Keeping track of my notes and scribbles on my genealogy research has been, can we say, challenging? I would love to use the excuse that my work is so engrossing – which it often is – that I just can’t be bothered with keeping clean and organized notes. But, that’s not true. I know better, and I’ve tried to do better using notebooks, small note pads, and sticky notes. But still, I’ve had no luck keeping everything straight. I have scraps that make no sense and lots of lost and duplicated information.
And each time I use sticky notes and scrapts, my refrain is the same – I’ll remember what it is! And each time I forget.
What Doesn’t Work for Me
What doesn’t work for me is anything digital. I know there are lots of programs to capture abstracted information. I’m not that disciplined to always be by a computer to make that work. Nor am I so methodical to pull up a program and type stuff in as I’m working.
What doesn’t work for me is the scrap paper, backs of charts, sticky notes. I inevitably lose them or they lose their meaning, to which I add another note “what does this mean?”
What doesn’t work for me is notebooks. Although they are very, very portable and I love portability, I can never find what I put in them. Now where was that phone number, reference date or quick pedigree chart I pencilled out? Lost.
My New Solution
As a confessed and reforming genealogy organizer, I have to tell you, I found the proverbial light in my little golden book. It’s a simple spiral bound notebook with a hard cover (so it doesn’t fall apart with hard use). It has good paper weight and wide lined pages. I like wide lines because my handwriting is kind of big. So there is nothing particularly special other than it is a good, quality 5x7ish notebook.
Here’s the System
Here’s how I’ve made this humble system work for me.
I use it for every and all notekeeping. If there is a hard and fast rule to making this system work, this would be it. Everything goes in the notebook. No grabbing scrap paper, sticky notes, or the handy paper napkin. I have to trust myself to put everything in there, otherwise I can’t trust it as the source of my notes. After this rule there really aren’t any other hard rules, but great tips to make it work.
The next step is to use a tab-which-can-be-written-on to mark any significant information that I would like to find easily. If it is a website I’d like to go back to, I put the name of the website on the tab. If it is notes on a particular family, I put the family name on the tab. If it is a to do list, I use a different colored tab and I put it across the top of the notebook, instead of the side where all of the other tabs are. If it is research finds and negative finds for a particular source, I put the name of the source on the tab.
As you can see there is no limit – and that’s the point – as to what can go in the little notebook. And the tabs make it super easy to find what I put in there, which has been in part the problem up to this point.
Indexing Alternative to Tabs
I shared this idea with a class I was teaching a few weeks ago. And one of the students used the little notebook system, but she had another way of finding information. Here’s her suggestion. She numbers the pages of the notebook. Wow! Then she creates a topic index, just like a regular book at the library, in the back of the notebook. That’s impressive. She’s created her very own, customized reference book to support her genealogy research. I told her then that when I grow up I want to be just like her.
Lost and Found
Because of the very portable nature of this tool, it is very susceptible to getting left behind on a genealogy trip. I know I’ve done it before, and I’ve heard horror stories of lost genealogy treasures from others. So here’s my suggestion. A few years ago, I printed a bunch of address labels with my name, phone, email, address on them. I keep them in a file in the front drawer of my filing cabinet. As with anything I own of genealogy value, I put one of these labels on it. Will it guarantee me that I’ll never loose my stuff or my little notebook? No, but I know first hand the kindness of the genealogy community, and I have faith that if found, someone will go to the effort of returning it.
How about you?
I’d be eager to hear your stories of note taking and the solutions you’ve found. This like all genealogy is a journey though the constantly evolving process of doing the research. Where are you on your journey?