"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Friday, 10 February 2012

On writing it all down: 3. Freehand

A working document was my next port of call. When I began the rather laborious task of researching my father’s family tree, which was more complex than anything I’d done previously, I started a Word document of notes in what I can only describe as a ‘freehand’ format. I was literally writing down what I knew, my thought processes and what I came up with. Later, if I found it to be right I’d go back to the relevant bit and note this too.
What’s really great about this is that it helps me remember how I came to a conclusion. Have you ever gone back to a branch of your family tree you haven’t looked at for a while, and thought ‘how did I make that connection?’ Then you might have to retrace your steps to verify it, wasting valuable research time.
The notes make for an interesting read – I rather like the idea of recording how I do my research as I go. It means that my genealogical research becomes a family history story in itself. It echoes the idea that part of the fun of family history is in doing it, not just having the information.
I’d like to take a more methodical approach to this too, so that I can tick of where I’ve checked, what I haven’t looked at, what still needs to be verified. But of course, that requires a more careful consideration of what is needed and how best to go about it, which inevitably makes note-taking more laborious and thus less convenient.
The problem with this is fairly obvious. It doesn’t provide a detailed, logical record of each family member. You can’t easily flick through and find what you’re looking for (although search works), nor does it give you an overview in the same way as a family tree. It’s not even a coherent narrative, although obviously that could be improved.
I found that this method worked best when I was working through some of the trickier bits – but then I always like to get my thoughts down in writing when I’m struggling. I suppose if you’re not that kind of person it might not work so well.
When it came to the easier bits it slowed me down, and instead of actually typing things out, I would find myself just copying and pasting information. It makes for a good record of the evidence you’ve collected (particularly if you’re diligent about recording where it came from), and indeed the order in which you found it, but it loses some of its appeal without your own words in there, and you just end up with a mass of non-organised, non-filtered evidence.

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