There’s no perfect way to organize

There's no one right way to organizeIf there’s one thing that I’ve learned in nine years helping people get organized in their homes, it’s that there’s no one right way to organize. Organizing systems that work beautifully for me (or another client) may be seriously flawed for you. That’s why professional organizers can’t take a cookie-cutter approach to organizing…we have to  customize everything for the client.

This is true in organizing a home. And it’s also true in organizing your genealogy research. There are many ways to  organize your family history–just take a look at the many and varied answers for any particular question in the popular The Organized Genealogist group on Facebook.

So that’s why I bristled a little as I read a document called Organize Your Files on the Family Search wiki about how to organize your genealogy research. I actually use the recommended one-family-per-folder system for my paper records. (I learned about it more than a decade ago on FamilySearch.org.) But the absolutes in the article, the my-way-or-the-highway tone made it less useful to me.

For example:

Computer note keeping. Computers are great for genealogists—but they are not the final storage medium. Keep your research notes on computer if you like, but make a paper copy at the end of the day. Your descendants may not know how to boot your computer, but they will be able to read your paper printouts.

Make paper copies of electronic sources such as Internet sites, email, fax, or telephone interviews.

I don’t agree with making paper copies of everything. For some people, it will feel worth the effort. For others, not. And that’s okay.

Th Family Search wiki has loads of good information. But this article served as a good reminder to me that gently guiding, rather than ordering people around,  can be more effective.

I think some people thrive on structure and probably really appreciate being told exactly what to do.  But for others, strict instructions can feel intimidating or overwhelming. Me, I prefer gentler language with options built in. I like to tell you what works for me, but I don’t pretend that it will necessarily work for you. After all, tweaking is a good thing.

Readers weigh in on blog-reading tools

Feedly is popular among genealogy blog readersEarlier this month, I solicited your suggestions for blog-reading tools. I was interested in hearing how you keep up with the various blogs you read. I was thrilled to receive about a dozen comments with suggestions. As promised, I’m compiling them here for easy reference.

Feedly was the blog reader of choice for five commenters. Two of those were Thomas MacEntee and Jana Last, whose blogs highlight other genealogy blogs, use Feedly. If Feedly is good enough for these blog power-readers, I think it’s probably good enough for me. I’ve just downloaded it and am going to give it a go. So far, set up has been intuitive and easy!

Here are the other suggestions (each of which were mentioned once), in case you want to try any of them:

Several people mentioned that they formerly used and like Google Reader. Alas, Google, in its infinite wisdom, discontinued that service last year.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to share information for this post!

 

 

 

Planning a cemetery research trip

Planning my tour of southern cemeteriesI’m going to an organizers’ conference in Nashville next month and I’ve decided to drive there so I can add on some time for some cemetery research. I’m excited to step away from my desk a bit more!

The branch of my family tree I’m focusing on this quarter is Rasco, my paternal grandmother’s family. They lived in Alabama until about 100 years ago when my great grandparents moved their family to Texas and then to Washington state. My research indicates that some are buried in the Rasco Cemetery in Dallas County, Alabama. Others are buried at the Mount Pisgah Cemetery in Cullman County, Alabama.

In addition, my Adams line lived in Kentucky before moving to the Pacific Northwest. So I plan to visit two cemeteries in McLean County, Kentucky, as part of this trip. At least one of the gravestones, whose picture I saw on Find A Grave, is very hard to read. I’m anxious to work the aluminum foil magic on any particularly worn stones and see whether the data on the stone will become legible.

When I think about planning for this trip, I know I want to capitalize on the opportunity. That means that I need to know who I’m looking for. I also need to look for folks who might be their kin, even if I  don’t have good enough sources to have added them to my Reunion software. That way I can photograph gravestones for potential future use. I obviously need to get my directions together–the fact that Find A Grave often gives GPS coordinates (longitude and latitude) for cemeteries is tremendous! Even though my time is somewhat limited prior to the trip, I do hope to devote some time to researching these lines so that I can bring as much knowledge to the table as possible. I also want to do a little research on best practices in cemeteries.

I wish I could incorporate some courthouse research on this trip, but I simply don’t have time before or after the conference. So, for now, I’ll settle on cemetery research and plan a future trip for courthouse documents. I’m excited!

If you’ve done cemetery research, do you have any tips for me?

Step away from the desk

Leaving the house can make you a better genealogist

Thomas MacEntee and me

When I started doing genealogy research, I did all my research online, from the comfort (and isolation) of my desk. I was able to find a huge amount of information. Twenty-first century genealogy researchers are truly fortunate.

But I’ve learned that getting away from the desk and researching at other repositories can be really beneficial. When I was researching at the Midwest Genealogy Center, I was reminded of the benefits of scanning a section of books. Titles jump out that I wouldn’t have thought to search for. Friendly librarians pointed out resources I didn’t know existed. At the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, a professional genealogist on staff gave me a mini research lesson as she helped me confirm that a person I’d found was actually my great great grandfather.

There’s another way to learn by stepping away from the desk: Going to conferences. Last Saturday, I attended a one-day conference sponsored by the Genealogy Society of Southern Illinois. It was in Carterville, Illinois, two hours from my home in St. Louis. I learned about it from a blog reader, Vickie Sheridan, who commented after I expressed my disappointment over not being able to attend the Midwestern Roots Family History and Genealogy Conference in Indianapolis as planned.

The conference was terrific! I am so grateful to Vickie for telling me about it. There were at least four ways it benefited that made it well worth the time and (somewhat minimal) expense:

  • I learned a huge amount of information that will help me in my research
  • I got ideas for blog posts
  • I met Vickie
  • I met Thomas MacEntee, the conference speaker (he did four talks!), whom I’d been looking forward to meeting in Indianapolis

I’ll write more in a future post about some of the great research tips and tricks Thomas presented, but I’ll whet your appetite with this one. Tom has created what he calls a Genealogy Research Toolbox in which he has organized a huge collection of over 150 valuable genealogy links. He encourages people to use it and share it. Here it is: Genealogy Research Toolbox.

In discussing the value of curating links such as these, Tom made a very cogent point.

Why should I spend 30 minutes looking for a link when I could spend that 30 minutes looking for my ancestors?

That’s just another way that being organized can help us be more productive researchers. I’m so glad I left my house in an effort to become a better genealogy researcher!