The Benefits of Organizing Your Own Files

I am grounded here at home, nursing a massive head cold, watching copious episodes of Doc Martin and House Hunters International. Occasionally, I rally and try to get in a little sorting, scanning, and filing.

Which is a challenge with muddled thinking and bleary eyes.

In my project to organize my genealogy, I have moved on from my digital files to my physical file folders that are stored in a file cabinet in our garage. As for the digital files, they aren’t completely finished, as I have set aside my French and Norwegian family lines until I can give them my full attention, as the language is an additional challenge. But, they are more organized and in a better position to study when I decide I’m up to it.

I’ve been going through my papers, making sure that I have scanned them, filed them properly, and attached them to my tree software. And, for those that I have already scanned, I am taking the time to actually read them and enter any missing information in my software.

And, wouldn’t you know it? The answer to my latest so-called brick wall was in the files all along.


I could have saved myself lots of fruitless searching if I had only taken proper care of the information I already had.

Lesson learned.

I have been searching for the parents of Matilda Townley Gamble, my husband’s great-great grandmother. Several months ago, I enrolled in an on-line course, Research Like a Pro, and I had chosen this as my first research project. The gap in the family tree where Matilda’s parents should be just irked me.

I had already begun to search for Matilda’ parents, but as part of the course, I formulated a formal research question and made up a Locality Guide  for my project. All I had to go on was a note in my software that she had been born in Pennsylvania, a nugget gleaned from a census form. But, everywhere I looked online, I came up empty.

And, that was when and where I stopped my research and began this organization project. I had realized that my files were such a mess, it was making things so much more complicated and time-consuming. Most importantly, I truly didn’t even know what I already had. 

Which brings us to today and my stuffy-headed discovery.

I was reading, scanning, and sorting in my Gamble files, when I found a paper in my husband’s handwriting filled with notes about his Gamble family. This was a few lines down from the top:

Matilda Townley born March 18, 1818 in Fayett(e) Co. Penn.

Well, would you look at that little nugget of information: Fayette Co. It’s sure a lot easier to focus on one county rather than the entire state of Pennsylvania.

(What struck me next was the county name, Fayette. My Gard ancestors moved from new Jersey to Fayette Co. and were living there about the same time. It’s very likely that our families crossed paths. But, I digress.)

Armed with the possible county name, I did a little directed research. The US census closest to 1818, Matilda’s reported birth year, is 1820. Was there a Townley family living in Fayette Co. in 1820?

And, sure enough, there was. Only one.

1820-US census-TOWNLEY-rodolphus-fayette co-PA

On the seventh line from the top is a Rodolphus Townley.

I researched what information the columns contained and found out that this household consisted of two adults, one male and one female, in their mid-twenties and two females under the age of ten.

Hummm… This could possibly be Matilda and her family. Evidence, but not proof.

I then searched for Rodolphus Townley in the 1830 census, and I again found him and his family in Fayette Co.

I couldn’t find him in the 1810 census, which isn’t too surprising, as he would have been in his teens and not a head of household. And, a cursory search of later census years didn’t bring any results.

So, I put that search aside and continued to work on the file folder’s contents.

And, then, I picked up this:TOWNLEY-bible records (2).jpg

Do you see it?

The third line down: Grand Father Rodolphus Townley.

Wow! The answer was in my possession all along. Well, half the answer. Matilda’s mother is still missing, but now I know where exactly to search, and I have her father’s name.

When will I ever learn!

And, then, I found that the handwritten notes made by my husband were a transcription of this page:

TOWNLET-GAMBLE-family bible page

Again, wow! What a treasure trove of information!

So, after I enter all this information in my family tree, it’s back to the file folders. Who knows what genealogical gold I already have?!?

I’ll report on my findings.

“Til next time.