The true value of taking notes really does not hit us until we have been at it for years. No, it is not an age thing, but rather maxing out your mental hard drive. Few people after even a mere ten years, can recall everything they’ve seen or learned or read about the major details they have uncovered. So, when that critical time comes, and you are looking for that one piece of data that will connect everything, you had better have notes or you could spend years trying to find it.
The more organization you have the better. A daily journal can help, but that will leaves you reading through hundreds of pages of other material to find what you are looking for,that is, if you managed to see its value at the time so that you noted it. Better is to keep surname research folders with named files under them. For example, you create a folder entitled “Genealogy Jones.”
Depending upon how much research you expect to accumulate, you might need sub-folders, especially if you anticipate a large family, or covering many generations or if you are using many types of resources, or artifacts.
By artifacts, this could cover diaries, descriptions of jewelry and appraisals, along with provenance (or the piece’s history), a spinning wheel, photos, paintings, a saddle, or a zillion other things. Anything that is of value, or has a history that is not clearly obvious to an outsider, should have a file with notes on what it is, where it came from, who did it originally come from; when it came into the family; and from whom did it come and that history. Pictures should also accompany the item. Transcriptions should be made of any written items, along with notes, and dates, and citations. You never know when it might show up on Antiques Roadshow.
Sub-folders can be set up for individuals or family groups. Files within would include their data, pictures, documents, or notes that are clearly labeled to ease finding them later, etc.
Here is an example: under the folder, “Genealogy Jones,” you might find John Jones as a sub-folder with details about him, photos, scans of documents, etc., included as files within this sub-folder. But, what if you find that he is also listed in places as John Jones Roskerdal? You might want to have a file under “Genealogy Jones,” (not in the sub-folder) named “John Jones Roskerdal Notes 24 Oct 2013.” These notes would describe the connection, include sources, and links, if applicable, to find the data again, if necessary. By being a file instead of a folder, it saves time rather than scouring a sub-folder.
This may sound excessive, but the more compulsively detailed your files, especially, your notes, the easier it will be in the future to locate the details.
There are certain situations, where you simply have to over-organize to make sense of a situation. Having done this several times in the past, I can tell you that it is a long, sometimes confusing task, but also one that will make life much easier for years to come.
One of the situations that caused me to devote nearly a month (fortunately, it was January and I was recovering from back surgery) to such a task was finding which John Floyd was which over the course of several censuses. I was trying to sort out the households headed by a male Floyd in Cornwall, England, on the censuses from 1841 through 1881. Combining those years, I found 236 households fitting this criteria and from that, I found 236 individual males in as head of household in one or more of those censuses.
The problem that drove me to do this was that, among those males, there was very little variety in first names. During that time, forty-six different men named William (out of a total of 236) headed households. Thirty-six different men were named “John.” There were twenty-seven with the first name of Richard, twenty-two more were named Thomas, another twelve were named James, with those named “Peter,” coming in just behind at eleven. Those six first names, accounted for 144 out of 236 men with the surname of “Floyd” on those censuses. Sorting them out was the only solution!
I created a separate folder and gave each man a file with a three-letter code and a number. For example, the oldest John Floyd that I found was JOH-1 and the youngest was JOH-36. In each file, I listed the census data from wherever they were documented, including their childhoods. Thus, for example, JOH-20 might have been on the census with his father, JOH-11, which was copied into both files and the connection documented on each, along with any birth, marriage, or death (BMD) documentation and where to find it, along with the citations regarding that document so I could find that easily in the future when I needed it. Believe me, I have needed it.
What I need now, and wish I had started years ago, are notes regarding documents. I need something to tell me how I learned this, and who told me what. Data on how I came to find something, where I saw that, etc. So, do yourself a favor by making notes now and your future self with thank you.
Regarding DNA work, I just received a book that adds even more to what I have learned, so my blog may have to be done in installments, cover it in parts, rather than all at once. I plan to have the first installment soon, very soon.