Using Notes Effectively

02/23/08

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Using Notes Effectively

The notes feature in Personal Ancestral File can be very powerful if used to its full advantage.  It can help you keep track of lots of information that might otherwise slip through the cracks.  How many times, when facing a genealogical brick wall, have you later discovered that you "knew" the answer to your problem all along but had misplaced the information?  Using notes effectively can help prevent that.  Notes are also the best place to keep the "family history" information, letting your genealogy go beyond the mundane "birth, marriage, death" drudgery that turns some people off to our passion.

Here are my tips for using notes effectively:

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Make sure you have looked through the PAF Manual, built into PAF 5 and available online for free for PAF 4.

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Run, don't walk, to purchase Family History Documentation Guidelines by the Silicon Valley PAF Users Group.  If you want to get the most out of PAF, you must have this book.  It sits next to my computer whenever I am using PAF.  Chapters Five and Six have lots of information on using notes.

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In your PAF Preferences (found on the "Tools" menu), select both "From edit individual" and "While browsing" for the "Display Notes Selector" options on the "General" tab.

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Every note should have a note tag -- a word, all in upper case, followed by a colon (:).  Use a consistent set of note tags.  I recommend the list from Table 5-1 (page 65) of the Family History Documentation Guidelines that I mentioned above.  When you add a new note tag (I've added "WEDDING", "MIGRATION", "GRANDCHILDREN", and "LINEAGE" to my table), make sure that you pencil in these new note tags on your table.  Do not use a note tag that is not on your standard list:  being consistent here will benefit you a lot later on, when doing searches.  I keep a sticky bookmark on this page, so every time I add a note, I can make sure that I am consistent.

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Combine note tags with hyphens when appropriate.  For example, a death certificate gives place of death, but there is no handy place to store this information in PAF.  If the ancestor died at home, I record this under a note with the tag "!DEATH-RESIDENCE" (using the exclamation mark as a note significance character, described below).  One of my ancestors has three different recorded dates for his birth.  My "favorite" (the one I believe to be correct) I record on the "Edit Individual" window; the others (with a discussion of their sources and why I picked the one I did) are in a "!BIRTH-CONFLICT" note.

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Always use a "note significance character" before each note tag, except on what Family History Documentation Guidelines calls "Research" notes.  Here is their system:

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Confidential notes get a tilde (~):  Things like social security numbers, "embarrassing" information (I have a cause of death in my family tree which need not be generally known), and the like.

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Public notes get an exclamation point (!):  Most of the notes in your family tree.

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Research notes get no character:  Notes such as "QUESTION" and "CONFLICT".

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Here is an example of notes on one of my ancestors, Isaleen CRIST.

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What's the advantage here?  The advantage is that you control which notes are printed on all of your reports.  The notes built into PAF (the ones you see when you first pull up the Notes Selector window) do not default to having any character.  This means that you never use the default.  You must create your own note with an exclamation point (or tilde, as appropriate).

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Here's how to control what gets broadcast to others:

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Printing working documents:  When I'm printing documents for my own research, I want all the notes.  In the Reports and Charts window, I choose the following options:  "Notes Options:  Source notes, Actual text, Comments, and General notes".  I do not select "Notes Options:  Marked notes (!) only".  I also select "Other Options:  Confidential notes (~) and events".

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Printing public documents:  When I'm printing documents to be seen by others (such as at a family reunion), I don't want the confidential notes or my research notes to be printed.  In the Reports and Charts window, I choose the following options:  "Notes Options:  Source notes, Actual text, Comments, General notes, and Marked notes (!) only".  I do not select "Other Options:  Confidential notes (~) and events".

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Printing query documents:  When I'm printing documents (such as family group sheets) to be sent to a living relative to update data, I decide on which way to go depending on the relative.  I usually include my research notes (by not selecting "Notes Options:  Marked notes (!) only"), so that relatives can see what questions I have about their families.  But I often do not include confidential notes, even though they are about the people I am sending the information to.  I worry that they may think I am being too "nosey" and will be unwilling to share their information if they see how much I am actually collecting.  You'll have to play this one by ear.

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You can also search for specific notes using PAF's Find Individual (Advanced) features.  More on this will be added later.

     

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This site was last updated 02/23/08