Family History: Phase I preparation—Setup and organization

Phase I preparation—Setup and organizationBy Barry J. Ewell

I want to share with you the preparation process I go through with getting ready to begin the preparing for the process of writing a personal and/or family history.  I will address the this in two parts:

  • Part I preparation—Setup and organization
  • Part II preparation—Gather, interview, and research

Define the Life Stages. The hardest part of creating a personal history is deciding where to start. I suggest you begin by simply breaking down the person’s life or experience into an outline consisting of key blocks of time. As you discover, uncover, and learn more about your subject, you will fill in the outline and organize your thoughts so that writing the history will be a choice and enriching experience for you.

I created the following outline for my mother, Mary Jones:

Mary Jones Personal History
Life StageYears
Childhood (0-11)1933-1944
Adolescence (11-18)1945-1951
Early Adult (18-25)1951-1958
Prime Adult (25-45)1958-1978
Middle Adult (45-65)1978-1998
Senior Adult (65+)1998

Prepare a Filing System to Organize and Preserve Research and Artifacts. Throughout your research, you will collect and gather information that needs to be organized, documented, and preserved for later retrieval. You should be able to find any piece of information or artifact in your file in thirty seconds or less.

Create a Personal History Profile Storage Container: “The Box.” The purpose of the container is to provide one central location where you will file and protect your research and artifacts to write the history. For a list of materials needed for organizing a paper file, see Part II preparation—Gather, interview, and research.

Organizing Folders and Files. Once materials have been assembled, you are ready to set up the file. Choose one color to represent each life stage. I organized “Mary’s Box” as follows:

  • Insert five hanging files, one of each chosen color for each life stage
  • Create and label one folder for each life stage
  • Use two-inch expanding file jackets
  • Print and color code labels
  • Add folders as needed or desired

Note: As I interviewed and researched Mary’s life, I added additional files.

Mary’s Box—Initial Set-up
Life Stage CategoryColor CodeFileTimingFile Folder Label
Index and Misc.White1ASet-upJones, Mary Index
 WhiteIBAddedJones, MaryMiscellaneous: Spanish Fork
 White1CAddedJones, MaryMiscellaneous: Las Vegas/ Horseshoe Club
 White1DAddedJones, MaryMiscellaneous: Acts of Kind­ness and Service
 White1EAddedJones, Mary Miscellaneous: Favorite Memories
White1FAddedJones, MaryMiscellaneous: Oral Inter­views and Transcripts of Friends
 White1GAddedJones, MaryMiscellaneous: Oral Inter­views and Transcripts of Family
 White1HAddedJones, Mary Miscellaneous: Personal Artifacts
Childhood (0-11)Red2ASet-upJones, Mary (1933-1944) Childhood: Infancy, Grade School
 Red2BAddedJones, Mary (1933-1944) Childhood: Family
 Red2CAddedJones, Mary (1933-1944) Childhood: (Cared for by extended family)
 Red2DAddedJones, Mary (1933-1944) Childhood: Family
Adolescence (11-18)Blue3ASet-upJones, Mary (1945-1951) Adolescence: Jr. High, High School
 Blue3BAddedJones, Mary (1945-1951) Adolescence: Family
Early Adult (18-25)Yellow4ASet-upJones, Mary (1951-1958) Early Adult: Marriage
 Yellow4BAddedJones, Mary (1951-1958) Early Adult: Children
Prime Adult (25-45)Green5ASet-upJones, Mary (1958-1978) Prime Adult: Marriage
 Green5BAddedJones, Mary (1958-1978) Prime Adult: 2nd Marriage
 Green5CAddedJones, Mary (1958-1978) Prime Adult: Children
 Green5DAddedJones, Mary (1958-1978) Prime Adult: Cards and Letters
 Green5EAddedJones, Mary (1958-1978) Prime Adult: Sisters
Middle Adult (45-65)Purple6ASet-upJones, Mary (1978-1998) Middle Adult: 2nd Marriage
 Purple6BSet-upJones, Mary (1978-1998) Middle Adult: 3rd Marriage
 Purple6CAddedJones, Mary (1978-1998) Middle Adult: Cards and Letters
 Purple6DAddedJones, Mary (1978-1998) Middle Adult: Sisters
 Purple6EAddedJones, Mary (1978-1998) Middle Adult: Travel and Pleasure
 Purple6FAddedJones, Mary (1978-1998) Middle Adult: Cancer
 Purple6GAddedJones, Mary (1978-1998) Middle Adult: Best Friend
Senior Adult (65+)Orange7ASet-upJones, Mary (OAugust 1998) Later Adult: Funeral
 Orange7BAddedJones, Mary (1998) Later Adult: Probate/Will