Get Organized, Get Started

Organize Your Genealogy Papers

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“First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.”
-Napoleon Hill


I though I was going to go crazy. What else could I do?

My research was almost complete. I had nearly finished the book I was writing, and it was on the verge of academic publication. I had found fantastic amounts of information on the paternal line, the goal of the project. My family had never before been able to get much on this fifth-great-grandfather, but I had been able to find the right town records that showed he was born in 1743 in Connecticut. He fought in the Revolutionary war, and helped found the town. The information surrounding his life was the capstone of my research and the detailed and lengthy family history book I was planning to publish.

Now all I had to do was check a couple of facts in the story and edit the references, and it would be ready to go. But that would be easy, because I already had found that information. All I had to do was get it and insert it.


But when I went to look for it, the information I had previously found was not on my flash drive or in my online storage folders, where I keep copies of everything. I looked on my computer, where I keep backups of nearly all of my data. Nothing. I looked through my backup CDs, other computers, my paper files for the research. I reviewed my old flash drives and even moved back into floppy disks. I knew that I had saved it somewhere. I checked again. And again. And again.

Ultimately, I never did find that data. I had to go back and redo the research, and find it all again.

If only my story was unique.

This has only happened to me once, but it has also happened to every researcher I know. The more experienced researchers reading this are nodding their heads and smiling ruefully, having learned this lesson the hard way. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, it will, and it will cause untold hours and days of headaches and hassles, with the possibility of permanently losing information that may not be re-found or re-researched, even in original sources. But you can avoid it all, and make your research far more efficient to boot, if you will just read and apply this chapter. You will have to think about your needs and preferences—how you like to set things up—but I can promise this small investment of time and energy will save you far more later on.
The problem is easy to avoid, and with technology, it is getting easier. All you need to do is spend a few minutes at the beginning starting intelligently and planning how you will get organized.

First, consider your needs. You probably will need to be able to share your research with family members and others that might find it to be of interest. You need to be able to quickly access your findings and conclusions. Just as important, you need to be able to quickly go back and see what areas your research has already covered, even if you didn’t find anything. Otherwise, you are likely to redo the work time and again.

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