Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Case for Sorting Those Unfiled Genealogy Papers

(click to enlarge)

The other day I was looking through a box (one of a few, sorry to say!) for a document I thought I had when I came upon this one, a printed announcement of the marriage of Milton E. Kerr and Kate E. Pettis. The place of the marriage is unclear, but I suspect it happened in Omaha.

How appropriate it would have been to include it in an earlier post, The Short-Lived Marriages of Milton Efner Kerr! But I hadn't yet entered the data from it into my Family Tree Maker file, and I'd completely forgotten it existed. There's something to be said for that--I'm sure I was equally thrilled both times I "found" it, and who doesn't enjoy a good genealogical thrill? But really, if the thrill of finding were followed by the laborious entering of data and the appropriate filing of documents, maybe the pleasant satisfaction of order would replace the time-sucking frustration of not being able to lay hands on that which you know you have... somewhere!

Therefore, I hereby designate the month of July to be Tidy Your Documents Month, and I invite anyone with a box or folder full of odd genealogical bits and pieces to join the fun. I plan to:
  • sort through that stuff and find out what goods I've got on which ancestors
  • enter any data or research notes in Family Tree Maker (anything too time-consuming or otherwise inclined to thwart this sorting project will be added to a To-Do list instead)
  • scan any documents or photos
  • put each item in the appropriate surname binder or folder
  • and finally, catalog items pertaining to each direct ancestor (also any others who are of particular interest to me).
Years ago, I optimistically created an Inventory Form that I intended to fill out and keep at the front of each binder or folder to catalog things as I added them. I didn't intend it to be a summary of information, just a checklist of what I already have. I've modified the original somewhat to make a separate page for each individual, with room for a little more info about each document (what form it takes, where to look for it, etc.). This is what it would look like, filled out:

(click to enlarge)

My printer made a mess of that, but you get the idea. And hey, you don't get extra points for finding any spelling errors that may have occurred when I began to feel guilty about spending so much time cataloging an inventory for someone in my Hypothetical line.

Anyway, if you think you'd find my Document Inventory form useful, you're welcome to try it out. A blank copy, better than the one my printer messed up, appears below. Click on it to get the enlarged view, then right-click on that and select Save As [see Update below]. You should be able to print this on regular 8.5 x 11" paper, and I expect there will be room on the left to 3-hole punch it for your binder. When you add something to the binder, note it on the inventory. If the item is filed elsewhere under someone else to whom it also applies (for example, a census filed under the individual's parents), just add a note on the inventory indicating that you have it and where it's filed.
I tried six other ways to present this form but I lack the skills and/or the software, so this is a 200 dpi .jpg image. I don't have my printer hooked up yet and can't test it out to be sure it prints the way I'd like it to. If anyone tries it and finds it sorely lacking, please let me know and I'll remove it.

By the way, the marriage announcement is in the Kerr binder now, along with another fun document I found in the same box. We'll get to that another time.


Update: Cheryl emailed me to say she'd tried printing my Inventory form but it came out a tiny image in the middle of the page. I emailed her back, betting her a check for a gazillion dollars that she had right-clicked on the image above without enlarging first, but she said that was not the case, and to prove it, she tried again with the same result. Therefore I now owe her a check for a gazillion dollars. She also said if she right-clicked and chose Copy Image, and then pasted it into a Word document, it printed just fine.


Miriam said...

T.K., I'll be glad to join fact, I've been trying to work on this very same thing for a couple of weeks now. I have my own form (U.S. Research Checklist) that I use, similar to yours (having difficulty with Microsoft Front Page right now, trying to get it put up on my forms page.

Any items to be scanned I will put in a folder for my next Scanfest, July 29th.

Anyway, consider me a partner in your Tidy Your Documents month (I'll blog it, too)!

T.K. said...

Ah, a little 'group energy'--just what I need to stay with it! Nice forms, Miriam! I love that online research log--how many gazillion hours have I spent re-searching the same database for the same person? That certainly is my style, though. I have the organizational skills of a pinball. Good thing I never tried to make a living as a file clerk!

The footnoteMaven said...


Count me in. I started doing this two days ago, but my progress is so slow.

Two years ago, I attend the University of Washington Certificate Program in Genealogy and Family History and created a research form for the ancestor and the location. I'm using that.

Yours is great and so much easier to use than mine, but I'm committed.

So let's Tidy Together!


Jasia said...

I'm doing it too! Count me in :-)

Juliane's granddaughter said...

You know, a gazillion dollars is an awful lot for you to send me. I wouldn't want to bankrupt you so keep some of it for yourself and for our trip to Germany in 2008 to the land of our great-great grandpa, Joseph, and all his kin. We might find that pot of gold there anyway just waiting for two descendants to come and claim it! Cheryl

T.K. said...

Jasia & fM, I'm lovin' the group energy! My new plan is a weekly post (see my optimism?) each Sunday in July featuring my favorite rediscovered morsel of family history from the Unfiled boxes. It was my good fortune to find a big stack of new file folders this week, along with some Post-Its (in the trash! Someone doesn't want to sort, huh?) so I'm breaking down the Unfiled boxes into temp files by surname as Step 1. Better flow!

Cheryl, considering the state of air travel these days, I'm thinking we should spend the gazillion on a private jet!

Big Foot said...

T.K. I am the Great-great-grandson of Ambrose Pettis of Adams Co, WI (formerly of NY) I read you article about Darius and his cousin by accident and thought I would contact you. I have a dead end right now in NY except I know he married Mary Bell. NY, Thanks in advance, Walt Pettis

T.K. said...

Hi Walt,
Sorry for the delay in getting to this, but I wanted to find some photocopied Pettis genealogy pages I have, to see if Ambrose is listed there. He isn't, so I'm afraid I can't be too helpful at the moment. I haven't done much on the Pettis line yet, just collected whatever was easy to come by. I'll be posting a few more things here eventually, but Darius' father Micajah is as far back as my information goes. Thanks for making contact! TK

T.K. said...

By the way, Walt, I meant to ask you and forgot: do you know where in NY your Pettis people were?

Big Foot said...

T.K. All I have is the 1860 Census for New Rome Township, Adams Co. WI which shows him from New York. I wish I had more but I don't at this time. I'm 60 and from our side the oldest male so I am trying to find more for my son. I found what I have on google. I just thought that it was strange that Darius looks a lot like my Grandfather Frank (David Franklin) Walt

T.K. said...

Walt, have you checked here:

Someone has been working on your Ambrose Pettis (just type his name into the search), and if their information is correct, Mary Bell's father Joseph was born in 1803 in Catskill, New York, which is in Greene County. If Joseph Bell still lived there after he was married and raising his family, there's a good chance your Pettis ancestors were from that area too. Worth looking into, anyhow.

Interesting that my Darius resembles your grandfather. My Pettis people lived in the New York counties of Oneida & Genessee at some point, and possibly lived in other counties also. Further up the tree though, I think they had Rhode Island roots, and as you'll see in that WorldConnect file, Ambrose's father was from Rhode Island also.

Blog Archive


Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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