Organising your research

A continuation of my Happy New Year post – organising my family history research

While I had been at my sister’s, I had started a preliminary attempt at an index of my preliminary research by renaming files before adding them to the index.

Before I continue, I’ll go through my previous attempts at organizing my family history research.  I first started researching my family history at the end of 1990, and from the start I simply files my paperwork in Lever Arch folder in date order.  Since my preliminary research was from family members, or in the local library and then the State Library, a single page of research notes could include multiple surnames, and all the research was from here in Victoria, so it didn’t make sense to try and sort them by surname or location.

In 1996, when I received my first desktop computer with Microsoft Word, I started transcribing all of my researching into Microsoft Word, and set up a Microsoft Word file for each Lever Arch folder.  That worked for a while, as I could generally remember which folder the research was likely to be in, and I could then search in the Word file to find the information.

But, as my research grew, it became harder to remember, so I set up an index in Microsoft Excel to help me to find information.  However, to set up the index, I split a single page into each “family group” on the page, to make it easier to index.  That made it harder for me to know the date I had found the information, particularly for the online information, where I needed the “Accessed” date for my source citations.  This was around 2010.

I therefore decided to split all of my Word files into date files – one file for each day I did research.  Of course, this meant that I couldn’t find anything at all, as I had no idea the exact date I had filed a particular document, or done a particular bit of research.  I needed to restart my index of these new files.

I then decided that the best way to index the research, was to set up new Word files for the documents I have images for, as well as my transcriptions of documents I don’t have the originals of (mainly family notices from the newspapers at the State Library of Victoria), and to leave the rest of my research notes in their date files, and to use an Access database to index these files, after I have finished working on the Excel index for the documents (and after I have deleted any research that I have since replaced with original documents or later online research).  The Excel index works well for the documents, as I can generally allocate these to a single person by looking at the file name, but the Access database lets me include more information from the documents, and will let me include everyone listed in a file.

My problem has been that each time I have decided I don’t like the way my index has been set up, I go back and start renaming the files again as well.  While I was at my sister’s, I finally realized that it would save a lot of time if I simply got all the files renamed first, and made a backup to use anytime I don’t like the way I end up reorganizing the files, and that would make it quicker to set up the index any time I decide to restart. By the end of 2019, I had the files renamed, and had set up the Excel index. In my next post, I’ll show you how my Excel index is set up.