Documenting the failures

Document your research failures as well as successesHave you ever been pursuing leads on a thorny research problem and found the time just slipping away, without much progress made? I just experienced that. I was trying to fill in some blanks on an ancestor and actually managed to stay pretty focused, but two hours later, those blanks are still empty. I wouldn’t mind keeping going on this challenge, but I need to stop, because I have other things I need to accomplish this morning. Plus, I’m getting kind of frustrated.

It’s easy to spend a lot of time pursuing leads in genealogy research and feel like you’ve wasted your time. But I think there’s a sure-fire way to make the time spent more valuable. And that’s by recording what you’ve done and the results–even if the results are nil.

That’s where a research log comes in. I’ve not been diligent in keeping a research log, though I know that it can be very valuable. But my frustrating time this morning has me appreciating the effort of keeping a log, because I don’t want to repeat the unsuccessful searches (or if I do, I want to do so knowing that the searches have failed in the past).

When Springpad was around, I created a research tracker template that was included in the Family History Organizer notebook on Springpad. That form works with the way I think, so I’ve been continuing to use the template, only now it’s in Evernote. (Feel free to email me if you want me to send you the template–that’s the corner of today’s entry in the photo.) It’s simple and allows me to record the pertinent data without turning it into a big chore. I need to use it more diligently, after every research session, rather than waiting until days like today when logging my research feels absolutely imperative.

My way of keeping a research log is far from perfect. There are much more complete ways to do it–Thomas MacEntee offers an amazing research log template, it just doesn’t feel right for me. (I find it a little intimidating.)

If you’ve been contemplating keeping a research log, but got bogged down in trying to select the best format or you just weren’t sure how to do it, I’d suggest you let go of making it perfect (or even great) and just get into the habit of writing something down. Any information about your research session that you document at the end of the session is better than none!

Making my Ancestry tree public

Making my Ancestry tree publicBack in July, I was pondering uploading my family tree from my Reunion software to Ancestry and trying to decide whether to make the tree public or private on Ancestry. I invited comments on that question and was really thrilled to see a robust discussion about it, with advocates on both sides.

So I uploaded my tree, making it private initially. I was disappointed to see that the sources didn’t update as hyperlinks, so while my facts are sourced, others don’t have easy access to the sources.

After careful consideration, I decided to make the tree public. For me, the good of helping others with their research and potentially attracting connections with distant relatives outweighed the risk of my data ending up in incorrect trees.

The decision was made, but then I stalled. The perfectionist in me didn’t want to make the tree public until the source problem was fixed. But I haven’t made fixing that problem a priority. (It kind of overwhelms me.) Today, I decided to not let perfectionism get in the way of progress and I pulled the trigger and made my tree public.

Having done this gives me the impetus to do several things:

  • Create a checklist and schedule for systematically going through my Ancestry tree and hyperlinking the online sources included in the tree (and simultaneously making sure I’ve saved them on my hard drive).
  • Add the information and sources I’ve found offline in recent my recent trips to my Ancestry tree.
  • Come up with some sort of schedule for updating the Ancestry tree. (I keep the Reunion software on my hard drive up to date–it’s my primary database.)
  • Check out Family Tree Maker for the Mac, which I’m told automatically updates to Ancestry, and consider switching to it from Reunion.

I’m hoping that making my tree public will help others and, potentially, lead to some fruitful interactions. I’m looking forward to seeing where this might lead!

Using a timeline to solve a problem

Use a timeline to solve genealogy problemsIn researching my great great grandparents, Laban Taylor Rasco and Margaret Dye Rasco, whose graves I saw last month in Alabama, I realized that I was seeing marriage indexes that listed their marriage date as March 14, 1865, but in my Reunion software, I’d listed May 14, 1865 as the day they wed. The source for the May date was the Alabama Census of Confederate Soldiers from 1921, a wonderful, information-rich form that had been filled out by hand by (I think) my great great grandfather himself. (I’m basing that on the handwriting in the form matching that of the signature.) Since I haven’t yet seen the original documents that were indexed, I was inclined to take my ancestor’s word for it.

But then I used the Ages feature in Reunion to see at what age Laban Taylor Rasco was when the various events I’d entered took place. And that’s when I realized (a palm-to-forehead moment) that his marriage took place while he was serving in the Alabama Infantry during the Civil War. Thanks to the amazing Civil War records from the National Archives available through Fold3, I knew he had a 60-day furlough starting January 31, 1865. He was residing at a hospital for wounded soldiers in Mississippi (courtesy of a shoulder wound he’d sustained at the Battle of Jonesborough), and his furlough papers listed his residence as Shelby County, Alabama. He returned to the hospital on March 28 and listed on the rolls of prisoners of war paroled at Talladega, Alabama, on June 3. The marriage indexes indicate that he and Margaret were married in Shelby County, Alabama, so the wedding must have taken place during that furlough. (So much for a honeymoon!) May 14 clearly isn’t within that window. So I’m changing my records to say March 14.

Laban would have been 77 years old (and still married to Margaret) when he filled out that Confederate Census form in 1921. So I’m willing to cut him a little slack if we mixed up month of his anniversary.

This was a great reminder of the value of using a timeline (and applying a little logic) when trying to resolve conflicting information.

Third quarter research report

My strategy for focusing my genealogy efforts in 2014At the beginning of 2014, I created a research scheme in which I’d focus on a different branch of my family tree each quarter. First quarter was the Adamses, (my father’s father’s family); second quarter was the Browns (my mother’s father’s family). The third quarter’s focus was on the Rascos, my father’s mother’s family. The final quarter of the year, which just began, I’ll be focusing on the Jeffries (my mother’s mother’s family).

I didn’t plan it this way, but my research schedule has dovetailed nicely with events. In the second quarter, when I was researching the Browns, who lived in Missouri and Nebraska, I paid a visit to the Midwest Genealogy Center and also attended the Brown family reunion in western Missouri. Last quarter, when I was researching the Rascos, I took my cemetery research trip and did some library research in the Alabama stomping grounds of the Rascos. I even met a woman at the library who had grown up next to the Rasco homestead!

So in the third quarter I focused what little research time I had on the Rascos (along with members of the Adams family who are buried in cemeteries I visited on the September trip). I’m still processing the information I gathered on that trip, so research on the Rascos will extend into the fourth quarter.

Now that the year is three-quarters over (how did that happen?) I can reflect on the pros and cons of the quarterly scheme:

Pros

  • It helps me stay focused
  • It mitigates frustration a bit by giving me an organized way to shift gears when I hit tough spots
  • It helps a little with the “what should I work on now?” question that sometimes gets in my way
  • It gives me a deadline (and I love a deadline)

Cons

  • It limits the amount of progress I can make on a given line over the course of a year
  • It might stop me from pursuing leads on other lines (but of course I can research whatever I want)
  • If the research on this quarter’s line is frustrating, it discourages me from shifting focus (though that’s not necessarily a bad thing)

I had originally hoped to include organizing my records on a given famiyk in the quarters endeavors and I was good about that in the first quarter. I have to admit those efforts have fallen by the wayside in recent months when my organizing business has has been so busy (giving me less genealogy time). I hope to give the quarterly scheme another try in 2015; I think the pros outweigh the cons!