Cleaning up files

“Review and clean paper & digital files for at least 2 direct ancestors and their siblings.” One of my 2021 genealogy goals. What do I mean by “review and clean”? In this post, I tell you what I am doing, step by step.

Overall, I hope to have a consistent paper trail for each family/person. The paper trail also has a digital component which I describe later in this post.  In my very first blog post (April 2017), I listed paper forms for each person’s file.   I bought colored file folders – blue for Dad, teal for Mom, green for Father-in-law and red for Mother-in-law.

PAPER FILES. STEP 1: REVIEW

 Does the file have these forms? Is each form filled in as completely as possible?  Is each form dated? Taken together, these pages represent a concise summary of what I know at this time.  The forms that I use are:  

5- generation pedigree.  Created from home person (father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in law) for each tree from RootsMagic.  Placed as first page in each file with specific generation circled in red. Reason:  rapid identification of where this family fits

NOTE: There are multiple versions of these forms. These are the ones that I chose:

  1. Family Group Sheet: National Archives & Records Administration (NARA).  2- page (or front and back) form with space for 15 children.  Limitation:  No designated space to add compiler & date compiled.  I add this information at the bottom of the sheet.
  2. Individual worksheet. Midwest Genealogy Center, Mid-Continent Public Library System, Missouri.  Fillable PDF. Add compiler name & date.   
  3. Research checklist.    Midwest Genealogy Center,Mid-Continent Public Library System, Missouri . Fillable PDF. Add compiler name and date. 
  4. Biographical outline:  Excerpted from The Unpuzzling Your Past Workbook, copyright 1996 by Emily Anne Croom, Betterway Books, a division of F&W publications, Cincinnati, Ohio.  HINT: Check your local library for a copy of this book. Add compiler name & date.
  5. Research Log (as available):  Thomas MacAntee’s format. Fill in as I clean-up digital files; handwritten research notes on yellow paper.

Additional pages in a paper file may include but are not limited to census records, copies of certificates, copy of newspaper obituary, correspondence with other researchers, etc.

PAPER FILES. STEP 2: CLEAN UP.

  • Place documents in chronological order.
  • Remove duplicate copies. Shred or recycle excess paper.
  • Place original documents and photos in archival quality sleeves then in appropriate notebook. Scan document or photo to computer or Cloud as digital items.
  • Make a list of gaps and BSO (bright shiny object) items for later follow-up. 

For me, digital file review and cleanup began after choosing a genealogy software program and entering information to that program. However, you may already have digital files such as pictures and documents on your computer. In this post, I only address media type digital files. File structure for all of your digital  genealogy files is beyond the scope of today’s post.

DIGITAL / MEDIA FILES. STEP 1. REVIEW.

  • Compare paper and digital files. Do you have the same information in both files? Example: 1940 census record for grandfather. Copy of index record in paper file; image copy of original record in digital file.
  • Look at labels attached to media. You may have multiple media labelled as “1940 United States Federal Census(5).”
  • Locate all media files for a specific person or family group.

DIGITAL / MEDIA FILES. STEP 2. CLEAN-UP

Using standardized citations to acknowledge  sources is one part of digital file clean-up.  Another part standardizes naming conventions for media files. 

  1. Pick location for media files associated with a specific person or family group. As you rename media files, move the renamed files to this location.  (Hint: you may need to relink media files in your genealogy software program).
  2. Determine naming convention for media. Use the same format consistently. In general, I use these models: 
    •  Census records: Year_ type_place_state_family or person names
    • Individual records (BMD, burial, military, etc.): surname_given name_birthyear_deathyear_event_eventdate. 
  3. Adopt source citation model commonly used by genealogists. Consult these sources:
  4. Rename source citations and media as needed.
  5. Delete duplicate entries for the same fact or event.
  6. Back up digital files at end of each work session.

  Here’s some examples from my family trees:

As I encounter new information, I add to both paper and digital files. My genealogy program workflow looks like this:

  • Enter event information to RootsMagic. Note if inconsistent or unproven and reason why. Add discovery date.
  • Create source citation using templates.
  • Name source and media using standardized naming convention.
  • Make digital copy of original documents or rename digital media. Attach digital media to event and citation.
  • Transcribe information from source.
  • Create digital research log using format of choice. Print one copy for paper files.
  • Back up digital file at end of each work session.

Seem like lots of work? Well, yes, right now. But, I will leave both paper and digital files in formats that will, I hope, seem logical to my descendants. Writing this blog keeps me focused.   I remind myself – one record, one person, one family at a time! 

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots blog, 2021

Genealogy Do-Over: Months 2 – 5

It’s May 1 and Month 5 topics for the Genealogy Do-Over have just been posted.   Oh no!  I am only about halfway through Month 2!  However, I did work ahead.  This is where my pessimism—the glass half-empty rather than half full—kicks in.  I feel so overwhelmed!  Stop!  Take a deep breath!  Slow down!

Get out my Genealogy Do-Over notebook.   Check goals.  Were the goals realistic?  Too many goals?  Think positive – what have I done since January?  List goals that have been met:

  1. Color coded paper files. Identified color scheme for direct lines, collateral families, and possibly related families.  Placed documents for direct lines in appropriate color files according to plan.  (month 1 goal – completed month 4)
  2. Reviewed documents for 60+ families,  14-18 families for each set of parents.  Filled in research checklists & biographical outlines for  direct ancestors and their spouses.  Completed family group sheets for many siblings of direct ancestors.  (see #1).
  3. Identified, in writing, research practices to be improved. (month 1)
  4. Created folders for myself, husband and each parent. Located & filed BMD certificates. (month 2)
  5. Created family group sheets for my brother & sister, husband’s sister, our parents.  (months 2 & 3)

Insight – creating group sheets for self, siblings & parents.  This seems like such a ‘I should have had a V-8’ moment!  V8 juiceI have documents.  I enter information in my RootsMagic program on a regular basis.  But, the documents were not well organized.   And, sources?  Inconsistent.

  1. Adopted research log format (focus of Month 4).  Started 11 research logs.  This topic is subject of a later blog post.
  2. Bought items to help with organization, note taking and source citation. (months 1, 2, 4, 5).
    1. Evidence Explained book[1]
    2. Evernote computer program and book[2], [3]
    3. Forms template CD[4]
  3. Ordered selected documents based on review (see #2). Priority: 1 generation at a time!
    1. Maternal grandmother – birth, death, marriage. Birth certificate received on 14 April 2017.  See Month 2, Part 1 for details.
    2. Maternal grandfather – birth certificate already in file. Ordered death certificate.
    3. Obtained BMD certificates for husband’s grandparents in 2013 during genealogy field trip to Texas.
  4. Started a blog (suggested month 1; done month 4).

To be done:

  1. Fill in research log for self, husband, parents, parents-in-law. If time permits,  research logs for grandparents (if needed, defer  to next month).
  2. Set up notebooks for originals of documents. Includes dividers.
  3. Scan documents sent by 2nd cousin.  Place originals in notebook.
  4. Order vital records, as needed & available, for grandparents & great-grandparents.
  5. Conduct interviews: self, husband, mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister (from Month 3).
  6. Identify specific proof points needing source for grandparents. Create master list for quick reference.   When done, do same for great-grandparents.

Ongoing goals/ non priority items:

  1. Place documents for collateral families and possibly related families in appropriate color files. Include family group sheet, research checklist, individual worksheet and biographical outline.  Start with brother-in-law, then nephew.
  2. Digital files: Rename media using standardized format.  Link media to events and facts.

Deferred Goals:

  1. Digital files: Cite sources  using standard, accepted format.  Focus for Month 5.

Now that it’s all on paper, I can see progress!    This brings me back to my reason for participating in the Genealogy Do-Over program.   Slow down!  Take your time!   Change what hasn’t worked!  Learn something new!

[1] Elizabeth Shown Mills. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Third editon.  (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015).

[2] Kerry Scott. How to use Evernote for Genealogy (Cincinnati, OH: Family Tree Books, 2015).

[3] Evernote Corporation, Evernote for Windows ®,  2017.  (https://evernote.com/  : accessed & downloaded 10 Jan 2017)

[4] Family Tree Magazine. Essential Family Tree Forms Library CD (New York City: F & W Media, 2014).

Genealogy Do-Over: Month 1

This post is a summary of my plans and accomplishments for Month 1 of  my Genealogy Do-Over.  First question is:  how did I find out about the Genealogy Do-over?  As I remember (it has been 4 months now),  I knew that I needed to re-organize my genealogy files.  But, I wasn’t sure how or where to start.  The job seemed overwhelming with multiple family lines.  When I converted from Family Tree Maker to RootsMagic™ in January, 2016, I joined the RootsMagic facebook group.  Someone in that group mentioned the Do-Over and I went looking.  At last, structure and directions!

Focus for Month 1 is ‘Setting research aside’ and ‘preparing to research’ (Source: Thomas MacAntee, The Genealogy Do-over returns for 2017 ( http://www.geneabloggers.com/genealogy-month-1-january-2017 : accessed 2 Jan 2017).  You mean that I won’t actually be doing any genealogy research for awhile?  OK,  I’m in!   Goals:  organize files (digital & paper), review documents, list current research habits.

DISCLAIMER:  I adapted ideas from others.

Goal #1:  Organize files.

  1. Move scattered media files for each family tree to one location on computer.  Results:  Completed 16 Jan 2017.  Created a media folder for each family tree.  Moved media from various locations to respective media folders.   New research habit: place media item in appropriate media folder as soon as item is copied or downloaded.  Decide rule for naming  media items. Follow rule.
  2.  Color code paper files.  Results:   Purchased colored file folders in January, 2017.  Assigned color to each family tree (father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-IMG_0335law, nephew, brother-in-law).  Filing system:  direct line ancestors in colored folders; siblings, children, cousins, other non-direct line persons in manila folders with appropriately colored dots.   Completed conversion of  files for parents & parents-in-laws to new system as of today (13 April 2017).
  3.  Consistent paper trail for each family/ person.  So many choices!  I have multiple samples of family group sheets, research logs, tracking sheets, migration/ biography sheets.  Executive decision to use these forms:
    1.  5- generation pedigree.  Created from home person (father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in law) for each tree from RootsMagic.  Circled specific generation in the paper file and placed this as first page in each file.   Reason rapid identification of where this particular family fits.   Pedigree file example010
    2. Family Group Sheet: National Archives & Records Administration (NARA).  2- page (or front and back) form with space for 15 children.  Limitation:  No designated space to add compiler & date compiled.  I add this information at the bottom of the sheet.
    3.  Individual worksheet: Midwest Genealogy Center, Mid-Continent Public Library System, Missouri.  Fillable PDF.
    4. Research checklist:   Midwest Genealogy Center,Mid-Continent Public Library System, Missouri . Fillable PDF.
    5. Biographical outline:  Excerpted from The Unpuzzling Your Past Workbook, copyright 1996 by Emily Anne Croom.  Used with permission of Betterway Books, a division of F&W publications, Cincinnati, Ohio.  Check your local library for a copy of this book

Goal #2:  Review documents.  Ongoing; subject for a later post.

Goal #3:  List current research habits that need repair:

  • Following leads wherever the search takes me.   Remedy:   Set specific objective for each session.  Stop when objective met.  Repeat as needed and as time permits.
  • Following rabbit trails (aka “bright shining objects” — Thanks, Thomas MacAntee for that insight!).  Remedy:  STOP.  Go to Remedy #1.
  • Inconsistent citations/ documentation of sourcesRemedy: Use RootsMagic source citation templates. (Note: deferred for now).  Buy Evidence Explained book (done); consult EE website as needed.     Document sources immediately.
  • Relying too much on online family trees.  Also, not  transferring data/ documents to RootsMagic trees. Remedy:  Use other resources.  Transfer data/ documents as soon as possible after review, ideally before ending session.
  • Rare use of research logs.  Remedy:    Locate or design research log format.   Test use of research log.  Outcome:  Decided to use research log created by Thomas MacAntee.  Test case:  subject for another post.

Enough for today! Enjoy your weekend!