Genealogy Sleuth Work: Ideas for Organizing


In addition to an overall organizing system, many genealogists work out their own individual tricks of the trade to help them stay organized. Some researchers color code their binders or folders into the four grandparent lineages, or the eight great-grandparent lines, for easy identification. Some maintain a master card file on all ancestors as a quick reference to binders or folders or as a handy summary of events in ancestors' lives. Others dedicate one binder as an index to ancestors and the known events in their lives. Some do this master index alphabetically; some use ahnentafel numbers.

Ahnentafel is a German word meaning "family table" or "family tree." The numbers are a logical method of giving each ancestor an identification number. The beauty of this system is that you can add as many ancestors as you find without having to change anyone's number. Many pedigree charts use these numbers. If you chart your own ancestors, you are number one. Your father is double your number, or two. Your mother is double your number, plus one, or three. Double any person's number to get the father's number; double the number and add one to get the mother's number. Thus, fathers are even numbers; mothers are odd numbers. You can reach back as far as you need to go with these convenient numbers. Figure 1 on page 8 shows a sample ahnentafel chart.

One-page indexes and master lists are easy to take with you for reference when you research, especially if you prefer not to lug around heavy binders. Some genealogists keep an alphabetical list of ancestors by state so that they can check data at a glance while working on that state. Others prefer a complete listing of everyone. Most researchers who use these lists want basic vital statistics listed for each person as a frame of reference. On lists of ancestors in a given state, it is helpful to add their dates of residence in the state so that you look for each one in the correct time period. One friend prints from the computer a master list of research names and vital statistics but uses a light shading on the direct ancestors to spot them easily. Many binders have covers with insert pockets that are convenient places for your ancestor reference lists.

Some researchers code and number each page of notes in the binders and use these page numbers as references on family group sheets and other charts. One genealogist told me she uses different colored pages for notes on different surnames; if one sheet of the wrong color shows up in a set of notes, she immediately knows where to file it.

     Emily Anne Croom, "Genealogy Sleuth Work: Ideas for Organizing," extracted from The Sleuth Book for Genealogists: Strategies for More Successful Family History Research, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2008), Chapt. 1, pp. 6-7; digital edition, ( : posted 26 Jul 2012)

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