Saturday, January 5, 2013

Organizing Historical and Genealogical Research


This is all of the research for the book I am writing, with the exception of maps. Notebooks are the backbone of my organizational system. I started out by keeping everything in one notebook, but when the newspaper articles filled the notebook I divided it into two notebooks.

The Newspaper Notebook on the right contains copies of newspaper articles gleaned from hours of staring at the microfilm reader at the Salida Regional Library and at home from the Digitized Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection. Each article is placed in a page protector and arranged in chronological order.


I also have a computer database sorted by date, name, place, event and source. Each article and court event is documented in the database.

The Biographical Notebook contains photographs and genealogical information on all of the people involved in the story. This includes my great-great-uncle, his partner who was lynched, the widow, the cattlemen behind the lynching, the judges, and the lawyers. Census records, land records, cattle brands, obituaries, anything that could be used to glean more information is included in this notebook and organized alphabetically by name.


Because the story involves more than twelve court cases, trying to make sense of the records and organize them was key. I discovered legal-size expanding wallet files in various colors and began using them. I gave each county a color. In the upper-left corner, I wrote the county and the court (county or district) and the case numbers included in the file. The name of the case is in the center - The People vs. Ernest Christison et. al. In the upper-right corner, a short description of the documents in the file helps me locate important documents.


Inside the court case files, I typed up a brief for each case that includes the date, the type of document or court action, and where the copy of the document can be found. Some of the documents are in the research notebook and not in the file.

Notes and other information that didn't necessarily belong in the categories of one of the notebooks are now contained in a clear plastic box. Also early drafts of some chapters are here.

Finally, I have a purple Research Notebook that has the photo of my great-great-uncle Ernest Christison on the front. This is the notebook I take with me when I do research. It is divided into sections.
  • Section 1 is a bibliography of every book, manuscript and court case I've researched.
  • Section 2 contains addresses of archives, museums, and libraries along with operating hours, phone numbers, and a map of how to get there.
  • Section 3 is a print-out of the events from my historical research database.
  • Section 4 contains a page for each research repository and what information I am looking for there. Sometimes I can find information on-line through card catalogs or databases that give me an idea of what to search for there. This also keeps me from looking again for information I've already attempted to find.

5 comments:

Susan Petersen said...

I always enjoy seeing how other people organize their research. Thanks for sharing!

DianaR said...

I should do something roughly similar for a great-grandmother. I'm trying to sort through her marriages and divorces. So far I believe she was married 5 time - although one might not have been an actual marriage ;-) I have quite a bit of "paper" on her and it's just been sitting in a pile (now box) staring at me intimidatingly!

Gayle Gresham said...

Thanks, Susan! I enjoy seeing how others organize,too.

Diana, sometimes just putting the papers in order helps you catch something you have missed. Good luck!

Kathleen said...

I like your organization style! I have been working on organizing my research which is currently in multiple binders and file folders!

Gayle Gresham said...

Kathleen,if I can put something in a binder, then I know it is where I can find it again. The key to binders is knowing when to put it in a bigger binder or when to divide it and put it into two binders. I have a tendency not to look in a file folder once something is filed away. Good luck with organizing your research!