Take Note

There is so much information that you find and guess what, most of the information is not captured by Ancestry.

I found a World War I registration card for one of my relatives and it described what he looked like in pretty good detail but the only thing captured for the history record was the card number and the date. Typically, I either have a piece of paper beside me to jot down these extra tidbits or my iPad. My old fashioned approach causes me to flip through pages of notes to find all the ones associated with a particular individual. The iPad allows me to type my notes and I have tried several formats to organize my thoughts but all are missing one thing or another and they all become more time consuming to organize after my initial note taking session.

I want to be able to pull all the information I find about my relatives, especially since I don’t know many of them and don’t have any memories of either stories about them or pictures of them. All the sources and all the information needs ORGANIZATION. As an old hand at research I am comfortable with the pen and ink standby but I am also very comfortable with computers and typing my notes on the iPad allows me to have the information formatted a little better but it is still clunky and difficult to search. I really need something that puts all the information in a format that I can reuse later.

How do you keep track of all this information?

Spreadsheets definitely are not the answer, word documents are great for free text but hardly an organizers dream and tables allow for some organization but still not set up for easy retrieval of past data, unless you reread through all the notes. I feel like Goldilocks and the Three Bears but I haven’t lucked out yet.

Let me know if you are having similar issues and how you have fixed it.

Waiting for your tidbits.


I know this should go without saying but it turns out the first time I used Ancestry.com I didn’t do this so I am going to say it anyway. Save the documents that you find on your OWN hard drive. When I first started using Ancestry to find documentation on my relatives I would have the information and link it to my tree. Guess what, saving it that way does not mean you have the information to retrieve at whim. I used the trial period with Ancestry and then stopped my account. The tree was still there but I couldn’t get to it unless I started my account again. I realized all the saving wasn’t saving for me.

There is a save button in the top right corner when you have a document. Push it and make sure you designate to save to your computer, then you can save the document anywhere you want on your own hard drive.

Another tip, you are probably going to see the same document over and over again with several of your relatives, when saving, I suggest you set up individual files for each relative (I use the last name then the first, then initial). I save the document under each persons name so I have a full documentation record of each individual I am researching.

More tidbits later.  Happy Hunting!

Getting Started

So, you may be shopping around to try and figure out what is the best way to start learning more about your family history.  You have probably seen the ancestry.com advertisements telling you how easy it is to do this but you wanted to see what else is available to help you do this research.  You have found a great place to help you organize your research, keep track of all the documents you find, notate tidbits of information that will either give you future clues or flesh out more of the story of your relatives lives (what they did, what they looked like, who they associated with, etc).  Let’s start with the basics.

Begin your Tree

Whether you use ancestry.com or a software package that helps you organize your family tree, the first thing you need to do is write up your family tree, starting with the youngest child in your family.  If you start with the youngest child your tree will last beyond your research to include your children and they won’t have to recreate everything you do.


I started with the 2- week trial of ancestry.com because of the advertisement and their TV show, Who Do You Think They Are?, and discovered a few things that will help when using their search engines find more possible relatives.

  1. For each relative in your tree, make sure you write out the full name of where they lived, including the county name and write out the country.  If you use acronyms, the search engine may not give you all your possibilities.
  2. Make sure you have an additional internet window open because you are going to be researching county names and locations, so get comfortable with switching windows from your searching window and the Ancestry window.
  3. You will recognize very quickly that the documents you review will give you conflicting information.  A research log will be extremely helpful to jot down the inconsistencies as well as all the other information that Ancestry does not capture from the original documents. I’ll give you an example.  I found a draft document for one of my relatives and it stated his date of birth differently than other documents I found.  In addition, the draft document provided a description of my relative.  Since I don’t have any pictures of him I found that information very compelling but it is not captured in the tree I made with Ancestry.  When I pull all the information together for him I would like to add that descriptive information to make his story come to life for my kids.  I realized that I needed a research log (right now a pad of paper) to jot down notes.  It would be really cool to have a electronic research log that will allow me to search all my notes to find those tidbits I collect making it easier to build a fuller story.
  4. Trees are based on parents and branch out from there.  If you know Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, but don’t know the parents you will not be able to manipulate the tree to add the people you know, until you figure out who their parents were.  Here is where the research log comes in again.  Family will tell you who they remember are members of your family and give you names (be aware, the names family give you, may not actually be the persons legal name).  Keep those names written down so you can research them and use them like puzzle pieces to fit together your entire history.  You will likely be telling your family members things that either didn’t know or forgot long ago.

More tidbits later.