How does one catalog all the ephemeral one collects as a Genealogist?

Over the holidays you might have had thrust into your arms a box of old documents, photos and other items about your ancestors given to you “because you are the family historian.”  I received several documents related to my father-in-law’s WWII service.  As genealogists we must collect “stuff,”  but often this stuff is not neat and tidy and must be preserved.  It is a rare genealogist who doesn’t accept that box and then wonder what to do with it!
Early in my genealogy career I recognized 1.) that there were many different kinds of items that needed to be saved, 2.) I needed to devise a system that worked for me and 3.) whatever I filed had to be very easy to retrieve.  The part of that sentence that is most important is the phrase “worked for me.”  I am basically a lazy filer—my method had to embody the word “simple.”  No puzzlement over where the item was filed.
Here is a summary of what I devised based on my priority of keeping it simple.
Filing of “stuff”:
bode book numberingLoose papers, photos, maps, census info etc. are all filed in 3-ring binders coded to the first letter of my parent’s birth name.  So I have one series of books called the Bode books in 7 volumes (maternal) and a series of books called the Jacobson books in 3 volumes (paternal).  Each 3-ring binder is filled with archival slip sheets into which I insert my source.  See photo of death certificate of my gggrandfather to the left.  Notice the label in lower left hand corner of the slip sheet.  Each slip sheet is numbered sequentially with the family letter preceding it. The label says “vital   B   52,”  where “vital” is the type of source; B indicates it is a Bode related item and 52 is the slip sheet number–the number of this item is B52.   The first slip sheet in the Bode Book is B1, followed by B2, etc.  I file in order of date of receipt, i.e. the source that is “first in” has a lower slip sheet number than one that came in later.  I do not categorize the item by anything other than parental lineage.  A map can be next to a photo which can be next to a letter, next to….you get the drift.
Source has a “smart” name
deskOnce the item has received a slip sheet and a number, I enter the information from that source into the database and in the Master Source List.  I include the slip sheet number as part of the name.
  • Example 1: MR Jacobson Bode [J127]  would be the marriage record (MR) between Bode and Jacobson (my parents). It is located in the Jacobson binders, slip sheet no. 127.
  • Example 2:  1855 IL Stephenson Bode Jan [B34] would be the name of the source that is an 1855 Illinois state census in Stephenson county for Jan Bode.
When I am looking at a citation or the source list, I can see the “smart” name and the slip sheet number.  I can then pull the binder, find the proper slip sheet and find the document in, at most, 30 seconds.  In the photo at left you see the row of white binders above the computer.  Each binder holds about 50 items.  (And, yes, that’s the bed for the cat!)
It’s quite simple…..  1.) source comes in.  2.) I identify the next slip sheet and it’s number where the source will reside–after the last  received source. 3.) I extract information/evidence and enter into my database.  4.) I give the source a “smart” name with slip sheet number attached to it and finally, 5.) file the source into the previously identified slip sheet.  Done.
If you have questions, just ask. If you have a method that works for you–tell me know about your filing priorities and how your system responds to those priorities.
Happy Hunting!
What I have done since the last posting:  spent time with my father-in-law and his children and their families for the “Bash of the Century.”  Toured the Alamo and walked the Riverwalk in San Antonio–really lovely.  Spent Christmas in Colorado and skied on Christmas Day with my family.  Listened to Judy Russell’s APG webinar on copyright for a second time and to the Marketing webinar.  Went to the Seattle Public Library and talked with the genealogist about the ethnic themed SGS Bulletin.  And, I got a year older.  🙂

3 comments on “How does one catalog all the ephemeral one collects as a Genealogist?

  1. You are organized! This info was helpful. Isn’t John the Genealogist great? And Mahina, too, and both the 9th and 10th floors of the downtown library.

  2. Karen Stanbary says:

    Happy Birthday.
    I organize my stuff in a totally different way. I use hanging file folders for surnames. Within the hanging file is Name of most recent ancestor (for ex my father). His stuff goes in his file folder. Then there is another one with Father’s sibs (often times this gets subdivided). Then on to the next one-his father and then his father’s sibs. I just keep going until I don’t have anymore. The wife is filed with her maiden name. Although, census records and such when she lives with her hubby, go in her hubby’s file (uggh the feminist in me shouts!). Records of the FAN club folks go in a file within the surname labeled FAN club. I replicate the same system in my file folders electronically. Now as my research progresses, I make a digital copy. Although, I scanned most of my old paper stuff, I haven’t gone cold turkey and purged the paper copies. I also attach a digital copy of the document to the evidence within rootsmagic. It’s not perfect but it works for me. I can always find what I am looking for.
    See you very soon!

    • jkmorelli says:

      Thanks! I will be coaching a person after the holidays and it is always good to have a few ideas. I, too, have filed the women with the hubby as soon as there is a marriage but with my system I only compromise my feminist side with a few generations as all kept their birth name in the “old country”.

      My electronic files are separated one additional layer as I file my photos, text and documents (those are the three divisions) under the grandparents surnames. It seems to work.

      Have you switched completely over to Rootsmagic?

      Looking forward to SLIG and seeing you there.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s