attempt to imagine that for whatever reason, either my demise or incapacity; someone else will be stepping in to take over my research.

Morbid as it sounds, it is a really good way to organize your system. You will find yourself organizing it much better so that someone else can readily understand your research, man hours, etc and also just where you are in your research, so that they can forward it through their own research. (Yes, that involves "citing your sources")

Don't know what it is about us genealogists..

We can:

Walk through cemeteries filled with dead people

Get on our knees and scrap a tombstone for a name

Sit in libraries for hours on end looking at page after page

Some of us sitting or climbing into dirty attics/basements or archives searching for records

Deal with obstinate clerks or just plain rude librarians or incompetent societies and be insulted for being "just a bit insane or obsessed"

Live with a certain area of our homes that is filled with papers/boxes/ folders or stacks of papers that we probably wouldn't put up with our children having "laying around"


just say the words, "Cite Your Sources"

and we run screaming like the devil himself is chasing us!!

But seriously, this is truly the time of year to take stock of all the items that we have collected during the warm weather so that we can enter them and put them to good use in our files.

After using the above scenarios, take each file folder/notebook in hand and look at EVERY piece of paper in there. Ask yourself as you view each page, "Am I keeping this because it has a substantial piece of data" or is it second hand and riddled with errors?"

If the item is second hand and riddled with errors that you have been able to prove otherwise, or if you are past that point in your research and are simply keeping it "because it has the ancestor's name on it". If it TRULY is useless, Get Rid of It.

If it IS error filled and you know it, why do you need it? Also, if future persons carry on your research, you don't want them misled by it. At the very least, if you MUST hold on to it, attach a note stating that it is error filled and useless. Researchers unfortunately carry much of their data "in their heads", nobody else will have that advantage with your files later on.

As a final act, when you have been through a folder or notebook section; use a little sticker and put a date on it, so that you later KNOW, you have already sorted through it and all remaining data is useful and pertinent.

I mean, what real difference does it make that "Frederick Johnson" married 4 times and one of those to his cousin. Or that in his later years, he went a bit "nuts" by talking to his animals (and hearing them talk back).. Or that in his 4 marriages there were 18 children born and only 5 of them survived. Or that he migrated to 15 different states prior to returning to Owen County to be buried in a cemetery that doesn't exist anymore. Or that it is suspected that he really killed more people then John Dillinger.


Although I have attempted to add some humor into this tip, it is really important to have your papers in better order than "pile 1 or stack 2".

The form of system that you use really isn't important as long as it works for you and is somehow consistent enough for someone else to find something if needed.