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Document it . . . or lose it.

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

There are two key components to effective research. They are organization of the paperwork or online information and the location of where those documents were found. The lack of organization or the lack of a consistent documentation method will cause hours of wasted time when researching. Adopting the right organizational method for you, from the beginning, will make the whole research process so much easier and less frustrating.

Online archives are huge and there is a method tor the citation process of the information which I highly recommend using. Printing out the information you found is not enough but when you do print it out, a good practice is to write the source of it on the backside of the paper. Labels peel off in time. Don't just state "National Archives" cite the entire source such as Field Orders, 314th TCG, Record Group 18, Entry 7, National Archives, Suitland, Md. It seems more complicated than it actually is. Two great books on citing sources are Evidence; Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian and Evidence Explained - which also has the added bonus of a website/blog. They are reference books that include templates for citing military sources depending upon the source of the information.

In addition I always replicate a timeline using an Excel spreadsheet. I am very visual and like to have the full picture. Prior to Excel I actually used large rolls of paper and made a timeline. I cannot stress enough how, for any family, historical or military research, a timeline is crucial. You can see at a glance where something does not fit, information is missing or a pattern emerges.

How to store the documents is also key to being able to find them. Dumping them all in a box is not the best method. Document storage in an organized manner is a key component to effective research. My elderly mother used jumbo ziplock bags labelled on the front so she could see what was inside at a glance. Some researchers use a filing system in file drawers. I myself prefer a combination. Since I may have ongoing research in a number of areas going on at once I use files for those that are not foremost in my priorities at that time with an online spreadsheet of the documents and sources. For working on my book I adopted the ziplock bag method and loved it. Each chapter was organized by quoted documents in order, by chapter and then filed in a clear shallow plastic bin right next to me.It worked very well because I had to access them often. For genealogy research I use binders - one per family. Lots of people color code. Whatever method you decide to use must work for you. Once you find a system that is working be and be consistent in using it. You will make much more progress and end up a lot less frustrated in the end.

Happy researching!

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