Friday, July 27, 2012

Research Binders

First, a question from Don:
I recently found a few of my relatives listed on Find a Grave by a cemetery walker with only birth and deaths. I would like for her to add parents and siblings, but letters to her asking her to do this or transfer listing to me have gone unanswered. What is the best way to handle this?

You can send a message to Please be patient. The people that do the edits have hundreds to do. [Thank you to Leslie who had a sensitive situation and asked how to contact Find-A-Grave in a more private manner. I have edited the blog post to show this better way of contacting Find-A-Grave].

I do a lot of research in the state of Mississippi as most of my direct lines are there. Many Mississippi researchers know who I am and I get a lot of questions asking about what records are available in specific counties and where to find them. I can't possible have every county in Mississippi memorized so I make use of a research binder where I keep all of that information and a lot more.

Many years ago I read a a research guidance article put out by the Family History Library on "locality files." I tried looking for that original article on FamilySearch for you but I was unable to find it. The idea of locality files was to have a file folder for every country, every state and every county that you do research in. In those files you could keep things like names, addresses and phone numbers of any repositories, libraries and the courthouse. You would put a short history of the location including a timeline and important dates. You could include a list of all the records that are available for that location. I learned very quickly just how important these files were. After years of having a file cabinet drawer dedicated to these locality files I switched over to a more convenient "research binder." It has the same information but in an easier to use format. Here are two great videos on research binders:

  • Research Binder
    This is an excellent video that is part of the mentoring series designed for those persons interested in accreditation with the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen). The speaker is Tristan L. Tolman, AG, a well-known accredited genealogist.
  • How To Create A Research Binder
    This video isn't the best quality but the info is good. Elyse Doerflinger is such a young girl to have such great genealogy advice! I like this video because she gives specific examples of the types of things she includes in her binder.

I consider this essential. It takes some time to put a quality research binder together but along the way you learn so much and in the end it will save you a lot of time and frustration. Once put together it is easy to update and as you find interesting tidbits you just add them in. For example, I just added a page that details all of the epidemics in the United States and where the concentration of deaths were. When you see several members of a family die very close together it makes sense to check to see if there was some sort of regional epidemic.

If you are more of a computer geek than I am you could easily do this in Microsoft OneNote. OneNote is already set up as a "notebook" and the format lends itself perfectly for this project. One of the things on my to-do list is to get my research binder in OneNote. I am not sure I will completely give up my paper version but maybe one day.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

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