Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Cheat Sheets

Today I received 3 legal “cheat sheets” in the mail from Amazon. They’re laminated sheets with information printed on them in a convenient 8 ½” by 11” size and hole punched ready to slip into a loose-leaf notebook. Many companies put them out on various subjects. Legacy Family Trees and New England Historical Genealogical Society among other places sell ones on various genealogy topics. Some are called “Quick Sheets”, these I see are entitled “America’s #1 Legal Reference Chart.” Whatever they’re officially called, I refer to them as cheat sheets.

They are much like those pages that you made in high school or college before a test that listed key points on them for you to reference and study. Perhaps an index card that you were allowed to take into a test with you. I still create these from time to time for myself. I have one with models of common citations that I keep handy for doing research. The chart that somebody (The New York State Library?) put out many years ago with the New York State censuses and which counties were included is floating around somewhere as is the one that shows the year each county was formed and from which other counties. All of these various types of cheat sheets are helpful to reference.

The ones I got today are not intended for genealogy, but rather to help law students or paralegals in their studies. One is on terminology, another on research and the third on legal writing. I will be referencing all of these; I’m sure, while taking the Legal Research course at IGHR at Samford University next month. Reading over the research one this afternoon, I was glad to see they have a listing of primary and secondary authority publications. Something that having not worked with them, I often confuse. It is the difference between which are the laws and which are more like interpretations of what the laws mean. The titles are all familiar to me and I smiled to see that some of them are listed by the color of their covers. Having worked in Technical Services in a Law Library for a little over a decade, I immediately recognize those colors along with the titles and can picture exactly where they were on the shelves. After all, not only did I check them in upon arrival, but I often had occasion to shelve or retrieve them as well!

I am sure I will have reason to refer to these cheat sheets often during that week of class. I learned just enough while working in the library to have a beginner’s background in the subject, but will be delving far deeper into the research end now. These are where such forms shine. No matter the subject, if you have a basic grounding in it, but need help on the details either because you haven’t learned them yet or don’t use them often enough, a little help goes a long way. I have found over the years that such cheat sheets are great for quick reference. This is why I either make my own or search them out already created for me by others.

Create a binder of such pieces of information for the location and time period that you are researching. With this, you don’t need to remember all the seemingly trivial facts or where to find that one piece of information. Also, you can remind yourself of sources to look at that might lead to the clue to solve a problem.

I actually have two different types of “notebooks” for these. One set I keep in a binder that can set on my desk or the bookshelf where it is handy. If you’re leaving home, just take out the one or two you need if there is too big a collection. These are very easy to rearrange. The other isn’t a notebook, but rather a digital collection. In a folder on the computer amongst my genealogy is one entitled “Cheat Sheets.” This contains ones that I either haven’t printed out, or that I want to keep a digital version even if it has been printed. If I’m using it often, it is good to be able to print a fresh page when that one begins to get tattered or if it is lost. Also, ones like the citation cheat sheet is handy to have that way as I can copy and paste a sample citation directly into a document or my family tree database and then insert the specific information in place of the generic place holders.

So, even though I fondly refer to these as cheat sheets like we did back in high school, they are actually useful documents for serious research. I use these to quickly reference information that I need to be able to move forward without a lot of diving into books or other records to find that information that I know I read and can’t quite remember.

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