Tips from the Pros: Make Note of It, from Michael John Neill

A great idea for an article hit me while I was changing terminals at the Memphis Airport. Unfortunately, by the time I got something out on which I could record the idea for later, it was too late. It was gone. The greatest genealogy tip ever lost for good.

How many of us have parts of our genealogical information recorded only in our minds? Did we make assumptions about a date, a place, or an event and fail to record those assumptions in our notes? Did we reach a conclusion from a series of documents and fail to record our reasoning in our notes? There is always the chance that our assumption or line of reasoning was incorrect and if we fail to note such in our records it sometimes is difficult to see where facts left off and “concluding” began.

And what information is still resident only in the minds of living family members? Traditions, stories, the identities of people in old pictures, the reason Grandpa moved to Kansas, and other bits of family lore may exist only in the depths of someone’s mind? Have you taken the time to record that information in a more permanent format? If you don’t, it too could be lost forever, much like my “greatest genealogy tip of all time” is floating somewhere around the Memphis airport. Hopefully it won’t interfere with airplane navigation.

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4 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Make Note of It, from Michael John Neill

  1. I also found myself losing track of those assumptions that are important to our research. Either I didn’t write them down or I made a note which I couldn’t find when I needed it. To solve the problem, I created a “source” in my database entitled “Assumed.” I enter the possible date/place/event with a question mark following, and then cite “Assumed” as a source. My database allows me to enter comments for each citation and there I sketch, briefly, the basis for the assumption. For example, “Assume she died by April 1873 when her spouse remarried.” This is useful to re-create my thinking, as well as a courtesy to others who may see my database and can evaluate the validity of my assumptions for themselves. And a nice bonus is that I can periodically review my “Assumed” citations which constitute a ready-made “to do” list.

  2. I am constantly chiding myself to ‘write it down, write it down!’ This is important not so much because I’m getting nearer to becoming an ancestor myself, but more than too often, I stumble upon pertinent bits of information that cross-reference some other recorded bit. If my investment in little spiral notebooks doesn’t drive up the Stock Exchange, it’s only because I keep one in every handbag, each shopping tote, inside jacket pockets, and the desk drawer. Sitting down to work on my “Gen Books” with them all stacked in front of me presents no puzzle about what to add to the master record book. Seem cumbersome? Perhaps, but no idea or bit of data goes unused. Each has its place, and that just might unlock a mystery, or better yet, knock down a wall. So, thanks for reaffirming the value of a very good habit, “jot it down,” now!

  3. I use my cell phone to ‘write things down’. I either call myself at home or call my cell phone and leave a message, or write myself a text message and send it, or put it in my calendar, etc. Of course not everyone has a cell phone, but for those that do, they can use it this way.

  4. Keep a small notepad on the table next to your bed. You would be surprised how many notes you will make in it.

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