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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Getting Started - Some Basic Points
Genealogy can be an exciting hobby for you and your family. Keep in mind though, that the most successful family historian is one with an open mind and one who will seek out all sources of available information. Nine times out of ten the facts you require are out there somewhere, waiting for you to find them.
As you progress through the various research stages, you will accumulate a lot of notes, precious documents, photographs, live action home movies and general family mementoes. You will also discover very quickly, that no matter how good your memory is, it is an impossible task to keep track of everything you do, every register you research and every precious document you save.
A good note keeper makes preserving and analyzing information easier. It is very important that your notes be easily understood by you and by others who will look at them in the future. It’s amazing how quickly we forget what we meant by certain notes. It’s equally important that you can locate your notes with little effort.
There are no hard and fast rules telling you exactly how to go about doing this. What’s important is being able to find information quickly in the mountains of paper you will create.
Whatever systems you put in place must work for you. You may speak to three or four genealogists and they will all tell you about different ways they have achieved their system of organization. You will see similarities among different systems. There will also be differences.
Choose what works best for you, make changes when necessary and most of all, be consistent in whatever method you choose.
First of all, consistency is most important. No one can tell you what will work best for your purposes and your project. What we can only suggest is that whatever you decide to do, above all be consistent.
During your research you will use a wide variety of reference books and registers, microfiches and microfilms and many other resource materials. You will get frustrated at times because all these documents, collectively, do not have standard formats. Would it not be nice if every book outlining similar information, was laid out exactly the same way, all the columns in the same order, all the same kind of information in each document?
I guess we’re dreaming in technicolor. This is never going to be the case, because everyone who prepares a research tool chooses their way of outlining the materials presented. Each person or group feels their way is the best way.
I’m sure you’ve noticed one thing that is common to most materials. A legend, usually at the beginning of the book, outlines what abbreviations are used, what information is found in what columns and general information regarding the usage of that particular material.
One thing we learn quickly is that we should not rely on our memory. This will also apply to the consistency we bring to our project. It is impossible to expect that a genealogy research project that may span years of your life will remain consistent in its presentation format without notes on how to go about being consistent.
The first task you should work on is this. Prepare an index placed at the beginning of each binder, listing abbreviations used and methods of working which are consistent throughout your project. Also placed at the beginning of each binder or group of files, should be an index outlining what type of material is kept and organized in each section found in that particular binder or each file in that group of files.
You should also have a master index that lists each section of each binder and/or group of files.
What I am suggesting is that you prepare a document, sort of like a map, of where everything is found. This way when you come to file a particular piece of information, you can check to make sure you are placing this item exactly where it should be placed.
You will be tempted often to use abbreviations for names. Many charts do not give much room to write everything, but as a general rule do not use abbreviations, try to write out the name in full whenever possible.
Include nicknames. You may have several relatives or ancestors with the same given name.
When you are recording dates, you should be using names for the months rather than numbers. The usage of “all numbers” for a date can cause confusion between the day and the month when the numbers are 12 or less. The recommended usage is day-month-year with the month either spelled out in full or a clear abbreviation, and the year with all four digits. Examples: 12 May 1934 or 8 Oct 1829.
Whenever you indicate a location, it is preferable to include both the city/town and the province or state. Location names are often found in more than one province or state. If you know the county or district, you should include it also. It could help you down the road. For abbreviations of provinces or states, try to use those accepted by the postal service, that way you will create consistency in your information. At the same time, if you are creating a computer database, the abbreviations used will be applicable for your mailing labels.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at email@example.com
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.