Cheat Sheets

Alicia Crane WilliamsI create cheat sheets for projects, but most of them reside inside my head or on scattered pieces of paper in my office – both of which suffer from notorious clutter issues – so it seems like a good exercise to gather and record the process here. In this case, of course, the cheat sheets are for doing research on seventeenth-century New England families, but the basics can be applied to other situations. Also, no search ever progresses exactly the same as any other, so this list is meant to be flexible.

1. Great Migration database (GM). Thanks to Bob Anderson’s work on the Great Migration Study Project, I can sit here and search the database online and get a really big head start on my work on the Early New England Families Study Project. I’ll print copies of the sketches for my subject’s parents’ and in-laws’, if available, and I’ll search the entire database for any incidental mention of my subject in other sketches.  This often leads to land or court records, as well as interfamily relationships.

2. Great Migration Newsletter (GMN). I use the published 2012 version of the first 20 years of issues and print new issues from the website.  The newsletters are a hit-or-miss source, but when there is a hit it can lead to important sources.

3. Torrey’s Marriages (TM). I use the 2011 edition of Torrey’s New England Marriages Prior to 1700 and copy the listings for my subject, his parents, in-laws, children, and children’s in-laws as best as I know them at this point. As research progresses, I will go back and retrieve further listings. I concentrate first on citations that will give me as full an account of the family as possible, if possible – which isn’t always possible. (More on searches to come.)

4. Blocking Draft (BD). I open my Word template with the category headings for the Early New England Families sketches already typed and create a file for my subject, then block in the information I have so far. This gives me some orientation about what I need to know.

5. Research piles (RP). Since I’m a “piler” rather than a “filer,” I use bright colors of paper to separate copies into general categories for each project – genealogies, vital records, town histories, periodicals by title, probate, land, etc. This is when I make a pile of the labeled colored papers. I also get a legal, expandable file to put everything in.  The current project goes in a large plastic catering tray just to keep things contained – I didn’t say it was going to be pretty.

The series continues here.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

13 thoughts on “Cheat Sheets

  1. Good stuff Alicia. I am trying to not take so many hand written notes and to take “screen images” instead attaching them to whatever life event I am trying to document. Once I have an ‘image’ from say “GoogleBooks” in any given line I then cite the source of the particular image electronically. It s l o w s me down, and I do keep a note pad handy for the my usual scrawl, but it has helped me to remember which way I dropped the bread crumbs – and saves me some paper and ink re-fills. (Somedays! 🙂

    Best regards,

    J. Record

    1. Jeff, good advice, and I do occasionally save information to files, but I’m a visual person and when I’m composing I work best with the hard copy pages laid out around me. So doesn’t save paper and ink!

      1. Barbara, sorry to be so long in a reply to your question. In truth, there is no easy way. Many or most of the publications on Google Books are out of copyright so you can down load the book – print the pages you need out of the book, and then scan them back into your computer as a photographic image of the pages. I am sure that there are methods that would not be so time consuming, but that is a safe bet to get the image you need. There are “shorter” ways to do this too – and without going into too much detail, if you are “handy” with your cell phone, you can often capture the image off of the computer screen that you might need well enough to email it to yourself. Be sure and check for copyright status on any image to make sure that you aren’t stepping on anyone’s toes – but it can be a handy way to obtain some of the information you need that is out there. Hope that helps?

        Best regards,
        Jeff Record

  2. What a great topic! I’d like to see the Blocking Draft template you use; can you share that?

  3. I also pile, rather than file, in spite of good intentions. I appreciate this cheat sheet and am going to share it with The Partnership of the Historic Bostons, which is focused on seventeenth-century history.

  4. Alica; so nice to have you give us a little “brain dump” in these articles. I love methodology ideas. I’m another image clip & save researcher. I clip with Snag-it and send to an Evernote folder set up for target project. It lets me gather items for later analysis as a whole. Love the idea of making a famiy group cheat sheet from existing research too so will certainly incorporate into my project plan.

    1. Sandy, thanks. I have used Snag-it and Evernote, etc., and am still trying to figure out how to fit them into my system for storing information, but as I mentioned to Jeff, the actual composition for me requires laying out pages beside the computer as I am composing. One trick brain.

  5. I enjoyed the note and thought I’d pass along another “cheat sheet” tip. When I was writing a multi-generation family history for a New England family, I spent a lot of time reading probate records. And I realized I was often forgetting one key detail or another. So I created a cheat sheet for probate records — to ensure I collected all the “usual” stuff.

    1. Craig, yes. One of my first jobs was to abstract probate and land records for the Mayflower Society and I made cheat cards. I would type the categories twice on a 8×11 sheet and print on card stock, then cut in half. The cards, of course, were too big to put in a card file, but just the right size to take to the archives.

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