I’ve been researching my Stephens family line for years. And I LOVE my notes for each generation! My notes are in timeline format and I enter every single thing I can find including “probable” events such as births that I don’t have an exact date for. My source citations in these notes are as complete as anything that I have and are MUCH easier for me to keep up to date than within my genealogy software. I include maps and cropped images of the records that I’ve found within the notes so I don’t have to dig through files unless I need to see the full page. I make colorized notes to myself along the edge with text boxes around them to make them stand out. In these notes to myself, I include ideas of books to look at when I go to the library, questions as to why something might be happening or why I think my records might have a mistake.  For example, I may have a clue to a birth location from someone else researching my family, but when I put it in the notes, the location does not match the proven location of the parent. I also include small images of simplified group sheets with the ages of each person at that time period to help me keep the people straight in my mind. By including the ages at that time, it helps me see if a son is old enough to be found in the tax records or if he is too young to be married. If a mother and father have passed away, but still have young children, where are the children living? These are all questions that I would put along the edges of my notes.

But I still get confused when I have to compare the notes from one generation to another generation.  For example, I can’t find Andrew Stephens in the 1870 census. So I wanted to look at Andrew’s father’s notes as well as Andrew’s children’s notes to see where THEY were in 1870 to see if Andrew was nearby. When that didn’t work, I looked at Andrew’s siblings and their children. Now I’ve got people named the same thing in various locations and my brain just has a hard time keeping it all straight. (I blame this on the medication that I’m taking – and I’m sticking with that story!)

So, during the ride home from Spring Break, I decided to combine all of the notes from my Stephens research into one file. I took each individual’s records and made the text for each a different color. Then, I copied and pasted them all into one file while still keeping everything in chronological order. I’ll still keep my original notes, but by combining them all, I’m hoping to see better patterns in locations and records available. But this new document became QUITE long – beginning with 1715 and continuing through 1928, so I decided to put it in my binder with dividers for every decade. I REALLY like it! In 10 year time periods, I can make some nice maps of the changing county boundaries to get a better idea of where to look for records – and what counties are nearby at that time. It’s much easier to keep track of where each person is that I’m tracking by having a US map with a pin for each person’s locations. And gaps in records become much more evident. By having entire lifetimes in one document, it wasn’t giving me a realistic idea of how much time had gone by from one record to the next. Two pages could be 5 years or 30 years depending on how much information I’ve found.

I’ve decided on a 2 binder approach. One binder has my notes and the appropriate source records all in chronological order. The other binder will be my “clues”. Printed emails, web sites, church histories and such go in the “clue binder” that I can have open side-by-side with my notes binder. This keeps all of my records in order while still having easy access to whatever I’ve found online that I want to follow up on. Group sheets for every family member – even siblings – will go in the Clue Binder. Each decade will have it’s own Research Plan. Before this, I’ve been creating Research Plans for each person, so the new Research Plans will deal with all of the people I’m tracking within that decade.

I’m looking forward to putting these binders together and adding records and hints. I think it will help me stay focused because the time period I’ll be researching will be shorter rather than looking for anything that matches an individual within his entire lifetime.