Over time, beginners in genealogy will become knowledgeable about all the potential clues embedded in every document and record, every history and photograph, every gravestone and medal. But in the early months of research, beginners may make the mistake of taking only the specific information they were looking for from a document and then move on, discarding the record. That record does not get saved to be pored over in a month or perhaps a year later, when more information suddenly comes to light! Oh dear, now where was that record found? Here are a few tips on saving documents, records, and other items of historical and genealogical importance.
Start a folder – either a paper file folder in your desk, or a computer folder in your Genealogy section – and label it “Potential Treasure”. Or, use another title that reminds you of these clues.
For an “Index” of these treasures, start a Notepad note (or similar) with the same label, with numbers down the left side. Some people may prefer to use an Excel-type document for this purpose. Another excellent option is to have 4 folders with their own Index notes: each of the 4 folders corresponding to the 4 grandparent family lines in your pedigree chart. Pick a system that you are comfortable with using.
Next, list on the Index and save/label every item that goes into this folder carefully with the surname of the family you were researching, plus the corresponding number from the Notepad Index. Use surname, name of document, date if known, and other helpful details. I will also copy and paste the web site url (address) into the Index as well. You have lots of room on these notes, so do not try to abbreviate or skip details.
Here is one example: “#4: Pettigrew,Thomas 1790 US Census, Kittery ME, next to Francis Pettigrew.” Here, I’m not certain I have the correct Thomas Pettigrew ancestor, and I also noticed that a neighbor with the same surname might be a relative to follow. As I gather more information in the future, I may come back to these potential Francis Thomas family listings. These particular 1790 hand-made Census forms can be challenging to search! So many Pettigrew families, with the very same names – I needed every form I could find for future reference.
Another example: “#17: Campion, A. plus E. and 9 ch. 1852 Census, Earnestown ON.” Even though first names of all in the family were only listed as initials, I already knew the names of 6 of the children, and they were listed in the apparently correct order. It seemed likely to be my ancestor family so I saved it. Later I was able to confirm each child in the list as I gathered more details of birth, marriage and death.
As you save a document or record, remember that you are able to save it by right-clicking on the item, then choose “save as” in the menu that pops up, and give it your detailed title. You can specify where to place that item at the top of your larger menu. Save to your Potential Treasure folder, or to your computer Desktop.
If you print out an individual item, be sure that your Index has the details you may need in order to find that item in the future. The entire purpose of this exercise is to be able to quickly lay your hands on your potential research document/record, and to evaluate its usefulness in your family tree.
Remember that if you have found a Census record, you might wish to also save the pages on either side of your family’s page; family members tended to live nearby, and those neighbours four or five households away could be maternal aunts and uncles or grandparents. Once you discover your greatgrandmother’s maiden name, you may be able to confirm those additional relationships. Plus those additional individuals may lead you to another generation back in time, or some cousins who also are involved in genealogy!
Every document you find can be full of treasure – if not now, then perhaps in the future. Take a moment to save, index and file that possible item. Once a month or so, go through the Index to see if you are able to use more information, or if it is absolutely clear that this item is not your ancestor family. A number of times I have been certain of the uselessness of a document, but later found it contained a very important clue: the same page had a relative’s bride’s family living nearby (son of my family married a neighbor’s daughter). Those “Ah-ha!” moments are so exciting. Enjoy your searches – and save your treasures!