Step 8 - Organizing Your Data


What kinds of data will you have? These may include your pedigree charts, family group sheets,  the handwritten notes you took at a library, maps of an area, general histories, copies from books that mention several of your family names, data on potential ancestors, or collateral lines, research logs, and correspondence with other researchers.

Lots of genealogists organize their data in a computer software program. If you need help using computer programs, you might consider taking a basic computer course at the local community center, public library, or community college. If you need help deciding on a software program, you can read about evaluating and selecting genealogy computer software on Cyndi’s List under Software and Computers.

You will also have some documents that pertain directly to your ancestors--the items you'll be putting into your presentation book. Those include your ancestor's certificates, photographs, letters, and documents. Even these documents can be scanned electronically and put into your software program.

It all depends on what you want:

A genealogy in paper: files, notebooks, albums, and/or scrapbooks, published books.

            A genealogy in electronic format: a website, CD-ROM, or DVD.

No matter what format you choose paper or electronic, you need a good numbering system and a way to organize this material as well as a way to share your genealogy with others. Another import aspect to consider is preservation of your information. You don’t want all of your hard work to be lost to future generations.

Numbering your genealogy

There are basically two kinds of genealogies

·        An ascending system that begins with the recent descendant and moves back in time to the remote ancestors

·        A descending system that begins with the remote ancestors and moves forward in time, usually to a living person.

There are numbering systems to go with each kind of genealogy. The Ahnentafel system works well for pedigrees and reports that start at the present and move back in time. The NGSQ (National Genealogical Society Quarterly) system, the Register system, the Henry system, and others typographical styles are used to produce descendancy reports. They all have certain advantages.

Today, most people use a computer to organize their genealogies. The computer assigns numbers automatically. When a new ancestor is discovered, the computer renumbers your genealogy to accommodate this new person. There are a variety of computer programs available and you can probably find one that suits your needs. Some people may prefer to type their reports.

Ahnentafel Numbering – This name is taken from a German word which means “ancestor table” or what we call a pedigree chart.  In this style of numbering, each person on your chart has a unique number, usually starting with you as #1 or the person you are doing a genealogy for and from there the numbers get larger. Click on the underlined link to see an example of this type of numbering.

The NGSQ System – Here is an example of how a complicated genealogy looks in this system. Click here for an example.

Creating a Research Notebook

There are two basic methods for the physical organization of your raw research data. Which method you choose depends on how you work and think and how you choose to find things when you need them. The following explanation is for all those things that do not fit in your presentation book which is discussed later:

·        Histories of counties

·        Related families

·        Copies of letters to other researcher

Arrangement by Geographic Location

For a project involving many surnames and families, or families that move around quite a bit, we find organizing data by location is best. Most of the records you will encounter are easily tied to a location, but may include several surnames you are searching. If you file by location, you won't have to make duplicate copies of items you extract. We suggest you prepare a separate research log for each location. Keeping the research logs short is the key. You will want to be able to see at a glance what sources are available and whether you have completed a thorough survey of the area. Depending on the number of sources available, we make logs for each town, county, and state.

Arrangement by Surname

There are some sources that are surname-oriented, i.e., surname genealogies, PERSI articles, indexes to federal military records, etc. A notebook with surname research logs may be added. These logs tend to be short.

If your project involves intensive research on one family, organizing a notebook by surname may be better. Within these notebooks, we generally have two sections, one with tabs for each family and another subdivided by location.

Here are some hints from Janna for making a successful notebook:

Hint: Take all your notes on 8-1/2 x 11 paper. As you take your notes, put the location or surname you are searching at the top of the page. It will make for easy filing later. Don't be tempted to mix locations on one page. Using a fresh sheet of paper is inexpensive, much less expensive than photocopying it later.

Hint: As we review collected material and identify items to transfer to family group sheets, we check them off, using a green pen. When another pass through the data book is necessary, we can focus on unchecked items.

Hint: We prefer three-ring notebooks that can be subdivided if you acquire a thick group of papers on one subject.

Hint: Write the surnames you are searching at the top of your research log. Add the date that your location was created and its parent's name.

Hint: Add a "to-do" list to the front of your notebook, or post it on your research log.

Hint: Make a "Miscellaneous Notebook" with an index in the front in which to collect handouts from lectures, catalogs, a perpetual calendar, etc.

Super Hint: When you've started a research log for your surname or location, use your library catalog to make a list of every item that applies to your research quest. Fill in the name of the item and the call number, but leave the date column blank. You will have compiled a list that you can prioritize and choose items to check. Janna always starts by filling in her research logs with a list culled from the Family History Center online catalog at www.familysearch.org and adds items from PERSI (the Periodical Source Index available at Ancestry.com). She may add URLs for sites on the Internet that have pertinent data.

Help Me!  Please tell me if there are articles in PERSI on my family/location.

Help Me!  Does the Family History Library has a genealogy on my family?

Help Me!  Compile a list of sources for me from the Family History Library, PERSI, FirstSearch, or other online catalog.

To ask these or similar questions, click on Help Me!, fill out the form that comes up, and submit your questions.