OK, call me a rebel, but I am not part of the “digitize it all and get rid of all paper” camp. I do have 95% of my stuff digitized, but I love my paper copies – usually kept in binders – and here are the Top 10 reasons why…
1) Margins!!!! I love writing in the margins! Relationship notes and clarification of difficult to read words are my most common notations. In the bottom margin, I write the location and year that the document was recorded. Even though this CAN be done on digital records, I rarely have the time to do each document at the time it’s being scanned. At the Allen County Public Library, printouts from the microfilm scanners are free. Scanning is slow, depending on the resolution I’ve chosen, so I can print in sets of 5 and then write basic notes in the margins while the next set of records are being scanned.
2) Re-printable!!! Draw on a map then discover a new document that makes you rethink a location? Reprint the map! I have a chronological set of notes for every family in my tree. One entry might say something like “1853 – Russell County tax lists – 100 acres” with a footnote citation. I try to include a snapshot of the portion of the document that is the source as well so I don’t have full versions of everything printed – but I could find it on my computer if I want to look at the entire page. I write ALL OVER these notes! Sometimes, it’s a note about something I’d like to remember to add. Sometimes, it’s a chart of the ages of all the people in that family at that point in time or a timeline of events for a different family in the same area. I have lists of FHL films that I’d like to order for a certain time period. But mostly, questions, questions, QUESTIONS! I can look at a tax record and notice that I’m not seeing all of the family and write a note to look for them and where I think they might be. I use different colors and draw clouds around things to help them stand out, but I write EVERYTHING I can think of because I know I can update the notes and print them again! Each time I go through a set of notes like this, I use a different color and indicate the date at the top. That way, I can update things in my digital file, but not re-print until I have a significant amount of new data in the file.
3) Post-it Notes!!!! Notes to myself about next steps, notes telling when I had to stop before getting everything I wanted, questions the document brings to mind, hypotheses about neighbors, mini-family tree charts to show how people are related, thoughts about things to put in my research plan for my next research trip, basically anything that pops into my head as I’m working that I don’t necessarily need to have permanently written on the record. Try sticking a post-it note to a digital file!
4) Highlighters!!! Sometimes, documents are either very full of names or very hard to read. If I have the time to really analyze a document and I find the names I’m looking for, I love to highlight them so it isn’t as hard the next time. (Then, I add the notes in the margins about who is a brother-in-law or neighbor, etc.)
5) An entire blank sheet of paper on the back of each document!!!! Sometimes, I write a “letter” to myself with a narrative of what’s happening or questions that the document brings to mind. Obviously, writing the source of the document including where I am, the date and the book or film that I’m looking at always goes on the back. (How many times have a scanned multiple pages from a tax book or court order book and then not been able to rename the files right away! Later, I look in the folder and wonder about dates or the county or whatever – especially if I’m doing “mindless” work such as scanning every page of a tax book for a specific year.) Every page looks the same, so keeping track of what is what is very important. But as I’m working, I can write source citations on the back MUCH faster than renaming files and adding source citations to the file properties. I can also keep longer notes about what a particular document means to my research, if desired, especially if the information in this document fits in well with another document. I also like to write notes to myself about other people that I looked for in the book/record that were not included. Those things are later included in my research log, but sometimes, certain information doesn’t jump out at me in log format.
Another thing I like to indicate on the back is whether or not I did any clean-up work in PhotoShop. So often, there is bleed through of ink from the pages before or after the page I’ve printed from microfilm and it’s an easy fix to take those out. But I like to indicate what I did so I know that the copy I am looking at is not the original (although I always keep both digital files).
Finally, if I have a print out of a digital file that I have transcribed, it’s easy to put the print out in the printer and put the transcription on the back. Again, margins for notes and diagrams, etc!
6) Sorting!!!! I like to write the date for each page in the lower right hand corner. With that, I can put pages in chronological order. Then, as I flip through a file (usually in a binder), it’s almost like reading a story of the person’s life. I love having my things filed chronologically to help me come up with a timeline of locations so that I’m not wasting time looking at a record set for a time period when the family wasn’t even in the area. I can also decide to re-organize my pages by source type to find blanks in my research. For example, I can have a stack for tax records, census records, birth/death records, etc. If I have a family with 8 children, but I only have death records for 6 of them, then I know that’s something to add to my “to do” list.
I will admit that I am so tied to having everything in chronological order, every digital document that I have has the year at the beginning of the name. For example “1840 Welcome Stephens will”.
7) We’ve all heard “out of sight, out of mind”. Well, I get just the opposite by turning pages in a binder! As I flip through an ancestor’s binder, I know immediately what I have and when there are missing chunks in my research. Or I see a document that I forgot that I had! Flipping through a binder is MUCH faster than finding and opening multiple files on my hard drive. Often, when I flip through a binder, questions and connections come to mind that I would never think of just by looking at a list of documents that I have scanned.
8) Maps, maps, maps – I love to include period relevant maps within my chronologically arranged binder. What county is next door? How close to the county/state line did my ancestor live? For ancestors who lived in different counties, how far apart were they? Did my ancestor have to go across a river to get to the county courthouse? Did the county boundary line change between records? All kinds of maps from state to county to plat maps, they all go in the binder! And as I’ve mentioned before, I can write all over these maps or highlight the area where my ancestors were.
9) Portable! Have to go to the doctor or dentist office? Have some time in the car before soccer practice is over? Going for a trip in a car or plane? Bring along a folder or a binder! Much easier to open in an office or car/plane than a computer! (And don’t forget the color pens and highlighters!) Those are the times that I’m forced to really think about what I have and what I’d like to look for next because I don’t have a computer in front of me to jump into databases. I can take a file to school on test days and write all over it while students are working.
10) Better comprehension! Call me strange, but I comprehend information better on paper than on my computer screen. Imagine my guilt over this considering that I am the technology trainer at my school! For the life of me, I don’t understand it, but I process information and remember it better when I’m reading from paper compared to my computer screen.
So there it is! I love my computer and my digital files, but I could NOT do my genealogy research without my paper copies! And it feels good to confess that to you all!