MediaWiki, My Research Journal (GeneaPopPop)
Originally posted 24 February 2010 and revised 14 September 2011.
I am fortunate to have joined the US-REC study group. We will be spending the next 15 months studying Val D. Greenwood’s The Researchers Guide to American Genealogy and The Source: A Guidebook Of American Genealogy by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking.
Our first month’s task has been a) to read Greenwood’s chapter on “Organizing and Evaluating Research Findings,” b) assess our own organization using 20 different statements, and c) take one or more steps to improve organization.
Until about two years ago, all attempts at organizing my research files made me feel like the bicycle rider in the above picture. Since that time however, I have been developing my own genealogy organizational system. This page is an attempt to describe that system. It all began with a decision I made (together with my son) regarding our joint genealogy project. He is the technological expert; I, the field researcher and data manager. Our decision was to digitize all our records and keep them on line so that both of us can have immediate access to them. This is important since I am in Missouri and he is in California.
Previous attempts at organizing my genealogy records did not seem to work well for me. As I have been reading and re-reading Val Greenwood’s chapter on organizing, I have begun to realize why. Most systems seem to have been developed with the assumption that it was papers and documents that needed to be organized — dependent upon file folders and notebooks and archival storage media, etc. Previously, I had up-loaded digital files to our website and stored them in folders. That was alright for a while; but it had its attendant problems – the chief problem being the necessity of indexing the files separately.
Our discussions about the attendant problems of trying to maintain an active and accurate index of the digital files, led to the suggestion of my son that I consider using MediaWiki. He installed MediaWiki on the website that held our TNG family tree. The MediaWiki was set up only for access to me and my son. I began to use MediaWiki as my Research Journal. That was a good move, but I didn’t begin to realize the major benefit to this Web 2.0 approach until I figured out how to use MediaWiki as an indexed storage system — not a storage system with a separate index, but a storage system that is its own index. Let me explain…
My first decision, working with the digital files already in my possession, was to organize them by Individuals, alphabetized by SURNAME. I currently have 255 separate folders for Individuals and 18 folders for miscellaneous files related to individual surnames. That may seem to be a small number when compared to the 4965 individuals in my RootsMagic database. It is, of course, an expandable list. As I uncover records (documents, certificates, citations, photos, etc) for others, I simply add new folders. I keep the files for women in folders bearing their birth name. Records that relate to families (marriage licenses & certificates, census records, etc.) are easily copied and filed in the individual files of both the man and the woman.
When I began to move my records to MediaWiki, I set up separate pages (the Wiki equivalent of folders) for each SURNAME of the 8 grand-parental lines of my children. In each of these pages (folders), I have the capacity to establish sub-categories for other Surnames related to the primary one. (The Brenner page, for example, separates out Coles, Welks, Crumrines, Renkenbergers, and a miscellaneous link to other cognate individuals.)
The Vital Statistics category is subdivided into the following categories: Birth Records; Baptism & Confirmation Records; Marriage Records; Census Records (sub-divided by Census Year); Death Records; Immigration & Naturalization Records; Land, Deeds, and other Legal Records; Military Records; Location Files; Extracted Signatures; and Media Files.
I have those digital files arranged in this manner on my desktop and laptop; up-loaded to our website; backed up on my RootsMagic4 To-Go memory stick and my external hard drive. Redundancy is a good thing!
This organizational schema provided me with the structure of my MediaWiki Research Journal. I reworked every data entry in my original (date-oriented) Research Log. I added the appropriate citations for each item. (On a separate MediaWiki page, I have saved about 50 cut-and-paste citation templates – including one for each U.S. Federal Census.) Since I had been negligent in adding source citations at the time of extracting online data, this was an important task to complete. Once completed, however, it was simple to transfer that data to the appropriate Vital Record or SURNAME MediaWiki pages. Now the data is all organized and online — with source citations and links to digital images (or URLs). Here is a screenshot of the SURNAME files for two leaves on our family’s tree:
The entry for John A. Smith indicates that there are Census records for 1870, 1880, 1890 (veterans schedule), and 1900, as well as Death records and Military Records. I have no records for him in any of the other categories. Also, I have an extracted biographical sketch for him, as well as an indication of an unsuccessful search for the Smiths in Montgomery County Ohio. Actually, I do have more records for John A. Smith, but I have not organized and provided the source citations for them yet. That comes next, as part of an on-going process.
MediaWiki has provided me with a very workable online way of recording and organizing my research. As long as my son and I have internet connectivity, those records are available to both of us.