Sunday, May 23, 2010

Let's start at the beginning...Why I need to be organised and make research goals

The need for organisation
I admit that I am a disorganised family historian!
Now that I have realised how disorganised I am (actually I have known it for a while), I am making one of my first goals on this blog to become better organised, to make clear research goals and ultimately to become a more professional-like genealogist.

As I have researched my family history during my spare time over the past seven years I have, unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how I look at it), accumulated a huge amount of data - both online and offline. The unfortunate thing is that I have not kept this data well organised, thus it remains basically meaningless data and not meaningful information. Could all this meaningless data become meaningful information? Definitely...but I will have to work hard, and I will have to make plans and keep records.

How did I become so disorganised? 
I first became interested in family history research when my Mum purchased a copy of Personal Ancestral File (PAF) on CD-Rom in about 2001/2002. Mum had been researching for about 15 years at that stage and most of her research was on paper in several surname folders. She also had a couple of books written about several branches of our family by other cousins. Mum asked me if I would help her record her research in a PAF database. I was very interested and most willing to help.

So I started extracting names and dates and recording them in PAF. Unfortunately, as a beginner I completely neglected to record any sources. About that time I also discovered the Internet as a research resource:, and for example.
I saved any possibly useful data to my computer - but I often neglected to analyse the data or carefully record each search, successful or unsuccessful. I didn't keep a detailed research log or correspondence log.

I developed the bad habit of searching online databases without any actual research plan or goals - I just had vague ideas about what I might look for next. I really started to research in my spare time when I started University in 2003. In the seven years since I have unfortunately continued on with vague, unplanned and unrecorded goals for my research.

I live a long way from most of the major libraries and archives in Victoria, and I don't often get to research at these repositories. Whenever I manage to get there, I collect as much data as I can. But again I neglect to analyse the data when I return home. This style of research is getting me nowhere. I find myself going around in circles, repeating research and blindly chasing references to my ancestors in any new resources that come online.

In 2007 I started studying for a graduate diploma in history. Through this course I learnt about the importance of accurate source citations and the differences between primary and secondary sources. I completed this course last year and since then I have been reading a lot about professional genealogy and research methodologies.

Now it's time to start putting this knowledge into practice. I intend to start again, from the beginning.
This means a new blank database in Legacy (the genealogy software I use mostly - I also have Family Tree Maker 2010, RootsMagic and Family Historian). My main Legacy file at the moment has about 10,000 people in it, many of them without any source citations.

What I need to do

  • Start a new file in Legacy, begin with myself and work backwards methodically, recording all sources, attaching relevant source documents and attaching photographs 
  • Begin and continue to keep a research log
  • Begin and continue to keep a correspondence log
  • Organise all the family history data saved on my computer into relevant folders
  • Create research goals and detailed plans 
  • Organise, tag and label the photographs on my computer (digital photos as well as scanned photos and documents)
  • Organise my Google Bookmarks
  • Organise my Bookshelves on Google Books 
  • Continue learning more about professional Genealogy and Family History through blogs, web sites, books and journals
  • My longer term goals include publishing some of my research on this blog and writing a detailed history book about my Fullerton ancestors
So, let's start at the beginning...

Copyright © 2010 A. O'Brien.


  1. Sounds like a plan! I'm on a bit of a filing blitz myself.

  2. OMG! This is exactly what I am doing right now. Your list above, mirrors mine so closely, I would swear that I wrote it! LOL! From starting over in Legacy to creating the various logs, creating better citations and even organizing bookmarks! Are we related? :)

    I also just started a blog for posting my family histories, etc. for later when it is all organized. Here is my blog:

    Great to meet someone who is trying to conquer the same problem I am! Wooooo! I am not alone in my piles of unorganized previous research!


  3. Thanks Shelley and Angelique - I am also glad I am not the only one needing to reorganise!
    Good luck both of you with your filing and organising!

  4. I think you have the right idea in getting all this sorted now, just a few years into your research! I have been researching my family for over 20 years now and am needing to re-check everything because I am finding that when I first started I didn't think (or know) about the importance of citing sources etc..

    Your comment about whether all this "meaningless data" eventually becomes "meaningful" is spot-on! In re-checking all my things I am now finding information I had from years ago that meant nothing at all to me then, but now it is important, vital and so what I had been looking for!!

    I wish you much luck with organising yourself, you certainly have some good ideas for getting yourself and your data sorted.

    Thanks for visiting my blog too, much appreciated and for the mention in your sidebar!!

    Kind regards,

    Christine (rootsresearcher)

  5. Thanks for your comment on my blog. I was unaware of your blog so it helped me to find you. I quite enjoyed reading this post as I have struggled with these thoughts myself. I always start methodically going through each person in my database to correct and properly source, but without fail, I get swept away to something else vying for my research attention. While all my direct ancestors are pretty complete and sourced, many of the collateral folks aren't so much. I kind of like you idea about starting a brand-new database and "starting over" as you put it.

    I'm with ya on the research logs, plans, etc. I have been doing pretty good at crafting research plans for people I am working on. I keep track of some searches, but not diligently (however I am getting better). It's nice to know I am not alone and it's nice to know that we can all learn from each other.

    Best of luck in your new beginning.


Your comments are appreciated. Thanks.

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