The new modern age of technology is wonderful for many people, but there are a vast number of people still afraid of pushing the wrong button, and some don’t even know how to turn a computer on. These are the people I like to call “orange box users.” You have probably been collecting all those wonderful names, clippings, pictures, and papers about your family from all over the place. Now it is time to put them all in one place where they can be stored safely.
When dollars are an issue, an orange box is a start. However, if you want to kick it up a notch, go invest in a Rubbermaid box with some compartments already in place. Organization can begin either way, but I’d suggest the Rubbermaid box if possible due to greater durability over time.
Begin by placing each precious piece of paraphernalia into four different compartmental files. Those areas can be your grandparent’s lines. Grandma A has her own compartment filed by her maiden name. All the materials pertaining to people in her line, new incoming materials in conjunction to her kin, and any connected stories, can be collected in that compartment. There will be an occasion when these items will be used to work with more sophisticated technology, but in the beginning, simply keep collecting. When an e-mail is printed off or a piece of snail mail comes that involves a member of her kin, place the piece of paper in that compartment. Do the same with Grandpa A, Grandpa B and Grandma B (using her maiden name).
Be sure to label all pictures you plan on putting into your orange box. Pictures simply become pieces of paper with little or no meaning when there is not a name, date or place written on the back or taped into place. Always mark your pictures properly and correctly before putting them with other papers to be used later. Make sure you ask someone who knows who the subjects might be, and write pertinent information on the picture. There is nothing more frustrating than looking at a dynamic, heart-wrenching photo with no idea of who’s in it, when it was taken or where it happened.
This is also a good time to start writing letters to members of your family to obtain their ideas and stories about relatives. Slip these into your orange box, and then continue to slip family Christmas card pictures, announcements, newspaper articles and obituaries into the box that pertain to families of interest within your line. You can even do this for both your side of the family and your spouse’s kin. This may mean that you’ll need a collection of two separate boxes marked “his” and “hers.” Family group sheet records or family tree charts are more great organizing tools. Intellectual Reserve, Inc., has a very basic family tree chart you can order online. Do one name at a time on your chart, and fill in all information possible. You will complete your tree over time. Don’t forget your orange box, because some of those papers inside may help you fill in the tree chart.
The tree chart you choose will typically ask for a birth date. This is an essential date. As you continue to go further into your genealogy, you may find that many family members are named after each other. As sentimental as it is, only the birth date will individualize them. It can be difficult to decide if Mary Jane, Mary Jane, or perhaps her cousin, Mary Jane, is who is meant to fill the line. Use middle names as well when possible. Most genealogists use the male’s name as the family group name, but it is also important to include every wife’s maiden name. After parents are complete, add their children’s names.
It is fun to watch your family grow longer and stronger with each additional name. As you record individuals with their birth date, marriage date, death date and burial date (if needed), you will find that your newfound hobby can be exciting. Recording places of events is also a good idea. “Events” refer to legal happenings, such as birth, death and marriage. There is another place for note taking regarding graduations, parties and sentimental moments.
If you feel comfortable with computers, Personal Ancestral File 5.0 is a wonderful program for starters. There are other programs that are workable as well. One suggestion would be Legacy 60. Legacy can be used to send information over the Internet to other interested parties. These computer programs are very helpful when you learn them, but don’t feel slighted because your strength is in writing your work out.
Dori Wright has a personal passion to help others start learning their family trees by doing genealogy. She has both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, and has spent more than 33 years researching genealogy. She can be reached at dorigenwright@yahoo. com.