What is a "tiehacker"?

"Tiehacker" is a term originating in the Ozark hills of southern Missouri. It referred to a class of people from WAY back in the hills that made a living cutting trees into ties for the railroad. I first heard the term from my wife shortly after we married. I had been working outside all day and was dirty and stinky. She had learned it from her father, and thought it just meant "a bum". Never having heard it before, I looked it up. Although I am not really a bum, I thought it was interesting, and I do have a life-long love affair going with the Ozark hills, so ... there you have it!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Organizing your records and research doesn't CAUSE headaches, it PREVENTS them!

Before I go any further into how I researched Roy Bennett's family (see the blog post Using an obituary in genealogical research from a couple days ago), let's talk about everyone's LEAST favorite pastime, that tedious chore known as record keeping.

Trust me, the better organized you are, the saner you will remain. If your idea of keeping records of your research is a box full of little pieces of paper with cryptic little notations on them, you are headed for a full-scale meltdown of frustration and hair-pulling. Been there, done that, don't ever want to do it again!

There are as many ways to organize your research as there are genealogists. You can make it as simple or as elaborate as your heart desires. Me, I like simple. I'll explain my system, and you can adapt it to your needs, or devise something completely different.

To begin with, it doesn't matter all that much what software, if any, that you use. People did wonderful genealogy work for many, many years before computers were ever heard of. So don't get yourself bogged down trying to decide what program to use. Here is a link to a page at FamilySearch.org that will help you browse most of the various software options available.

Each individual in your tree needs to be assigned a unique Individual Record Identification Number, or "RIN". Likewise, each marriage needs a unique Marriage Record Identification Number, or "MRIN". Nothing fancy here. Just use sequential numbering. If you are using a genealogy software program, these are done automatically. If you are going "old-school", without the software, you will need to do it manually. In that case, I strongly suggest using simple spreadsheets to keep track of these two sets of numbers and to whom they belong.

Although many genealogists use 3-ring binders to store their research, I prefer third-cut manila folders. They can be purchased inexpensively, and filed in a filing cabinet or even appropriate size cardboard boxes. I use one folder for each family. The tab has the husband's name and years of birth & death, and the same info for the wife. It also has the MRIN. On the outside of the folder I also write their relationship to me. If one of the people had more than one spouse, I make separate folders for each marriage. I then file them alphabetically by husband's last name, first name, date of birth, date of death (the last two in case of men with the same name). Filing by MRIN would work as well, provided you keep an accurate list of those MRIN's. Other filing systems are also possible. Some file by relationship to the researcher. Find a system that works best for you, then keep to it.

Each folder has a minimum of two sheets of paper in it. One is a Family Group Record Sheet.
The other is a Source Summary Sheet.

These can be downloaded and printed from Rootsweb.com's "Charts and Forms" webpage. Or, you can design your own. The key is to have the basic information about each family collated on one page, and the details of the sources of each piece of information on another. I STRONGLY suggest that you do the Family Group sheet in pencil, not ink! Trust me, you will find yourself doing a lot of erasing and re-writing as your research goes deeper and deeper.

Two other useful forms to have are a Research Extract
and a Research Calender
Again, you can download and print these, or you can make your own. The "Extract" records all the information and details from a source, especially one that you were unable to make a photocopy of, and the "Calender" lets you keep track of what you have done so far in researching a particular individual and family. This may seem unimportant at the beginning, but as your tree grows, you will eventually lose track of where you have searched and where you haven't. The calender will help to prevent duplicating your own work unnecessarily. 

What else goes in the folder? Simple: whatever you have that pertains to that family. Photocopies of documents. Photographs. Correspondence to/from other researchers, both snail-mail and e-mail printouts. Web-site print-outs. You get the idea.

I also keep a list paper-clipped to each Family Group Sheet of problems that need solving and missing information, and ideas of where/how to solve them.

There is an awful lot of information that has never been digitized and put on the web, and trips to cemeteries, libraries, historical society archives, and so on become inevitable. When it comes time for you to make a research road-trip, and you WILL, believe me, it helps to have a list of what you plan to look for in each location. So you will want to jot down each of these things as they occur to you. I use a pocket-sized notebook with separate pages for each location I want to visit.

Well, this has gone on longer than I had planned, so I will cut it off here.

Until next time
God Bless
Ron

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