September 29, 2012

Binding my family

I've been thinking lately of how amazing it is to have been able to discover so much about my family tree almost entirely-- either directly or indirectly-- from the internet. With a few clicks, one can access vital, census, and military records (often with images of the actual records), as well as city directories, online books, and newspaper articles while sitting in your bedroom in pjs.

Though technology is wonderful, and enables people in 2012 to access from home what they would had to have traveled to find just twenty years ago, it's not without its pitfalls and drawbacks: what would happen if my computer irreparably crashed or if the internet were no longer available? What if something happened to me-- would my research be accessible to my family members and their descendants?

I decided that my research should not simply be stored on a computer hard drive or on a website-- there needs to be a "paper trail."

With this in mind, I created a system for organizing/archiving my genealogical research and records using ring binders, clear sheet sleeves, and dividers with label tabs. This project also requires a printer and quite a large amount of printer ink, and the latter can be a bit expensive. All of these things are available at Staples or Office Depot.

I organized my records by surname, starting with my parents' and then grandmothers', then great-grandmothers', and so on. I stopped at 4th great-grandmothers' surnames, so basically I have binders with records and information for the surnames from my own to 4th great-grandmothers'.

I started with my own (my father's), and then my mother's maiden name, which filled up one binder. I start with the most recent person with that surname, and work my way back. For my mother's name, "Howes", I started with her, and then behind her went her father, and then his father, and then his father, and then his father (women are listed under their maiden names).

My parents' surnames went into one binder, my grandmother's maiden names filled the second, the third was for my great-grandmothers' names, the the next two were for great-great grandparents, etc.

For each person, I print out a individual date sheet from Family Tree Maker (the family tree program I use), and then behind that goes whatever records I have on him or her-- birth, marriage, census, residence, death-- as well as newspaper articles/clippings and photos. The records go into pvc-free sleeves to keep them from damage.

To save paper, ink, and repetition, marriage records are listed under the groom's name only, and census records are listed under the head of the household. So to find a particular person in the census when they were a child, you'd have to look under their father (or mother if she is the head). You'd find census record for a married woman under her husband's name.

Each different surname goes behind a labeled divider.

When printing out all of these records, I found that the biggest expense by far was ink. I also found that many record images you download online are surrounded by a black background; to save ink, and thereby money, crop off as much of the black background as possible before printing. This can be done easily in a photo editing program such as Photoshop.

Professionally-printed photo books could be made alternatively to the binders, but I like the binders because you can add records and move things around easily-- not to mention preserve any original documents.

I'm sure there are as many ways of organizing family history records as there are genealogists, but this was a system I found to work well. The important thing is to not leave your research just on your computer, but to have paper records in case of computer malfunction, changing technology, world apocalypse, et cetera.

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