One of our first topics in US Records Study Group was “Organizing and Evaluating Research Findings.” When people talk about “being organized,” I think they are often referring to the physical “stuff”: the documents, photos, and artifacts that they have accumulated. Can any of this stuff be located at a moments notice?
I have a pretty good handle on my stuff, because I keep all my records in electronic format. This is not to say that I don’t always have a backlog of things to be added to the computer, because I do, but everything that is in the computer is named and filed using a system, and tagged extensively, so that a quick computer search finds whatever I want.
The areas that plague me have less to do with finding the documents and more to do with the questions “what have I already done with this person/family/document and what do I need to do next?” In other words, with keeping up with where I am in the research process.
In The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, Greenwood suggests that we write regular research reports to ourselves, just as if we were working with a client. I have done this a few times, but not with any kind of regularity, and I can definitely see how it would be beneficial. Every time I switch family lines, I have to completely refresh myself on my prior research and half the time I find myself wondering “why did I think that?” I have citations for all the facts, but I don’t always have documentation for my conclusions. I think that a research report that lays out the events and conclusions in chronological order, and that also includes all the abstracts, transcripts, and photocopies, would be very helpful in getting myself back up to speed and I want to get in the habit of writing them.
Greenwood also suggests that we write reminder notes at the end of a day’s work. These notes will probably vary from day to day and project to project, but could include a to-do list, sources to check, next steps, what you did last, etc. The general idea is to be able to “read your reminder and proceed from where you left off,” whether that is days, months, or even years later. I usually have a file folder by the computer of things I’m working on and I always think I’m going to remember what to do next, and if I get to it in the next day or so, I usually do. But sometimes I find myself picking up a file folder a long time later than I intended to and then I’m just lost. I want to get in the habit of writing a quick sticky note and dropping it in the working file.
These are not New Year’s Resolutions and I hesitate to call them “goals,” even though I put that in the post title. They are simply habits and additions to my process that will help me be more efficient and organized.