The following article is by my good friend, Bill Dollarhide.
Dollarhide’s Genealogy Rule No. 43: If you can remember your ancestor’s marriage date but not your own, you are
probably an addicted genealogist
In the articles, “Piles of Paper – Part 1, 2 & 3,” we suggested you take your large piles of paper and dump them into one pile on the floor of your kitchen. We then discussed the three categories of paper that needed to be separated out from the large pile. And, after removing the Compiled Sheets and Research Aids, we were left with a still large pile of paper. After suggesting some basic rules to follow hereafter in saving any Notes and Documents, we gave some ideas for picking up the papers one by one, and getting them ready for 3-hole ring binders, creating “surname books” divided by place of origin and paginated. In this article, we discus the retrieval of information from your well-organized notes and documents collection to compile family sheets, keep track of the genealogical events for each ancestor/relative, and show the evidence you have backing up everything you say on the compiled sheets.
Retrieving Notes and Compiling Family Sheets
If all of the notes and documents are organized as described in the previous three articles, a genealogist has the means of locating multiple sheets for analysis. The process of comparing information from the notes is one which most experienced genealogists understand. However, the problem of locating every research item can be frustrating if the notes are not in a place where they can be removed (or returned) easily.
The next step of compiling a family sheet is the point where most genealogists compare the notes, evaluate the contradictions that always occur, and then make a decision about the dates, places, and events necessary to enter information about the family members. This process is sometimes lengthy and worrisome, and often leads to ideas where new research might be necessary. With a large collection of research notes, the process is even more complicated, and some means of indexing the information becomes critical.
With notes and documents easily retrieved from the surname notebooks, a family sheet can be prepared more easily, but more importantly, a complete citation list of every sheet that was used to compile the family information can be created.
The Importance of Genealogical Evidence
Genealogists have at their disposal a rule of law called The Preponderance of Evidence. It is possible – if one can fully document all sources – to make assertions about the relationships between people. There may not be a single document that states, “he was the son of. . .” in your document files, but there may be overwhelming evidence to demonstrate that a relationship of father to son was indeed the case. If a court of law in the U.S. can accept such evidence, then it can be used by genealogists as well.
In fact, there are numerous instances in which professional genealogists have testified in court about genealogical evidence regarding an heir to property, establishing paternity, or some matter in which genealogical evidence was in question. Genealogical evidence is no different than the evidence provided in a criminal case, where the prosecuting attorney must produce evidence that the accused was indeed the criminal. However, the important fact about evidence is that everyone who reviews it must come to the same conclusion. Therefore, the pieces of evidence must be made available so that anyone can scrutinize the findings. If the same conclusion is reached, then it is indeed possible to make an assertion about “the son of. . .” without having a single document that actually states that fact.
Any references, however slight, should be in the notes and documents collection. This means, for instance, that an obituary should be obtained even if the death certificate for this person has already been acquired. It also means that any other piece of evidence relating to that death should be gathered, e.g., survivors’ memories, funeral programs, cemetery office records, tombstone inscriptions, stone mason records, insurance papers, social security records, and anything that may give clues about the survivors of the deceased. The more references collected, the more information that will be revealed about the ancestors or descendants of the person who died. Adding multiple references to a death or other event is the way we build a preponderance of evidence. This is the method in which a genealogist can prove something without a shadow of doubt being cast on the evidence. For this reason, a complete list of references should accompany every genealogical presentation, whether the presentation is a few family group sheets or a thousand-page book.
Preparing A List For A Family Group Sheet
There are several ways of listing the sources and itemizing the evidence for genealogical purposes. First, a genealogist could simply write a narrative which describes the steps taken, listing every source and the conclusions reached. Second, a formal list could be prepared that itemizes all sources that make any mention of one person. And third, such a list could be prepared for each family group, showing the page number in the notes/documents collection where the information is found.
This latter method has merit if the family sheet is being prepared anyway, so why not simply list every reference that was used to compile the family information? Better yet, why not use the back side of the family sheet to do it? This is good record-keeping because in compiling the family sheet, every reference item from the documents file can be listed one at a time. Then, as new information is added, the new reference item can be added to the list as well.
Remember the suggestion was for every reference sheet to have a number — now the importance of that page number is evident. But beyond the simple reference to the page, more information might be worthwhile having in the list. Here is an example of a list of sources that can be written on the back of a family group sheet:
Source Code – Type of Record – In Reference To – Information Given
Dollarhide/IN/3 – Marriage – John Dollarhide – Date, place, witnesses
Reynolds/IN/13 – Marriage – Lucy Reynolds – Date, place, witnesses
Dollarhide/IN/14 – 1850 Census – John Dollarhide – Age, place of birth
Dollarhide/IN/14 – 1850 Census – Lucy Dollarhide – Age, place of birth
Dollarhide/IN/14 – 1850 Census – Wm. H. H. Dollarhide – Age, place of birth
Dollarhide/IN/14 – 1850 Census – Nancy Dollarhide – Age, place of birth
Dollarhide/CA/22 – 1870 Census – Lucy Dollarhide – Age, place of birth
Dollarhide/CA/22 – 1870 Census – John C. Dollarhide – Age, place of birth
Dollarhide/CA/22 – 1870 Census – Priscilla Dollarhide – Age, place of birth
Note that the first thing needed is to inform a reader which surname book the item came from, what section within the surname book, and what page number within that section. “Dollarhide/IN/3” indicates that the reference is in the Dollarhide surname book in the Indiana section, and within that section, it is page 3.
There are advantages in listing all references on the family sheet in this way. Not only does the list indicate every research item that was used to compile the family group, it provides a list that can be mailed to other genealogists showing what has been collected for that family. Genealogists who receive letters from other genealogists asking for “everything you have on the Brown family” can send the list of references first.
The list also tells a genealogist where to find records that may be stored in more than one place. For example, records concerning Lucy Reynolds before her marriage can be stored with the Reynolds surname book. Records after her marriage to John Dollarhide can be stored in the Dollarhide surname book. A copy of the marriage record need not be made for each book if the list indicates where each particular reference has been filed.
Other Indexing Options
With a well organized notes and documents file, particularly one with page numbers for every sheet of paper, you have several other options to create an index to the names appearing in it. Above, we described one method of using the back of a family group sheet to show a list of references, giving the name of the surname book, place section, and page number where the full details are stored. But, an index of the names in your notes and document paper database could be prepared using 3″ x 5″ index cards, a Rolodex file, or using a computer database program. The fact that your notes and documents are well organized will give you several options to prepare an index if listing the sources on family sheets or individual sheets does not cover everyone in your paper database. More details about preparing a list of sources were in my previous article, “Tracking Genealogical Events,” with examples of a computer-generated list using the Name/Place/Page Number concept.
Finally, you can organize your genealogical notes and documents, but only if you are willing to separate them from other types of paper in your files, such as compiled sheets and research aids. With a well organized set of notes and documents, and with page numbers assigned to each sheet of paper, you can make lists on family sheets or individual sheets that will give you access to your notes in seconds. In addition, you will have the means of preparing more sophisticated indexes to your notes by using computer database programs.
Epilogue: This organization system was first published in 1982 as The Dollarhide System for Genealogical Records; from which evolved the book, Managing a Genealogical Project, first published in 1988; and a genealogical software package, Everyone’s Family Tree, first published in 1989. The mid-1990s edition of the Managing book is still in print, and has a chapter on computers that is rather dated. However, the rest of the text is still up-to-date and very useful for anyone wanting to get rid of their Piles of Paper.
- Managing a Genealogical Project, a book by William Dollarhide.
- “Piles of Paper-Part 1,” an article by William Dollarhide.
- “Piles of Paper-Part 2,” an article by William Dollarhide.
- “Piles of Paper – Part 3,” a blog article by William Dollarhide.
- “Tracking Genealogical Events,” a blog article by William Dollarhide.
- Managing a Genealogical Project, a book by William Dollarhide.
- A Genealogist’s InstaGuide: Dollarhide’s Rules and Daffern’s Laws.