A few weeks ago I read a very useful tip about organising your research using a spreadsheet, which can also help in revealing any possible gaps you may have.
It looked like a really good idea, so during some free time I’ve had recently I set up my spreadsheet. I decided to do mine slightly differently to Janine by just doing the one sheet, but still with a row for each ancestor and with each record in its own column. I can see the advantage in having more than one sheet and I may add more later.
I applied different colours to the cells to make it easy to check; red for missing documention or proof, green for proven information and N/A if a particular record doesn’t apply to an ancestor eg. an 1881 census return for someone who died in 1875. The cells with ????? remind me that I’ve had an unsuccessful search for the information and that I’ll have to return to it for a more careful search.
Putting an approximate date of birth (DOB) and/or date of death (DOD) helps to differentiate between family members with the same name – and there are lots of those; see the Burn family entries!
I also decided to restrict the names to my direct ancestors as I have over 3500 people in my Roots Magic database. The spreadsheet still took several hours to complete with 156 of my ancestors and I have to admit to wondering if the end result would be worth all the time it took.
Now it’s finished I can definitely say it was worth the time I spent. I was really surprised at how much documentation I’m missing and how much I’ve relied on census returns to calculate approximate birth dates etc. So I’ll need to rectify that in the future – it’s a shame the cost of ‘Hatch, Match & Despatch’ certificates restrict me to only ordering one or two at a time.
It was also a huge help a few weekends ago when Ancestry UK offered free access to all their English census returns. I was able to see at a glance which ones I was missing and worked my way through them, marking the ones I found with xxxxx. When I’ve entered the details on to Roots Magic I’ll update the spreadsheet.
The other benefit of using a spreadsheet in this way is that I can see very easily who I need to research and which records I need for them – which is going to keep me very busy!
So thanks again to Janine for posting such a useful tip!