I have never been big on New Year’s resolutions. My attitude has always been that “today is the first day of the rest of my life.” I was horrified, today, to realize today that I have not published a post for over a month; nearly six weeks in fact. So, I have resolved to publish a blog post every day that I am not working. And no, I am not waiting until the 1st of January to begin. Which, of course, makes organization the obvious subject today.
That covers a lot of things, so today I will talk about photographs and documents. There is no single way to manage these items, but you do need to maintain a system that works for you. And, while I am referring here to electronic copies, the same principles apply to the originals as well. This can be a daunting task, especially if you have a large number of items. But planning ahead will help. You don’t want to organize now and then have to re-organize later. Remember, your goal should be to make items easy to file and easy to find.
Here are my suggestions, but see also this article on organization from WikiHow:
- Create your categories. Here, I would suggest one category for documents and another for pictures.
- Create subcategories. For documents, these could include birth, marriage and death, while for pictures they could be for people and places. Don’t be afraid to add further subcategories.
- Give the folders understandable names (think of them as labels) so that you know what they contain and can find them again. Color coding is a good idea too, but unfortunately you cannot do that in Windows without using 3rd-party software.
- Do not put files on your desktop, except for temporary storage.
When you find a source, you need to put your best effort into interpreting it. I know that sounds obvious, but we often miss simple information, or don’t look at it in the right way. I had a situation very recently when, out of the blue, I had an email asking me how sure I was that Constant Comfort Underwood was a girl. Simple question, but the answer turned out to be more complicated than I anticipated.
Looking at the name one might reasonably think that it’s a girl, right? I mean, we are much more familiar with the name Constance for a girl, but a couple of hundred years ago it was not uncommon for girls to be named after desirable attributes. It was less true of boys, though. Then again, even today you have names where you cannot easily tell the gender. Take Robin, for example. You can’t get much more masculine than the hero Robin Hood, and the (English) robin is a vicious bird with its sharp beak, but nowadays it is often a name given to girls, so you can’t always tell.
So, I thought that maybe this was one of those situations where I had made a superficial analysis and made a hasty assumption of the gender. This question came up because FamilySearch had a source attached to Constant Comfort Underwood that indicated this was a boy, and my correspondent wanted to know which was correct. So I had a look and realized that the source being quoted did not have an image. This meant that somebody else had transcribed the source and assigned a male gender.
I then went to the original. That didn’t help either, because it just said “Constant Comfort of Thos & Mary Underwood.” No indication whether it was a son or a daughter. Still up in the air, then. But what I was looking at was a Bishop’s Transcript. That is a record transcribed by the churchwarden from the parish register and then sent to the bishop as a kind of backup.
An even better source would be the parish register. Lo and behold, I now had my proof. She really was a girl! “Constant Comfort Dr. of Thos & Mary Underwood.”
Lessons to learn from this?
- Try to check the best original record.
- Draw reasonable conclusions from the document.
- Check that anybody else’s interpretation of the record is reasonable.
- Document, document, document.