Friday, February 6, 2009

Organizing your data

Get some manila file folders and label them with your family surnames. Organize materials: photos, notes, research, audio or video tape interviews as they come into this folders. Keep a list of those you contacted and who to contact next for more info. It's helpful to keep some kind of master log for each surname or group of family surnames that you are researching so you know what you've done. I call it a RESEARCH LOG and it goes in your manila folder with the materials you are gathering. There are many research logs online for free that can be used or you can make your own.

If you just write your data or information on little slips of paper and put them haphazardly in your pocket or purse, they will get lost or go through the laundry. I know I've done that. It helps to condense all your notes in one place and add a TO DO list when you stop working on a surname so next time you'll know where to pick up what you were doing last. Whether you're doing family history research on the Internet or just gathering materials for a biography, it helps to be organized as materials will pile up in stacks on your desk very quickly.

Of course having a computer software database program to keep track of all the names, dates, places and sources or documentation is very helpful. You can just do it with a pen and paper forms but the advantages of having it on a computer are amazing as your data multiplies and you trace your ancestors further back. There are many software choices available the easiest and cheapest (it's free) is PAF 5.2 or Personal Ancestral File available to download from

Or if you are interested in other commercial programs, there are many available to purchase. Some that are highly recommended by others are: Legacy, Family Treemaker, and Roots Magic. I use Reunion because it is one of the only ones available for Macintosh computers. There are many sites online available to teach you how to use these programs plus LDS family history centers available all over the world with volunteers available to help you with these programs and assist you in your research.

To start out just download the simplest forms: a pedigree chart to start your family tree, and a family group sheet which shows the parents of a family and all their children's information. Time to get organized and write down the information you are finding or input it in your computer.


  1. This is some really useful info. I did my tracing long before any of these programs were available, and hired someone. It was reasonable cost, but these days it looks like a person could get involved at any level they want!

  2. Great thoughts here. I am thinking of all the bits and pieces lying around here and how that would so help my daughter some day when she becomes the keeper of the log. I bring a lot of institutional knowledge to the pile, but it's still a pile!

  3. Lin, I've been reading your posts... you share some really great ideas..... You have the gift of organizing and teaching, to be sure.

  4. Another great lesson Lin. I have Family Tree Maker but haven't gone that far back yet...Michelle

  5. I have to get organized?? Ugh! I think I'll go back and read your last post again. That one sounds like fun. Huh? What was that you said? Grow up, Caryn? Life is not all spent on the playground? You have to buckle down and get a little homework done now and then? Did I hear you right? Rats!

    Okay... maybe you didn't really SAY those things. But, I'm pretty sure I heard you thinking them.

  6. Great advice. I have so much information in files. But Nonie is the one that uses a computer software to keep it all organized. I didn't know about that free program. I'll check that out. Thanks!