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Northumberland, History Society

Finding some order

We were all hoping for the magic solution from this meeting of the North Northumberland branch of the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society – the perfect method of locating that piece of paper with vital information about an ancestor without having to rummage through piles of paper.

We also wanted to consider the various ways of preserving our records for our descendants so that our hard work is not wasted. All sorts of ideas were suggested.

Several people tried to produce a short biography of each person in their family tree. Details of their life, such as where they had lived and what jobs they had done, brought them to life, instead of being just a name on a chart.

A starting point might be to draw up a tree for each grandparent. If the people on it were numbered, numbers could match a file or information sheet for each person. This would result in some order amongst the many sheets of paper we all end up with.

Computer software has its place, but is limited. Many beginners assume the software will find their ancestors for them. Sadly, it is not quite as easy as this. It can be useful, however, for drawing up charts and trees more efficiently than by hand.

Colour-coding notes according to topic works for some researchers.

Transferring handwritten notes onto a computer on a regular basis is one way of cutting down on sheets of paper. This led us on to the principle of digital or manual recording. Backing up was essential and asking someone else to keep a digital copy of one’s own material was recommended as a safeguard against a possible catastrophe. It was agreed that the safest course of action was to use both digital and manual methods. This is particularly important if the tree is kept on a website as if the company went out of business the tree could be lost. Filing by surname was a popular method but for the member with 9k names a more exacting method proved necessary!

Box- files and ring-binders were dominant in this topic. Members using small index cards advocated the method of keeping a card of principal facts about each person which was easily portable and could be cross-referenced with more detailed files. Sharing photos with other people means there is a greater chance of photos surviving and even of unknown persons being identified.

Perhaps the most unusual method of organisation was the use of a binary method. This sounded intriguing in its simplicity and we may call upon this member to give us a more detailed briefing. Summary sheets which fold out, offering more information, were also used. Having a Family Tree or Pedigree framed as a permanent fixture on the wall can prove very useful for reference. Face book was suggested as an excellent source of picture postcards to flesh out the bare bones of a tree.

Even a simple exercise book for each individual person indexed with reference numbers or page numbers for further information can create some order.

Our next meeting will be at the slightly later time of 10.30 in Berwick Guildhall Council Chamber on Saturday, April 16. We welcome anyone interested in researching their family history and can tell you about the activities organised by our branch. If you have always wanted to get started but never get around to it this could be the opening you need! This session forms part of Berwick Record Office’s Family History Day and we are grateful to Linda Bankier for offering us this opportunity.