(Note: This was written for TMG v4.x although the principles also apply to TMG v5.x)

TMG Hint: Cataloging Family-History Items

by Bob SawyerCopyright 2000 All Rights Reserved


Without database software to catalog the content of over twenty large boxes and a few bookshelves full of treasured inherited family-history material, I turned to TMG. My goal was to be able to see what I had and to be able find any item in the collection, without new software.

I set up a catalog, using TMG source records, by creating a Custom Source Category and using it for every catalog entry.

My biggest problem was maintaining data-input consistency. I have a poor memory, so I made a standards sheet. The second biggest problem, was forgetting to use the standards sheet. With no way to make global corrections, this can be a problem. Problems or not, the scheme works. It is a snap to do sophisticated searches and to design catalog report layouts.

Setting it up

Just about everything that follows can be done another way. Here, my steps are only a sample guide to the concept. You probably will want to design it to suit your needs.

When I created the custom source category, ZZ-CATALOG, I told TMG that it was most similar to an Electronic Database (Family File). You must tell TMG something; it will not let you out of the Custom Source Category—Templates window unless you fill in all the blanks. To satisfy the demand for Footnote and Short Footnote templates, I typed in a letter or two. Anything will do. Footnotes are not needed for this—only the bibliography is used for the catalog. For that I entered the following master template:

[BOLD:]Gen'l_Desc:[:BOLD] <[TITLE]>
[BOLD:]Keywords:[:BOLD] <[SHORT TITLE]>
[BOLD:]Item:[:BOLD] <[ITEM]>
[BOLD:]Date(s):[:BOLD] <[DATE]>

Entering these field names in the global bibliography template establishes fields that will appear on the Source Definition Screen. Therefore, it is important that this, your "master template," be returned to the ZZ-CATALOG’s Custom Source Category Template after any temporary change for special report formats mentioned below. Also, DO NOT create a new catalog entry without having returned your "master template" to the Custom Source Category screen by way of Configure.

When you leave the Custom Source Category screen after entering the master template, a message may remind you that a source element, "Item," has not been defined. That is ok. Move on and add it to the Source Elements list later. ("Item" is a Source Element that I added. If you can live with an existing element name, use it instead.)

This catalog source type (ZZ-CATALOG) will never be used in a source citation. Later, when you use a cataloged item as a source, copy and paste from the catalog to the appropriate source type and cite it in proper format. In the catalog, all records have the same format whether they describe, a photo, letter, diary, deed, or the table cloth once owned by great-aunt Mattie. The catalog is a sub-set of the source file, using source features in a specialized way. TMG thinks it is a bunch of source records; we know it is a catalog

Catalog records are identified by a "ZZ-" prefix causing them to sort together at the end of the Master Source List. Thus, they are easily recognized as catalog records and they are not scattered hither and yon throughout the list.

The Record

Click on Tools, Master Source List, then New. Select ZZ-CATALOG (or whatever you called it) and you arrive at the Source Definition Screen. On the left are field names, most of which you entered in the master template, and to the right of field names are blank spaces into which you will enter your catalog data. Now is the time to add "Item" to the list of field names. Click on an unused block in the left column. Then, in the Source Elements window, click New and enter "Item." I put it in the Subject Group.

This is a typical record on my Source Definition Screen:

Field name  Content
Abbreviation ZZ-M-BTL0009            Condolence
Source Type ZZ-CATALOG
<Title> Letter from "P.T.W"to "Dear Nephew." Probably from Philanda Taylor to Henry A.
Boutelle–condolence on the death of his wife Martha
<Short Title> Condolence P.T.W. Henry
<Item> Letter
<Date> 18 Jan 1887
Location Binder
File Number M-BTL0009

The Abbreviation field is what shows on the Master Source List. The ZZ prefix is mentioned earlier. M-BTL0009 is the item number in the File Number field. "Condolence" is right justified manually, with a simple scheme (see below). The Master Source List displays the catalog entries like this:

ZZ-L-FARM001 Map
ZZ-M-BTL0001 HenryPic
ZZ-M-BTL0002 CAB Clipping
ZZ-M-BTL0003 Funeral CAB
ZZ-M-BTL0004 House
ZZ-M-BTL0005 William FAM
ZZ-M-BTL0006 Emily LTR
ZZ-M-BTL0007 M.W. Btl LTR
ZZ-M-BTL0008 HnyMoonLtr
ZZ-M-BTL0009 Condolence
ZZ-M-BTL0010 LtrJoshToHenry
ZZ-SWR0001 House 911
ZZ-SWR0002 Fred Ltr

To right justify the text part of the abbreviation entry when entering data, first enter the ZZ catalog number immediately followed by the text. Add an extra character at the end of the text. Then put the cursor between the text and the number and use the space bar to bump the text to the right until the extra character drops off the end, indicating that the text is right aligned.

In the Title field, I enter a free-form description of the item, not necessarily a title, though for books, articles, and other titled items, the title and all bibliographic information may be included here. This field has no length limit, but if you want to include a large amount of text, you can put it in the Memo field (Source Definition Screen, Supplemental tab). It is wise not to use the title field for more than one paragraph, however long the text may be (See Searches, Focus and Reports, below.) The Memo field is searchable too.

The Short Title field holds a few keywords that are taken directly from the item or are descriptive of it. Finding the right keywords and their best order for successful record retrieval and sorting in the word processor still troubles me. For future record-searching success, enter words in all the fields that will facilitate finding the record (easier to say than do).

Item holds the generic descriptor word. My standards sheet has about 40 item terms (book, picture, photo, clipping, collection (several similar or related items cataloged as one), leaflet, map, etc.) and a few acceptable modifiers (extract, draft, copy, tintype original, etc.)

Date seems obvious, but when I tested searches, I found the need to establish date-entry rules. Your rules will be determined by how you plan to work with the report output. One thing I want to do is manipulate catalog reports in my word processor. The date field is a likely candidate for word-processor sorting and selecting. For this, I want the year to be the last "word" in the field. If there is a comment, it comes first in the field. Acceptable to me in the date field are such as "- - [year]," "NA," "Mixed," "[comment] day month year," etc. The "- - [year]" entry simply uses two hyphens substituting for missing day and month, again accommodating the word processor’s expectations of "words" upon which to sort.

Location is where the item is in my home (File cabinet 2, Box01, D&F Box03, Binder, Bookcase, etc.)

File Number is the number I assigned to the item. In general, the first few characters identify a folder or 3-ring binder, and the number further pin-points the item in the folder or binder. Exceptions, such as items that will not fit in a folder, rely on the catalog, which may tell me the item is framed and hanging on the den wall.

Searches, Focus, and Reports

In the Master Source List screen (from Tools menu), you can search the whole source file, including the catalog portion. You have the option to search the Abbreviation, Title, or both. Much of my record finding is satisfied right there.

For more search sophistication, go to the List of Sources report and use the focus options. The powerful TMG focus, filter, and Boolean logic features, covered in other articles and in the manual, are beyond ths scope of this article. However, if you added "Item" to the Source Element List, here is a hint you may need. "Item" will not appear on the list of fields on the focus tab, but since it is just another name for a pre-defined element (Subject), use "Subject-Other" when you want "Item" in your search statement.

You will find only three List Types on the List of Sources Options tab: Abbreviations, Titles, and Bibliographic. It is quite possible that those three reports are enough. When I want a catalog list of everything in my files with full detail (except memo), the Bibliographic option is fine, with my custom master template in place. Here are three report entries resulting from the master template described above. They work well in a two-column word-processor document:

220 Docno_Loc: BOUTEL059 Box01
Gen'l_Desc: Photo of Clarence, Albert, Minnie, Elmer, and Mabel Boutelle
Nothing written on the back. See also BOUTEL062.
Keywords: Boutelle photo
Item: Photo
Date(s): Unknown.
236 Docno_Loc: BOUTEL061 Binder
Gen'l_Desc: Photo of Number Six School taken by Clarence Boutelle in 1938. He wrote comments on the back
(see memo). Notice that his comments do not match those in Leominster Bicentennial booklet.
Keywords: Number six school
Item: Photo
Date(s): photo processing date 14 Jul 1938.
355 Docno_Loc: M-BTL0025 Binder
Gen'l_Desc: Letter from Clarence Boutelle to family advising on location for rebuilding house after fire.
Keywords: Clarence Advice from Lenox Mass
Item: Letter copy
Date(s): 12 Jan 1804.

The number at the far left is the TMG Source Number that shows on the Master Source List.

Earlier, I recommended not having more than one paragraph in the Title field (labeled "Gen’l_Desc" in the above report sample). My word processor will sort and select paragraphs, treating a paragraph as a record, and each of the above is a single paragraph. If you have two paragraphs in any of the fields, then the output record will become two paragraphs (two records), and the word processor will sort pieces of a report entry as if they were whole entries, creating havoc.

You can put long text with multiple paragraphs into the memo field as long as you do not expect to have the sorting problem. One way around the multi-paragraph problem is to simply use a line containing only one character (a period, for example) as a paragraph break. Then, without two hard returns in a row, the text will be treated as one paragraph in a sort. What is important is to understand how it works, decide how you will use the options, and apply your standards consistently.

By replacing the master bibliographic template in Configure, you can vary the report formats. If you want just the document number and location, this works:


If I ever get around to cleaning up the mess I have made of the Short Title (keywords) field, this template may be what I need:

[BOLD:]Keywords:[:BOLD] <[SHORT TITLE]>

If I want something else, another change to the System Configuration | General Tab | Source Categories | Custom | Configure, etc. does the trick. It is not necessary to type each one from scratch.

To facilitate using several different pre-designed bibliographic templates without having to type them each time, store them on disk, then copy and paste your choice into place as you need it (using Windows clipboard). Remember to put your master template back in place when you are done with the substitute.


Using database software for such a catalog would be ideal, but using TMG saved me from the agony of learning yet another program, and it saved me the new-program cost. With TMG’s many features and variables, you can make a practical custom catalog. Because this TMG catalog does not offer all the features of database software, pre-planning and experimental runs are important not only to help you decide what suits you best, but to help you avoid mistakes that are not easily corrected. With over three hundred items cataloged in TMG, I find this to be a useful tool.

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