It’s no secret that when it comes to organizing or keep track of genealogical information, my first thought is to use Excel. Each Excel worksheet has a different purpose. But for my latest project, I wanted all of the various worksheets to be easily and quickly located.
I’ve decided to try to collect information and write biographies for my “top 12” ancestral couples in preparation for a printed book to give to my children. I decided to begin with my Smith line because that line has been the focus of my research more than any other. When I began about 6 weeks ago, I was focusing on 1 ancestral couple at a time, beginning with my great-grandfather and working backward. But as I go through all of the records that I have and compare with what is now available online, I’ve decided that as long as I’m looking at indexes or going through a section, it will save me time in the long run to be on the lookout for all of my ancestors in the same line. Honestly, I keep getting pulled into the records for other members of this line anyway, so I feel like if I at least keep track of what I’m seeing as I go through these records, I can do a little better job of trying to focus on analyzing documents for one person at a time!
To be most efficient with this research plan, I’ve decided to consolidate all of my tracking forms for ancestors from a specific line into one “Smith” workbook. That meant starting with worksheets for 4 different families – Oliver, Elias, George, and John M. Smith. I have a Research Plan, Inventory Page 1, Inventory Page 2 and Land Sheet for each family. Four pages each for 4 ancestors led to a lot of tabs at the bottom of the screen once they were all combined into one workbook! And while it is nice to have them all in the same workbook, I need to have the smallest number of tabs possible to make it easier to find the relevant tab. So I began consolidating worksheets.
The first worksheet for a family is the Research Plan. I created these plans to be printed out, so when I look at them on my widescreen monitor, I have lots of extra space to the right of the Plan.
I decided that because the Plan is the place that I write my questions and steps I plan to take to find the answers to those question, this would also be a good place to keep my 15-minute biography. Excel doesn’t handle large amount of text easily, so I highlighted a huge chunk of cells on the right side of the Plan and merged them all and then copied the biography into that mega-cell. This didn’t help me with consolidating tabs, but it did help me with having all of the information that I’m using for this project into one research notebook. And rather than adding research questions in my biography each time I read it, I can add them directly to the Research Plan. I will probably be tweaking this as the biographies get longer, so this will be an interesting experiment.
I had two tabs per family for the Inventory. Just like the Research Plan, these sheets were created to be printed, so I had plenty of room on my computer screen on the right side of each inventory sheet, so I simply copied page 2 of the Inventory to be right next to page 1 of the Inventory.
I did have to do a couple of simple layout edits to make this work, but I actually ended up liking it better because I don’t have to click back and forth between tabs to see all of the information I’ve been collecting in these inventory sheets.
I can also customize these Inventories to help me collect as much information as possible in this one location. For example, because I now have the Research Plan in the same workbook as the Inventory, I don’t need a “To Do” section in the Inventory. Instead, I changed this section to be a list of Siblings and their spouses to help me notice possible relationships in Deeds and Tax Records. I also “compacted” my column for census records because no ancestor has an entry in every census year, although I created the sheet to have space for every census as well as state census records and non-population schedules, if desired. Once I was able to adjust the census section, that gave me room to include birth and death sections for the wife.
My final tab for each couple was to be the Land Record worksheet. I decided that it would be most helpful to have all of the land records for this surname together in one worksheet. This allows me to follow along when land is passed from father to son or when it is sold between siblings. I’ve decided to use colors in the cells to quickly distinguish between the generations because I do have multiple generations that used the same names for their sons.
After making these adjustments, I have gone from 16 total tabs in my workbook to 9 tabs. I have more information in the workbook now than I originally did, making it more useful while researching. I’m sure that as the project continues, I will continue to customize these sheets so that I am able to track all of the information of have found as well as keeping track of all of the locations that I have searched. Which hopefully saves me time and helps me to find every possible record that I can.
The last thing that I have started doing is to add a link to every document that I find so that if I have a question, I can quickly find the document with a single click.
If you’d like to download blank versions of these worksheets, you can find them all in the “Downloads” menu at the top of the page.