Saturday, September 27, 2014

Advice for a Schoolfriend

Two days ago I received a text message from a very dear schoolfriend who has been dabbling in family history for quite a few years. Now that she has joined the retiree ranks she will have more time to get into research.

Her text message said: " Can u recommend a prog for family tree stuff so I can digitize all the records, certificates, letters etc that I have. I have so many unwieldy folders."

Rather than only write back to her I will offer some thoughts here on my blog and send her the link. What I say may not be relevant to all but parts of it may be useful to more than just my friend.

Friend and GeniAus 1961
Dear Schoolfriend,

So pleased that you want to get all your family history stuff organised, your kids may not be interested now but when they are old and gray like us they may become interested in their backgrounds. I think there are a few things you need to do.

Firstly you need to get a genealogy management software program into which you can record all the names, dates and details that you will find on all those documents you have. Secondly you need to organise all your digital and hardcopy files.

1. The software I use is Family Historian, an English product. You can download a trial version and use it for a month before you need to part with any cash. The benefits are:

* If you need help I am at the end of the phone,
* It manages multimedia well,
* It is an English product and your ancesstors come from that neck of the woods,
* It is eminently customisable but you can use it out of the (virtual) box,
* There is great support from the user group,
* You are one smart cookie so you will have no trouble using it,
* It uses native gedcom. don't worry about what this is, but it means that your data will transfer smoothly to another platform/program in years to come.

There are many software packages on the market and they will all do the job to a greater or lesser degree. If you don't want to spend any $$$ at the moment I would suggest you use the free pruned down version of Rootsmagic, Rootsmagic Essentials, it is available as a download. Quite a few of my friends use the fullblown version. I have installed the free one on my computer so I can help people at the Society and it does a good job of managing one's data, I can probably give some assistance with this too. Once you really catch the genealogy bug you will probably want more bells and whistles in your software. From either of these you can import your data into an app on your iPad and take it around with you.

You can print all sorts of reports and trees from your software package (not so many from a freebie one), having stuff organised into a database in your software package also helps you see where there are gaps in your information.

One thing to note is that you can store all of your documents in your genealogy program or you can store them elsewhere on your computer. I keep mine on my hard drive, I can explain why down the track.

2. With your documents it's a case of what comes first the chicken or the egg? Do whatever you feel comfortable with but you should aim to:
* Record all the information from them into your software program and make sure you add source information as you go even if your source is a person or an email (I learnt my lesson the hard way and have quite a few unsubstantiated assertions in my database). You must record where you found the information or you will have a fairytale on your hands.
* Start with yourself and husband then go on and add the descendants and ancestors.
* Scan all of your documents, toss out the more ephemeral things, keep the important certificates and original documents and store them away safely.
* Organise all your documents into a logical order, it doesn't matter how you do it but you must be consistent. It is a good idea to replicate the filing method you have for your hardcopy documents in your digital files.
* FYI I have a set of Family History folders on my hard drive, in Family History - People I have one subfolder for each surname I am researching. Where there are people with lots of documents I make personal subfolders within each surname folder. You can throw all sorts of files in together: sound, images, docs, pdfs, videos. Some people keep Paternal and Maternal lines in separate folders, others file by document type putting all Birth certs together, all newspaper clippings together etc. Others do it differently.
* I also have a folder for Family History - Places where I put stuff about various ancestral towns, I have a subfolder there for each town. I may put maps, photos, news articles, cemetery info into these folders.
* I also have a Family History - Sorting folder where I park newly digitised stuff  from which I need to extract data prior to filing. You could actually start by putting everything in something like this and move each file to an appropriate folder once you have dealt with it.
* My hardcopy files are organised by Surname and Forename just like my digital stuff and then chronogically so Birth comes before Baptism and Death before Burial.
* It is important to have some sort of file naming convention that you use consistently. For people I use Surname, Forenames dates and some sort of description eg Duncan, Francis 1900-1963 Birth Certificate or Curry, Thomas William 1877-1954 Obituary SMH 19540832.
* Once you've organised all that you have you will need to have a Research Log to keep track of what you need to do next and what you have done already. Family Historian can deal with this or you may consider Evernote that we talked about the other day or you could use a spreadsheet.

The most important thing to do is to make a start. I hope I haven't frightened you off.

Love, Jill

GeniAus and Friend 1970


Crissouli said...

Great advice, Jill.. love the photos.

Celia Lewis said...

Wonderful photos of you and your friend, Jill! As for starting in genealogy, she'll hopefully get started, one baby step at a time. Takes a while, doesn't it! I've only just now managed to scan all my photos and documents, and have them in 2 (cloud-based) places. Cheers.

Alex Daw said...

Look at your gorgeous young things :) With a friend like you, she will have all the support she needs and more.

I've always admired the reports et al that your genealogy software produces and if I ever jumped ship from FTM I think it would be to the program you use.

Jill Ball said...

Thanks for the positive comments. As i don't profess to be an expert in genealogy research I was wary of sharing my ideas so it's good to see I'm on track.

Said friend has read blog post and replied that she is keen to get started."

TravelGenee said...

Jill, Great answer that should get your friend on the way to an excellent filing system. Lately I'm flat out trying to finish my resourcing, filing and documenting my tree. I have selected / invented my own system and it is a very different filing method that most seem to use. It combines the advantages of Evernote, paper filing, digital filing and most importantly something a teacher taught us about filing way back in high school. I will add it to a list of blogs I must write. Fran

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

Jill I felt quite tired reading about your comprehensive organisation! how lucky your friend is to have such good advice based on your own experience? I think we all tend to do things a little differently but consistency is certainly an important element....and recording those sources ;) Oh, the errors we make...

Love you bright young things! great pics



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