Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dear Randy - Can You Describe Your Genealogy Workflow?

Several weeks ago, I was asked in email to describe how I go about doing my genealogy research, documenting it and reporting it.  In other words, my "Genealogy Workflow."

The workflow description below is how I'm trying to do it now (over the last two years, and trying to be as digital as possible):

1)  Paper Records

Find a record in a repository -- a published book, periodical, manuscript or microfilm of records.
Make photocopies of the Title Page, the Table of Contents, and selected pages.  Write the source citation essentials on the first page if it is not evident.  Staple pages together.  If copies cannot be made, extract, abstract or transcribe important information.
*  Enter summary information to the Person Research Log in the genealogy database. [
I used to keep paper research logs by surname that described date, repository, record description, and summary of findings.  That sort of fell by the wayside... (I still have them in my notebooks).]
*  Put the photocopies in a folder on my desk labeled "to be entered" and try to work on them ASAP.
When "picked up," enter the name, date, location information into my genealogy database as assertions for each Event (evidence-based), always creating a master source for the work and citation details for each assertion.
*  Transcribe important information (e.g., wills, obituaries, letters) into the Person Notes in my database (always adding the source info in EE format to the Person Notes)
*  Extract or abstract other information into the Person Notes, always adding the source info  in EE format to the notes.
*  When finished with the paper copies, mark the photocopy pages with "database" and "sourced" and put them in the "to be filed" stack of paper.
*  Eventually cram the collected "to be filed" paper into the surname notebooks.

2)  Digital Records:

*  Find a record on a website, or in an online database, or on microfilm records that I capture on a flash drive, or books/documents/records that I capture on a digital camera.
*  Add summary information to the Person Research Log in the genealogy software.
*  Capture the image of the actual record or record summary (e.g., census, military, vital, etc.).  Save it to the "To be Entered" file folder in my Ancestor Files folder, 
Name the images using source title and sequence number.
*  When accessed again, enter the name, date, location information into my genealogy database, using a two-window method (either side-by-side or top-and-bottom on the screen), as assertions for each Event (evidence-based), always creating or using an existing master source for the work, and citation details for the page number for each assertion.
*  Extract, abstract or transcribe narrative information directly into the Person Notes of my genealogy database using the two-window method.   Always create or use an existing master source, and add citation detail  for the Event assertions in EE format.  Copy the Reference Note source citation to the Person Notes to minimize typing.
*  When finished, move the images to the specific family "documents" folder, and rename them with a consistent naming convention of [].
3)  Some comments:

*  I usually don't print the digital records out, nor attach them to events or sources in my genealogy database.  The process with digital images obviates the need for more paper to be put in the "to be filed" pile or crammed into the surname notebooks.  This is where the digital file organization and file naming protocols are really important - if I don't know that it is in a computer file, then I don't see it unless I really hunt for it.

*  I often have only one assertion for a birth, marriage and death, selecting the "best one" by a semi-instant conclusion process (hmm, does that need explaining?  Based mainly on seeming authority of the sources - e.g., a vital record outweighs a census record).  If I have a probate record that doesn't list date of death, I usually add a death event with "before dd mmm yyyy" - e.g., the date the administration was filed or the will was proved.  If I don't have a birth date/place record except from census records, I'll add "about yyyy" calculated from the age - entering an average birth year or earliest available record.  I dislike blanks in birth years.  I have not sourced a lot of these conclusion -based "best one" dates/places!  I've been trying to add all available evidence to my database for specific persons (usually my recent ancestors, my conflicted persons, or my end-of-line persons) along with source citations, trying to be more evidenced-based.

*  For evidence analysis, proof arguments, or written conclusions concerning a specific Event, I sometimes write a Fact Note (e.g., for Name, Birth, Death) to  discuss the available evidence and/or to summarize my current conclusion. 

*  I sometimes create a fictitious person (e.g., "Knapp") in my database when I don't know the given name of the father of a person, and put a summary of my collected evidence, my hypotheses, and analysis in the Person Notes.  I also create a Research Log in the database to help guide me through the search.  When I find information for specific persons that might be the father (or parents), I enter them as a disconnected person(s) and add the evidence, sources and notes for them.

*  I try to summarize the resources I've found in my Person Notes (with source citations) so that someone reading them can determine what I've found and used.  When I go off to a repository, I create Individual reports and/or a family line Narrative report that provides all of the information that I have for the Person or family line.  I usually print that and then mark it up while on the trip.  I also add "to-do" items to the Person's Research Log and print it off and mark it up while at the repository. 

*  Until recently, my surname notebooks have contained only the collected paper (photocopies from books, periodicals, correspondence, indexes, etc.).  I have tried to organize several of my surname notebooks by creating sections for a narrative report, charts, supporting documents, photographs, reference materials, and correspondence.  The idea was to make it so that someone who picks it up can figure out what I've done for that particular surname (thank you, DearMYRTLE!), while also getting the "to be filed" piles in notebooks and winnowing out useless stuff (like Ancestral File FGS).  It quickly became obvious that I was going to have to print out many more pieces of paper (narrative report, charts, documents, etc.) to do this for all of my surnames, and buy hundreds of notebooks to boot.  I'm out of shelf space.  Now I'm thinking of putting digital reports together with much of that information in them using the software and (hopefully) passing those to family members, and perhaps creating POD books to send to libraries or family members. 

*  I have lots of sourcing still to do.  I have over 111,000 events in my database, and only about 25% have a source citation attached to them.  I have lots of persons with no date/place info - mostly parents of spouses of siblings of my ancestors, or spouses of one-name study persons.   

*  Then there's the historical place names issue - I'm waiting for a software creator to make a one-button-fixes-that for the problem!

4)  Conclusion:

That's my workflow as I try to practice it at this time.  I know that I am not as disciplined as I should be.  It has evolved over time to the point that I am not entering data from unknown or unreliable sources like Ancestral File, Ancestry Member Trees, online websites, etc.  However, there is a lot of that type of information in my database and I'm trying to find authoritative sources to add content and source citations to the database.  I do look at those resources for clues to end-of-line ancestors, however.

How do you do your genealogy research and documentation?  Tell us in your own blog post!

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Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


Patti Hobbs said...

I follow a similar process. The majority of my materials are also digitial files and I arrange them by location of the materials: Folder for state holding folders for counties, each of which hold folders of offices (e.g., recorder of deeds, county clerk) or locations (e.g., cemeteries, historical society)

I have also gone to putting my ESM-modeled citations in notes fields, but not necessarily in the person notes. I will place them in the event note field.

Christine M. said...

Knowing that you still have much to cite comforts me. That's my biggest need for improvement & has been my biggest genealogical fear! I guess it's never too late to start.