Friday, July 18, 2014

Getting Organized (Part 2): Surname Notebooks

The reason for my Surname Notebooks is twofold:

FIRST, that it will help me know what I actually have in my possession.  I know some of you may say that there are checklists that I can use, and that Tree Maker programs were made for that purpose, but I am a tactile gal!  I NEED to touch it and see it.  I need to be able to manipulate it and physically write notes out.  For me, digital notes get lost in cyber space, no matter what I try to do because I forget what I have when I can't spread it out!   I use Family Tree Maker 14 and LOVE it, but one screen at a time does not work for me.  I have to be able to flip quickly and spread things out.   Something else to know about me: I have always had trouble recalling information on demand. To help you understand what that means..... Imagine my brain is a bookshelf.  I take meticulous notes when learning something and my brain files EVERYTHING on one of its shelves.  The problem comes when I need to pull that information back out.  I know it is in there, but I can't remember which shelf I put the information on.  Alas, I realized I was beginning to have the same issue with all of my genealogy things.  I needed a system that made it EASY to find ANYTHING I needed because I knew my brain wasn't going to give me any assistance!

The SECOND reason is to keep me focused!  When doing research, one of the biggest issues for me is that I have family from multiple branches that lived practically on TOP of each other (and that does not include just my side of the family).  I keep waiting for the day that I learn my son is his own 5th cousin.  It hasn't happened yet, but if the town of Abbeville (South Carolina) or Oconee County (South Carolina) were populated in the 1800s with ANYONE my family is not related to, it is a blasted MIRACLE, which means I am still on the look out!  Because of this, any research I do tends to make me feel EXTREMELY frazzled, being pulled in multiple directions.  I might start out looking for Craigs in Oconee County, but end up finding Allgoods, Deans, Speeds, Weems, and Wallaces not to mention the Reids and Grishams from my husband's side of the family.  When I research, I am always worried that if I leave "something" behind, I will never be able to find it again, so I stop and document each thing I come across, and 40 minutes later, I haven't got a CLUE what I started out doing.  So............with these goals in mind, I started my new project, and so far, so good (although I will admit that I have only done a few and have a long way to go).  But I have yet to encounter a document that was not easily placed and finding things has never been easier!

Too late to make a long story short (sorry about that!), I searched and searched and read every blog I could find and looked at every picture and idea posted on The Organized Genealogist Facebook Page.   And FINALLY, I pieced together something that would work!!!

OK - Now Let's break it down: 
I have this notebook started off with a Census Checklist.  The Black blocks list their birth year and death year and the gray is there to help me remember that I don't need to be looking in the censuses for those years.  (This one has not been filled out - I lost the one I had begun working on - imagine that!)  This one is typed in Word, but I have begun switching each family's page over to Excel because it seems to be a little easier.  You are welcome to use any of them if you think they will help you.  I don't know that one is better than the other - it just depends on what you prefer.  Below are the links to all three files that I have created.

Pockets are key for me so that if there is something that I know goes behind a specific tab, but I have not had the chance to deal with it, I know it still has a place to rest without getting misplaced.  Each divider is for one generation (beginning with the most recent generation and going back in time).  These are the Avery Pocket Divider and they rock!  I have them in both 5 divider sets as well as 8 divider sets.  Which one I use depends on how far I can go back in each family. 

Behind each tab, I have a FAMILY GROUP SHEET (printed straight from my Family Tree Maker).  It is SUPER EASY and a HUGE life saver!  It lists all of the vital information I need to know at a glance.

Next, I printed all CENSUSES FOR THE FAMILY GROUP that I have found and put them in chronological order behind the group sheet.  I have links in a separate blog entry (Going Digital!) to Word Document files I have made of blank US Census forms as well as a single Excel file I created with every Census in it so that I could transpose what I find, making it is easier to read.  (I know there are blank pages that I can download and fill in, but I prefer things typed - I'm a wee bit too OCD to deal with the mistakes I tend to make while writing things out.)  I would like to eventually have the originals AND the transcriptions back to back so that I have a version of the census that is easy on the eyes while still being able to see that I do have a picture of the original to compare it with.

With the rest of each divided section, I became VERY familiar and with mini post-it tabs!  I made a HOMEMADE TABS for each individual that I have information on.  It lists the full name on top with the family position under it (i.e. father, mother, son, daughter, granddaughter, grandson, etc.) and placed each on the edge of the first page with their individual information.  I do everything in chronological order if I can, but try to have pictures along with any other items specific to each person in this section.  For this 4th Great Grandfather (Andrew Muir Wallace), I have a couple of pictures (they are digital copies so I made a print out of each one), some documents from board meetings for the SC State Hospital that I found online through the SC Archives Search Page (he gave the land where it was built and served as the President of the Board of Regents for a while).  I also have newspaper clippings (see example below).........

........ and I ended with his Will.  Once I have a picture of his headstone (which I actually think I do, but it is still in the unorganized digital files I have yet to go through), the headstone picture will go after the will.

After the father's tab, I put a tab for the mother (both parent tabs are located at the top edge of the page).  I began this mother's section with a print out of my blog post about her.  I wanted to make sure that I had that to look back through or to be able to show anyone in the family that wants to see the notebook.  I figured If I felt strongly enough to write about it, it needed to be put in the notebook.

After the parents, I go to the children and place their tabs on a second tier.  All of Andrew's children's family group sheets stay in Andrew's section EXCEPT my direct ancestor's (because it goes behind a separate pocketed divider).  After Andrew's children, I continue with any sibling's descendants that I know about (which are all grandchildren and great grandchildren of Andrew and Sarah).  Andrew and Sarah had 11 children, so 10 of his children will have their families stay in Andrew's divided section, while my 3rd great grandfather moves into his own divided section.  Below you can see how the post-it tab hierarchy works.

So sorry!  I have apparently written an entire NOVEL instead of a blog post - oops!.  I hope I didn't lose you in the process.  If you have any questions or advice, I would love to hear it!  I know that these notebooks mean I am using a lot of paper, but it has been EXTREMELY helpful in keeping me focused - I don't tend to get side tracked on other names as much!  Taking the time to put the notebook together has also shown to be worth it when I went to be with family for the 4th of July.  Our family land is near Oconee State Park and there is no good internet coverage there, so pulling up the digital files was not a great option, but the notebook was PERFECT!  Everyone was able to look through it together, identifying people for me that I was unsure of (and since there were only printed copies of the photos, I was able to write directly on them without worrying about messing them up).  They were also able to look at their group sheets to fix any mistakes I had quickly.

This is by no means the "end all, be all," but it has worked like a charm for me and so I thought I would share it in hopes that it might give a little peace of mind to someone else out there on another genealogical journey!

Here is a 1-2-3 Checklist (behind each pocket divider):
(a printed copy is made and hole punched into the notebook of any digital copies I have but originals are put in protective sleeves)
1. Family Group Sheet
2. Marriage certificate
3. Censuses for the family (in chronological order)
4. Any documents that have to do with the family as a unit (i.e. city directories when both parents were living or when children were living at the house)
5. family photos that have both parents with other family members
6. Father section (tab at top)
      a. blog entries on the person (if I have any)
      b. photos of father (in chronological order if possible) (photos of him by himself and with 
            any of his children or grandchildren)
      c. documents (including letters written, wills, etc. - end documents with the will)
      d. obituaries, funeral programs, death certificate and headstone photo
7. Mother section (tab at top)
     ***follow the same format as the father
8.  First Child (tab at 2nd level)
     a. his/her family group sheet
     b. blog entries (if applicable)
     c. birth certificate (of him and his wife)
     d. marriage certificate (if applicable)
     e. censuses (in chronological order)
     f. any other documents that have to do with the family (including wife documents)
     g. family photos or photos of him with his family
               8a. First Child's children (in chronological order following the same order as parent)
                            *****tab at level 3 for these children******
9.  Second Child (tab at 2nd level)

Let me know if you see any mistakes or if something is confusing.  I am assuming that this
1-2-3 checklist will continue to be a work in progress. 


  1. Thank you. I have been dabbling off and on for many reasons but now attempting to get organized. My problem was always that when I was doing it every day I knew where I was but if there was a break then trying to find all the lose ends would begin and I seemed to just be doing the same work over instead of new work. This makes sense. Again Thank you.

    1. I was in the same boat you were because of teaching and the school year (and have still not dug myself out completely), but having these notebooks makes me at least feel like I have found a map that shows where the end of the tunnel is! Good luck! Keep me posted on your success!

  2. Thanks for sharing your organizing system. It makes sense and it's practical. Yvonne Hockman Osmun

    1. I am so glad! Thank you for visiting my blog!!!

  3. I am so happy that my OCD has met your OCD! This was extremely helpful. I have binders but never quite settled on the structure. Yours makes perfect sense to me. Thank you.

    1. So glad to know that there are others out there like me! The REAL question is...... are you OCD or CDO? Do you want the letters to be in alphabetical order as much as I do????? :) Thanks for stopping by! Visit any time!

  4. Great way to use both binders and the FTM. I enjoyed reading this, thank you.

    1. Thank you!! And Thank you for visiting my blog!

  5. Thank you for sharing your ideas. I noticed the information on the Wallace family. Is that Perthshire, Scotland? My maiden name is Wallace and my line comes from Perthshire, Scotland. My great uncle William Wallace b 1899, Huron Co., Ontario, Canada, moved to SC and lived in Richland, SC. He died in 1963 in Swansea, SC. If your Wallace line came from Perthshire, Scotland what part of Perthshire? I wonder if further back our lines might be connected. If you would like to connect, my email is mspeedie52

    1. OOOOOHHHH!! I'll double check! The information I have says Ayrshire, Scotland, but I am not completely sure where that information came from. My main focus has been on getting each line completely documented "back to the boat," which is quite the undertaking since I have at least 15 lines between my family and my husband's that were hear before the Revolutionary War, but look forward to being able to cross the pond at some point to really dive into the research there. I'll email you the information I have on my Wallaces, though, so that you can see if anything matches up. Thanks for connecting!

  6. Great ideas! I'm going to use notebooks, too. So I appreciate your organization and plan on using this as a starting point. I'm more of an old school paper-loving girl than a digital diva. ;) Thanks for sharing!! - Janice M.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Keep me posted on what you end up doing. I am always looking for ideas on ways to tweak things!!! :)

  7. AMAZING! In your "reason for my Surname Notebooks" you have managed to put into words my genealogy life. (Even down to the research area. My paternal grandparents are both from South Carolina Upcountry area. Only the surnames are different.) I had thought a color coded file system might work for me, but wasn't completely convinced. Wasn't sold on any of the notebook systems I had seen either. But, I think your system may be just what my CDO brain needs! Thank you SO much for sharing this!!!

    1. So glad you can use it!!! Glad to find another CDO gal too! Let me know if you think of any ways to tweak it! Two minds are always better than one! :) Good luck organizing!

  8. Jenna, saw your post The Organized Genealogist Facebook Page and really like your method.I have a question.Your census checklist, is that one list for everyone in the folder are is there one for each family? I can't quite see in the picture.
    Thank you this will be a help to me organizing my binders.My biggest challenge is deciding who to start with!

    1. I have one Census Checklist sheet per surname to keep it all together. It really is just a way to see what I have and what I still need at a glance. On the paper copies, I usually just write the two letter state abbreviation. I can always look behind the appropriate divider tab to get the specifics, but love that I am able to see if there is something written in then it is taken care of. Thanks for stopping by! Hope you find some things that you can use!

  9. Love this idea! It's very similar to what I have been doing, but a bit more concise. Because I have done a lot of work in cemeteries (trying to figure out how everyone is connected) and have some old family letters and photos of distant cousins, I have documentation on several generations of far-removed cousins. I use 1/5 cut file folders as my dividers (whack off the front of the folder and then 3-hole-punch the back that has the tab). The first cut has the name of the first generation (e.g., my grandparents); each of their children (my aunts & uncles) has a 2nd-cut tab with their name; each of the next generation (my first cousins) has a 3rd-cut tab under the appropriate aunt or uncle; the next generation (the children of my 1st cousins, great-grandchildren of my grandparents) has the 4th-cut tabs, etc. Behind each tab is a family group sheet (printed from FTM) followed by whatever documentation I have (censuses in older generations, wedding & graduation invitations in current generations, photos, etc.). On the back of each couple's divider (facing the family group sheet) is a checklist for each census year, birth record, marriage record, will, obituary, tombstone photo, etc. The next notebook has my great-grandparents on the first-cut tab, their children (minus my grandparents who have their own notebook) on the 2nd-cut tab, etc. Since my great-grandfather was married twice, he has a 1st-cut tab with each wife, with the children filed under the appropriate wife. Most of my families now fill up several notebooks b/c I don't know when to quit. :-) I even have notebooks on a couple of families that are not direct line but married into the family at several points, just so I can keep them nice and organized. I totally agree about being able to take a notebook to family reunions. Even people who are not “into” genealogy seem to enjoy looking through them, and I seriously doubt they would look through digital files (although I would be lost w/o Family Tree Maker to keep everything organized and sourced). I'm totally with you on being OCD and hands-on! :-)

    1. P.S. I forgot to add that I put everything in sheet protectors, thus the need for file folders as dividers that will extend beyond them.

    2. I LOVE the idea of using file folder tabs!!!!!! I may just have to incorporate that as I add in all of the originals (photos, letters, certificates, etc.) to the notebooks. Thanks for sharing! And thanks for stopping by!

  10. Love the blog, the binders, your organization.
    I have read the Facebook post, this blog and followed so that when I have the time, I can return to this.
    I like lists that I can visualize and check. Going on what Karen Harris Wall has outlined, can you convert your notebooks scenario to a 1-2-3 checklist? and add to your blog. Great ideas on keeping it simple.

    1. I have added a checklist (1st draft) to the post. Let me know if you see anything that needs fixing. :)

  11. I knew there had to be someone else out there who needed to be able to hold things in there hands, and turn pages!

    I too use the "binder method" but once the children marry, they get their own binder.
    For a bit more visual guidance, I begin my binders with a Table of Contents.

    Do you offer a "Printer-friendly "option?