Identifying military ancestors

identifying military ancestorsWhenever I read about a records collection for a certain conflict (which seems to happen around military-related holidays, like Veteran’s Day or anniversaries of conflicts) I get excited about researching my ancestors in those collections, which can be such a treasure trove of information. But in the past sometimes I would have difficulty remembering which ancestor might have fought in which war and I’d become overwhelmed and abandon the effort.

So I created a document that shows me the prospective ancestors for each conflict, based on the dates they were born. At the time, I used a table from Family Tree Magazine but when I went looking for it to share in this post, I couldn’t find it. However, I did find an even-better table called Ages of Servicemen in Wars that lists 20 military conflicts, the years they were fought, the typical birth dates for soldiers and the  typical ages of soldiers. Thank you, FamilySearch!

Armed with that information, I created a simple spreadsheet (pictured, in part, above) with the following column headers:

  • Conflict
  • Likely Birth Year of Soldiers
  • Prospective Ancestor
  • Confirmed Ancestor

For each conflict, I entered the names of the ancestors who were born during the birth-year window listed in column 2. After I ascertained that one had indeed fought in that war, I entered an X in the Confirmed Ancestor column. What I should have done and will from here forward, is place a dash or an N in the Confirmed Ancestor column to indicate that I’d ruled that ancestor out.

This is a simple way to see at a glance who I might research when I’m looking at military collections at the National Archives, Fold3 or elsewhere. It’s easy to create and well worth the time spent.

Letting go of should

shouldgraphicIt’s natural to ask about questions about organizing (your genealogy or anything else) that start with the word “should.” Should I organize my documents this way or that way? Should I store things here or there? Should I focus on this or that?

When I try to answer a question that starts with should, the answer is almost always, “It depends.” Because it’s all about what will work for you.

I encourage my clients (and anyone else who w’ill listen to me) to let go of the word should. And to also let go of asking questions that start with, “What’s the right way to…” or What’s the best way to….”

Because here’s the thing: I can’t tell you what you should do. Only you know what’s right for you. It can be much more beneficial to think in terms of what you’d like to do, or what you think will work best for you, rather than what you should do. Especially when it comes to organizing your genealogy research, the thing you should do (in my opinion) is the thing that works well for you and that you can keep up.

For example:

  • Maybe you’ve always heard that you should store your paper documents in binders, but you have trouble keeping up with that. Let go of that should and consider using file folders or scanning your documents.
  • Maybe you think you should print every document for the sake of posterity but you’re overrun with unfiled paper. You can let go of that should, particularly if your electronic documents are already organized.
  • Conversely, maybe you’ve heard you should scan every bit of paper and store files electronically, but you’re overwhelmed by the prospect. Bye bye, should. You can let your paper files be sufficient. Or just start storing new files electronically and leaving your papers unscanned.
  • Maybe you’re told you should keep a research log, but you just can’t get yourself to do it. A research log can be hugely beneficial. But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have one just because you think you should.

In other words, set yourself up for success and do what works for you. Decide what your priorities are (accessibility for you, accessibility for others, ease of use, etc.) and focus your organizing systems on those priorities. Don’t do something just because someone told you you should if it doesn’t seem like it will work for you.

All that said, there are some genealogy shoulds that I think you should pay attention to:

  • You should cite your sources so you can find them again and know where your facts came from (but you don’t have to cite them perfectly if that’s getting in the way of citing them at all).
  • You should back up your electronic data in case of a crash (I use an external hard drive an automated cloud storage).

Genealogy is supposed to be fun. Don’t let the shoulds drag you down. Make your own choices and own them. And keep yourself open to new ways of doing things. (See what I did there? I told you all sorts of things I think you should do, without using that word. Take what works for you and let go of the rest.)

Raise your hand if you’re going to Midwestern Roots 2016!

Two years ago, I had planned to attend the Midwestern Roots Family History and Genealogy Conference in Indianapolis. But then I had a work conflict that meant I had to cancel. (I had to lead a team to unpack and organize a beloved client’s new home and the movers did not care about my schedule!) At that time, I was thrilled that several Organize Your Family History readers were planning to attend and hoped to meet them.

This year I hope to have no such conflicts. I have registered for the conference, which will be held July 15 and 16. It looks like a terrific conference. I’m especially glad to be able to go, since I made the tough decision not to attend the National Genealogical Society’s conference this year, which is being held this week in Ft. Lauderdale. It’s too close to my annual organizers’ conference and I didn’t want to be away from home that much this month. (That turned out to be a great decision as we subsequently decided to remodel our kitchen and demolition starts this week. I need to be home to share the misery with my husband.)

If you’re planning to go Midwestern Roots and would like get together for coffee or sit together at a session, let me know. (I promise not to pressure you to become my BFF.) Just leave a comment and I’ll contact you via email or just email me through the Contact form. I posted a similar note before I went to RootsTech for the first time and ended up starting a wonderful friendship with Lori Krause, who reads this blog.

I’m really excited about attending the conference and learning so much. Getting to meet a blog reader or two would be icing on the cake!

Family History Daily: a great resource

fhdI receive an email from Family History Daily on a regular basis. I don’t know if it’s actually daily, but it’s frequent. I’m here to tell you, they include some great gems. Yesterday, for example, I learned about the free DNA database DNA.land.

I love that they ferret out great free and low-cost genealogy resources. And they now offer a genealogy course, one that is available at half price to lower-income genealogists.

If you haven’t checked out Family History Daily yet, I encourage you to do so. I always make sure to glance at their emails because I frequently learn about something I’d not been aware of before.