How Not to Drown in a Sea of Data

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As I near the three year anniversary of when I ‘met’ Emmett Wilson, I realize that I’ve collected a lot of information about him.

Hundreds of articles and images; dozens of books and related references about Emmett and his family and friends; dozens of interviews…I didn’t expect to find that much about Emmett, given how obscure he really is. And by no means do I think the search is over: I have enough to write a good biography about him, but I still hope to find those elusive scrapbooks of his one of these days!

I admit that because I didn’t expect to find a lot about him, I didn’t begin to really organize my data collection until a few months into the research.

I’d like to share what has worked for me so that I don’t feel inundated and overwhelmed by the scope of this project (because sometimes I do feel that way).

What has worked best for me is a timeline. Mine is basic, created in spreadsheet program. Every time I found something new about Emmett or his family, I made a note of what I found, copied the item with source information, and entered it into the timeline.

You can use whatever headings you prefer. The center column is where I make notes on what I've found.

You can use whatever headings you prefer. The center column is where I make notes on what I’ve found.

The more details, the better; that way, when I get deep into the writing, I’m not going to drive myself nuts trying to find the original source of the information.

Also, I wound up having to break the timeline into two or three year separate timelines; otherwise, this document would be at least 200 pages long by now. That’s a book in and of itself!

What I find most useful about these timelines is that they provide an overview of Emmett’s achievements/disappointments, who was there when all of these things were going on, and what other background events had an influence on the outcome. That gives me a great context from which to write the chapters.


There are a lot of ways to craft your own. But, there are other timeline templates out there to try for yourself. For instance, the website Ourtimelines.com, allow you to create a timeline relevant to your historical event or figure:

http://www.ourtimelines.com/create_tl_2c.html

Best of all, it’s free!

Another thing I like to do with my data collection is to look at it from completely different perspectives. When I rearrange data differently, I often see patterns that help me understand Emmett’s information in new ways.

For example, this next website shows you how to set up a genealogical chart based on origin, created by J. Paul Hawthorne. I haven’t organized Emmett’s family information in a chart like this, but I will. This link will take you to a Google Docs pedigree template that you can customize.

Here’s a sample of what one looks like, all filled in, at very good genealogical website I visit from time to time:

This chart is copyright Miriam J. Robbins at AnceStories: The Story of My Ancestors. Very interesting source for genealogical information and research.

This chart is belongs to Miriam J. Robbins at AnceStories: The Story of My Ancestors. Very interesting source for genealogical information and research.

Here’s another example, at this link, from the genealogical website All My Branches.


 

And now… I am taking a break from Emmett and all things deeply research for the next few days. It is Easter/Spring Break here in Emmett Wilson Research Land, which means a house full of kids, playdates, pollen, and the like!

See you in a few days!

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