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Here is how I maintain the necessary Source files for data and information associated with my genealogical research. This monograph will explain my process for maintaining the paper or physical record, but not the actual research. It should be remembered that data which lacks a Source, whether primary or secondary, is considered useless.

I maintain two numbering systems, one for my father’s Bourland lines and one for my mother’s White lines. Thus all documents are numbered first with either a B or a W. This separation is not necessary; at the time I felt it might be useful.

Next is merely a sequential number added to the B or W. Let me give some examples:

B1007, Vital Record, Notations of 44 marriages performed by Rev. John BOURLAND; the document signed by  the Reverend, from FHL #554916 Salt Lake City, UT, Records of Hopkins County, KY Clerk.

Thus, it is the 1007th Bourland document I have in my possession. 

B050, Marriage Certificate, C. R. CARDWELL and Emily C. GRAHAM on March 15, 1876.  Item 240 in the Madisonville Vital Records Department. Solemnized by Isaac H. Henry. Attested by C. R. Cardwell and Harvey Graham (father of bride). Groom age 22; bride age 22.  Marriage to occur at Bride’s Home. Witnessed by William Bailey (friend to groom) and Joseph Cardwell (brother to groom).

Thus the 50th Bourland document I have in my possession.

W217, Letter, From Madame Curie to Karl Kithil of the Radium Company of Colorado discussing the gram of radium she needed to initiate her Institute. Dated 28 March 1923.

 Thus, the 217th White document I have in my possession.

There are two caveats or rules I use. First, I only number documents I have. If I am merely told or read a “fact”, I will only put a Note in my database that Joe Smith on certain date of certain address says the following.  Thus, if I cite a number, I have the item!

I place a mailing label with the number such as B1007 above on each document. These labels are prepared way in advance to avoid putting the same number on two documents. Likewise, the label is on my original; if I have several copies I avoid giving the original away. I then file these documents worth about 1/2 inch to an inch of paper, sequentially in legal-sized 8.5 x 17 manila folders. I use the large folders since many legal documents are that size.

Now, let’s say I read four years later the following sentence in my Notes on the computer or other writing: The Salem Missionary Baptist Church was organized on September 18, 1841 by John Bourland, moderator; Rev. Kitchen G. Hay; and William McCain, who was chosen as clerk of the council.  The charter group included: Edwin Robertson, Rubin P. Loving, William Loving, Talitha Loving, Sarah Davis and Martha Loving.  Ministers included: Gabriel Sisk, 1841; Prior S. Loving, 1845; John O’Bryan, 1859.  Redic O’Bryan was a Deacon.  See B284.

All I need to do, to provide a copy to a colleague or see if something I left out of the Notes then is pertinent now, is go to the legal-sized folder marked on the outside spine as containing documents B280 to B310. B284 is sequential within.

In the early years of my research I maintained a spreadsheet on each number. Column A of the spreadsheet contained the number, B1007. Column B of the spreadsheet contained a selection from the taxonomy of items such as Book, Marriage License, Newspaper article, Deed, Probate, etc. Column C of the spreadsheet contained the description as appropriate.

I could sort the spreadsheet by the short description “Book” to get all Birth Certificates, Obituaries or Books listed together. This is a big help for the preparation of a Bibliography. Or to help me find the book whose title I had forgotten.

Now, what is described above is useful for anyone NOT using genealogical software. It is how I started my research, at which time the available software did not properly support a Source material component. If you are using modern day software, follow the above procedure but substitute the software component for the spreadsheet. 

Let me be truthful, when I started, I left much that was important off the records. I often had to go back and add page numbers or publisher or other. But today while still not perfect, I keep pretty good records. I am not at a loss as to did I file that in Notebook 4 or 12, or did I file it under Obituary or Death Notice, or is it under Deed or House or Address.  If it was in my hands, it got a number and I can find it in less than 15 seconds.

In case you wonder, I have close to 1500 Source documents. They are filed in 62 manila folders – sequentially.

One Response to “How to Maintain Genealogical Source Records”

  1. Your web site is outstanding!

    Here is the url to the blog from the Archives of the Sandusky Library, if you would like to take a look:


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