Organizing Your Research Using Technology

By Jessica L. Williams, find her on her Facebook page Heritage Keeper

I am what many might term a “Xennial” – that small generation of folks born between 1977-1983 (News.com.au, 2017) and stuck between feeling too young to be old and too old to be young. We were the last generation to play barefoot in the yard with a garden hose with our friends while staying out until the street lamps came on. We were the first generation to know what a “BBS” (Bulletin Board System) was, and that awful sound a computer made when connecting to the World Wide Web via a 1200-bit baud modem. We are now the last generation that was born without knowing what a mp3 player, iPod, iPad, iPhone, or Android device is. It’s downright scary to realize there is a whole generation born since we were kids ourselves that very few know what genealogy is the study of.

When I first started researching my family’s history in the early 1990s, we didn’t have a computer in school much less one at home! We had to do things the old-fashioned way: pen, pencil, and paper (although now as a seasoned researcher, I would highly recommend pencil only!). So, when my 7th grade history teacher assigned a class project of a 4-generation pedigree tree, I had to write it all out by hand. My research needed to be filed away in Manila folders and placed into a filing cabinet. In today’s world, however, we have computers in our pockets. Technology has, in many ways, replaced what my grandmother would have called “the old way”. Gone are most desktop computers plugged into hard-wired land-based telephones. In their places are laptop computers, tablets, and telephones that connect wirelessly and can be taken with us on the go – wherever and whenever we decide to go.

Felix image
Photo credit: Donna St. Felix, Image retrieved from Google Books

How can all this technology help us to work smarter and not harder? If you ask any amateur or professional genealogist, they will have their own way of organizing findings and research. I highly recommend using the ideas of Donna St. Felix in her book titled “How to Organize Genealogy Research” (2014).

In this simple to understand and use publication, Ms. St. Felix discusses tools that are needed, where to begin, and how to organize your findings using your computer. I have found it very helpful in managing new research, leads, and transferring papers I have had stashed away in filing cabinets for 20 years or more. Naturally, as with any personal research, you can tweak it into what works best for your plans and skill set. The basics, however, are simple.

1. Create a base folder for people you have or will be researching.

Step 1

2. Create a subfolder listing names alphabetically.

Step 2

3. Create another subfolder inside the first initial for a person you have researched. In the case here, this is a listing of all the “W” surnames I have researched. The circled name is that of my deceased father and will follow us into step #4.

Step 3

4. Open the folder for the person you have researched. In this folder, you can create additional subfolders for areas of research such as military, death, birth, marriage and others.

Step 4

5. Inside that folder, you can place documents, folders, or research logs to fit the research you have for that person. Here is a letter from the White House to my parents in 1977 and a scanned copy of my father’s G.E.D diploma.

Step 5

There are several different variations you can use to digitally organize research and documentation to best suit your needs. I found Ms. St. Felix’s book easy to follow and was able to expand on some of her ideas. The best part is the knowledge that someday, when my niece and nephew are old enough to become interested or take over my research, it has already been categorized in ways that will be easy for them to understand. After all, do we even see the younger generations without a phone or tablet in their hands anymore?


References

Felix, D. M. (2014). Books. Lexington: Felix, Donna M. St. Retrieved from Google.

News.com.au. (2017, June 27). Retrieved June 16, 2018, from https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/dont-fit-in-with-gen-x-or-gen-y-you-could-be-a-xennial/news-story/e398c3629a403099d4342e4461e34b09

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