Ask the Archivist: How to get organized
A. It depends on the family. You might get original items handed down—actual wills or papers, letters, photos, programs, correspondence. My family is tiny and didn’t save anything. Most of what I have is photocopies that I’ve scanned to a digital format.
A. You can, and some people do. But original materials such as documents and letters should be placed in archival storage conditions. Also, you don’t want to three-hole punch certain things—you might punch through the birth date on a vital record. I wouldn’t want to use staples or glue, either: When you alter an item, you risk changing the information on it.
Q. How do you work with research materials in different places, such as archival storage boxes, binders and a hard drive?
A. I do like to have everything in one place, so I digitize everything. It makes my research materials easily accessible. I have files for surnames and individuals. I create a personal inventory document on each individual so I know what I have on him or her—for example, a birth certificate, yearbook photo or letters. (You can download a blank personal inventory form to print and fill out from <familytreemagazine.com/info/researchforms>.) With everything in one place, I can see what I have, so I can write the family history story I want to write. And I still keep the papers stored away, but they don’t get handled.
Q. What if I don’t want to digitize everything?
A. There’s no reason you can’t do the same thing on paper. Just print out a personal inventory form for each person. You might be able to keep original documents in drop-in archival sleeves in a binder with your other research materials; it depends on what you have and what your preference is. Even if you keep originals separately in archival storage, you can place copies of them with your other research materials so all the content is together.
Q. What tips do you have for labeling research materials with source citation information?
A. If I digitize a document, I save it as a two-page PDF. Information on what it is and where I got it is on the second page. You can’t really separate the two pages, so the information won’t get lost. Also, my computer file names contain a lot of the source information. For photos, I can right-click to add information (in Windows, click on Properties, then Details, then add title, subject, tags and comments; with a Mac, use iPhoto software). With paper, if I have an article or something photocopied, I put it in a sleeve and then put a note on the back of the sleeve.
Q. What about backups of your research materials?
A. You do want to have a second copy of your research materials somewhere else—on a hard drive in another location, or online in “the cloud.” That way, you don’t worry about fires or floods. The same thing applies for paper copies: Keep an extra set in a separate location.
Archival Action: Organize your hard copy research