Getting Organised

Want to have a go at researching your family history yourself? It can be a wonderful adventure but as for all journeys of discovery, you need to make sure you start on the right foot.

All too often, clients come to us with a box full of ‘family history’ – un-named photographs, scribbled notes and computer print-outs and sometimes even certificates for the wrong people, ordered in error and kept alongside the correct documents. Avoid wasting time, money and energy by following these 6 simple tips:

  1. Gather and sort what you already have. If you have a box of photos pull out all the ones that you can definitely identify. In a photo album or file of plastic wallets, and using photo corners (rather than glue), stick them onto a page and label them clearly with names, relationships, places and any dates that you know. Leave any unidentified photos and documents to one side for now; they may be jigsawed into place later on. My History does some decently priced acid-free products which are great for storing original documents.
  2. Create yourself a research sheet, or download a copy of the one we use at Family Detective from here: Research Sheets. Use one page for every generation of your family starting with yourself and working backwards. Be meticulous about writing down all the information you find on each census record and each certificate. Sometimes, finding the link to the next generation is all in the detail (see Brickwalls, Deadends and Haystacks Part I). Use pencil for unconfirmed leads or approximate dates, then ink them in when you are sure.
  3. Keep a note of where you found all your information such as, ‘Birth Indexes on Ancestry.co.uk’, ‘Ellen Jones’s diary’ or a website address. That way you won’t have to search all over again if you need to check a source.
  4. Be consistent. Always use maiden names for women and the same format for dates ie. 16 Jun 2014. Avoid recording people as ‘Grandma Smith’ or ‘Uncle John’ as this only relates to you and makes it confusing for other people.
  5. Consider creating a simple family tree chart to help you visualise the generations. Fill in the names as you trace another generation back. Again, My History have some pre-printed ones available here:  Blank charts.
  6. Finally, if you reach a sticking point, separate out all notes and certificates relating to potential leads. Put a note on your research sheet saying ‘Not yet connected’ or ‘Possibility Only’ until you are sure.

By following these simple rules you can return to your family history research after a break without having to re-do it all. You can also avoid barking up the wrong family tree for too long. If you do ever want to pass the research on for completion by a family member or a professional company like Family Detective, then it will be easy for them to follow and pick up. Good luck on your adventure!

Discussion: Do you have any tips to share about Getting Organised, either in your research or just life in general?

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