Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Taming all that Information! - Part 1

The other day I wrote about Action Lists as a way to help keep track of "some-day" research that needs to be done. I had two very interesting follow-up questions that I would like to address here.

One person asked on my Google+ wall, "Am I assuming correctly that you also keep track of what you have done [when using the Action Lists] as taught in your webinar?"

This person is referring to my "Plan Your Way to Research Success" webinar where I created data completion sheets to make sure I gathered all the important information in pre-printed fields.

The answer is yes and no. I don't always use data completion sheets (ie forms). How I capture the information is not as important to me as what I do with it. 

When I do on-site research I will try to determine ahead of time how I can capture the information that I find. In some cases I can use a camera or scanner and in other cases I'll have to transcribe the information.  Since my Action Lists are repository specific I usually know ahead of time if I can scan items or if I'll need to transcribe. Much of the time I can scan or photograph and therefore bypass having to use forms.

Ideally, I would like to get scans or photos of all genealogical information.  That way I can view the information I accessed as I first saw it. That helps remove the chance that I've introduced errors while transcribing.

The capturing of data for me can take these various forms but the filing of data remains consistent. I'm not sure if I discussed this in the webinar or not.  I am not a paper person so I really don't keep paper files (I will lose them!).

All of my information whether handwritten transcriptions, photographs or scans gets put into a project specific directory in my computer with a long descriptive filename. The longer I have been researching the longer my file names have become! I try to put all the basic citation information (file number, document type, town, county, date) in the filename in an abbreviated way so I can easily search my files without having to open documents.

Here's a sample filename for a scanned record:


NOR = County where the document is held (in this case Norfolk, MA). I may include state if the location is outside my normal research area.
ThomasDiana = Subject name -  lastname, firstname
1858 = Year of the document or file
Adm = Record type (in this case a probate administration file)
18232 = Probate file number
IMG_0008 - An automatically generated image number when there are multiple documents from the same file (my scanner allows this and I find it most helpful)

I have seen some researchers put in full citation information and microfilm numbers in their file names. I'm not saying that my system is best. It's just what works for me. Please come up with a system that works best with the way you think.

Ok, I know some of you are thinking, how does she get those handwritten transcriptions into the computer?!!  Most of the time, unless there is a very good reason, I will scan my original notes and capture them as a pdf or jpg.  That way I can save time by not retyping them and I don't have to worry about introducing further errors.

Ideally, when using the forms as in the webinar, I would type directly into the forms on a laptop or netbook (or some would use an iPad).  My laptop is too heavy and I don't have a netbook yet so believe it or not I still take some handwritten notes.  Typing directly into the forms saves the most time by completing the task only once. There is still room for error when typing but it's the best option.

I've been way too long winded in answering this question so I am making this a two-part post. I'll answer the second question in the next post.

Let me know what you think of my process or if you have suggestions for improving it.

[Continue on to Taming all that Information! - Part 2]


  1. Marian, your practice of scanning your notes was an eye opener for me. I, too, try to digitize everything. If I don't, like you I will lose any paper copies I generate. Of course, it is necessary to take notes when I can't enter them directly. Until now I have been either going back and entering that data immediately OR losing the notes. What a simple solution... Scan it! Duh! Thanks, your suggestion is almost like breaking down a brick wall.

  2. I've been scanning my notes also. Sometimes I do it on site with my hand scanner. So if I'm using the hand scanner to scan pages from a book or some other documents, and I stop to make notes either on a blank sheet of paper or on my Action List, I'll scan those notes. That way when I upload the files to my laptop, the notes are with the images that they refer to.

    1. What a great idea Michelle! I had never thought of that but it totally makes sense.

  3. Another thing I've been playing with is adding citation information to digital images in the metadata. I'm learning how to use Adobe Lightroom and you can add the metadata to multiple images at one time which is perfect for citations.

    I'm like you in that I try to put a lot of information in the file names. I've been burned a few times though if the file name or path gets too long. It's particularly been a problem when backing files up.

    1. Michelle, I'd be interested in learning mOre about this? Do you blog?

    2. Hi Jillaine, Yes, my blog is The Turning of Generations.

      I've written about metadata a few times and will be adding more posts. Particularly in the 21st Century Organized Family Historian series.

      Do a google search on my blog for metadata like this:
      site: metadata

      Good luck!