Friday, 25 March 2016

12-Step Program for New Online Collections

I recently learned that FamilySearch had a collection of Ohio death certificates for 1908 through 1953. This was news to me so I wanted to take maximum advantage of the collection. To do so, I have a workflow I use when I discover new online collections that may be relevant to my genealogy research.

My 12-step process for taking maximum advantage of new online document collections;
created using Microsoft Powerpoint

Preparation Steps

These are important steps for saving time and creating efficiency. They let me target specific individual, eliminate duplicate entries, and improve my knowledge of the availability of online sources.

Searching and Recording Steps

These are the actual "meat" of the process. The order of Steps 6 through 11 is just my personal preference. I find I get in a rhythm of search, discover, switch browser windows or tabs, record findings, etc. If I add too many different steps, I lose my rhythm and make mistakes. (I'm a terrible dancer, too!)

Wrapping-up Steps

These steps enable me to easily pick up where I left off if I have to end my research for the day. By updating my custom report of people with new findings, I can easily record where I stopped if I run out of time. I prefer to create source citation creations for many documents from one repository all at once (as it has its own unique rhythm). But it's totally up to you!

The Steps in Detail
  1. Run a custom report from my family tree software filtering in whatever parameters will capture the names and vital dates of people in my tree who should be included in the new collection of documents. Do I have enough relevant people to follow my workflow? If so, I usually export this custom report to Excel and add a Y/N column to the spreadsheet in which to record my findings.
  2. Add the bibliographic information about the general collection to my family tree software. At a minimum, I create a title for the collection; the author (what organization created the records); date or range of dates; the URL for the home page of the collection, and notes about the collection, for example, why were the records created. A personal preference is to prepend a unique identifier to the title of the repository. All of the specific source citations I create later in the process will be attached, or associated with this repository information.
  3. Add the website address, or URL, of the new collection to my spreadsheet of online document sources. I include the unique identifier on this spreadsheet. This prevents me from creating a duplicate repositories when working with the collection months or years later.
  4. Search the collection for each name on the report. As I find a document, I save it to my computer, using a standard filename.
  5. Add Y=Yes or N=No to my spreadsheet of names. Yes, obviously denotes I found the document and No means even though the document should have existed, I didn't find it.
  6. Upload the document from my computer to the person in my family tree software and enter the date I added the record and the URL where I found it. Unlike, many I do not create the source citation or analyze the record at this time. I'm simply in collection mode and I'll explain why I do it this way later.
  7. Upload the newly discovered record to my Google Drive genealogy area. (How that is organized is another post. Maybe I'll write it one day.)
  8. Continue working through the list until I looked up every name.
  9. Search collection again for people I could find no documents, using as many different search permutations as possible. If no document is found, I may have an error in my tree that needs to be investigated in more depth sometime in the future.
  10. Look up the person/people in my family tree software for which I should have found a document but did not. Add an explanation of my activities and that I didn't find anything to my Research Notes about that specific person. By doing so, I'll know that I may need to re-examine the data I have recorded about that person's death (if I was searching a new collection of death certificates, for example.)
  11. Look up each person for which I found a document in my family tree software. Create the necessary source citation for the new document and attach it to the document. Don't forget to also associate the new source citation to the collection repository created in Step #1.
  12. Upload the Excel spreadsheet of the people for which I searched for a document in the new collection, using a standard filename format, which is R-OH Death Cert 1908-53 200160325.xlsx. The file name tells me that it is a report of Ohio death certificates between 1908 and 1953 which I conducted today. If I run this search at some point in the future, perhaps after finding a new branch of my tree in Ohio during the relevant time period, I can use this report to eliminate searching for the same people over again.
I have found creating this process has saved much time, added consistency to my work, and reduced the errors I make in my tree. Do you have a workflow process for taking maximum advantage of new or newly discovered online document repositories? If so, I'd love to hear about it.


  1. Schalene, I love your flow chart. So professional looking and easy to flow with. I use a similar system when doing a search for BMD records without an Excel report to keep tract. I don't analyze the record during the process but I do the source citation when I attach the image to the primary event. ~ Cathy

    1. I Googled the clip art for the steps and the flow chart was made using PowerPoint.


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