Research 101: The Computer

Recently I attended a genealogical society presentation on organizing research. It was all about paper. The speaker claimed to have four four-drawer file cabinets for her research notes and source documents plus a number of shelves full of books and notebooks. She explained her filing system and showed examples of her indexing and cross-referencing schemes. It was an amazing system. To me it was also one of my worst nightmares.

Although I do have a rather large collection of “heirloom” documents, photos, Bibles and things, most of them are safely packed away in the guest room closet – my official family archive. These things have been scanned or photographed, indexed and saved to a number of local and off-site digital storage platforms. I still have a lot yet to scan, but I’ve finally gotten all the research notes, logs, family group sheets, etc. digitized and organized into my genealogy software and Evernote. Those shelves of notebooks are gone! Even better . . . when I need a particular piece of information, I can have it in front of my eyes in a matter of seconds.

Today, two external hard drives – each the size of a good James Michener novel – contain digitized copies of family photos, scanned documents, letters and ephemera, books, periodicals and other genealogical goodies. My computer’s search component can find all the files related to a particular name or place and present them to me in seconds. My genealogy database is accessible from my desktop computer and my iPad and can go with me just about anywhere. I’ve got genealogy databases and major search engines constantly searching for information about my ancestors and when they find something, it’s delivered to my desktop.

I can do all of this because I’ve spent the time to learn how to take advantage of the tools on my computer. Yes, it’s a never-ending challenge but the time and effort spent learning a new feature or software application returns an exponential amount of time saved. I’m not just talking about learning my genealogy program of choice, Evernote or some other genea-specific program. I’m talking about learning the basic tools my computer provides.

What about you? Do you know what metadata is and how to add it to files you create? You’ve probably spent time learning how to use Google to search the Web, but what about searching the content on your computer? When was the last time you installed updates to your operating system and applications? Does your anti-virus program automatically check and update its virus definitions? When did you do your last backup?

Your computer is probably the most important research tool you have. It can do a lot more than just serve as a gateway to the online databases, but you will need to learn how to use it. We spend a lot of time and effort learning research techniques. Isn’t it time to learn more about the computer that makes it all possible?

Visit Toolbox Resources for a directory of applications, platforms and support resources that can help your research efforts. The Toolbox: Misc section includes support resources.

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