The importance of a clear workspace

A clear desk makes you more productiveIs your genealogy work surface clear? If not, do you have to clear if off before you start researching? I think a messy desk can make it hard to do your best work.

I’m a big believer in clearing off my (physical) desk top every night. That way I can hit the ground running in the morning. I do my genealogy work at same desk where I blog and run my organizing business. If I didn’t keep a clear desktop, I think I’d find next to impossible to even contemplate doing genealogy work.

This point was brought home emphatically this morning. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but as of last night I had not finished my family’s taxes. I started them a month or two ago, but when it became apparent that I was going to have to pay additional taxes, I kept procrastinating on finishing them. I thought I’d finished them Sunday night and was just planning to print out the return and write checks yesterday (April 14). But when I went through the Review process on Turbo Tax, errors came up that had me pulling out my hair. After a few hours of trying to deal with it through online resources and a call to a tax-lawyer friend, I decided to throw in the towel and file for an extension. About then, my husband let me know that dinner was ready, so I just left my desk to go eat. And I didn’t come back that night.

So this morning, I was greeted by a messy desk top. And I had to fill out the forms to file for extensions for federal, state and local taxes and figure out how much to pay with each extension request. I also had figure out what to pay in estimated taxes. And I had to write the checks. This kind of thing stresses me out under the best of circumstances. But with my messy desk (pictured above), I could feel my blood pressure rising.

I have to leave to see a client in 90 minutes, but I’m happy to say that despite the messy desk, I got the tax forms filled out and checks written. (I’ll come back to my Turbo Tax problems in a couple of days and hope to get my return filed soon.) I also wrote my monthly newsletter and two blog posts this morning. But I could have done all that with less stress if I hadn’t been surrounded by paper. And I felt so busy I didn’t take the time to clear it.

If your workspace is typically cluttered, I encourage you to take a little time to clean it off and then establish a habit of clearing it nightly. It’s one of three habits that really help keep me at the top of my game. It might help you get more genealogy research done!

 

 

Lessons learned from my research trip

Lessons learned from a research tripI just arrived home from my trip to the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri (about a 3.5 hour drive). I wrote earlier in the week about how I prepared for it.

I had a great time. The library is beautiful and the people who work there so helpful. I met up with my friend and fellow genealogy researcher Lori Krause and we researched together at the library and had dinner together.

There were two things I didn’t bring that I wish I had, most notably my reading glasses. I wear progressive lenses in my glasses, which have a reading area at the bottom. But since I spent some time using microfilm reading machines, I had to tilt my head way back to read. And that got a little uncomfortable. I actually have computer glasses, too. Next time I’ll bring those as well. This was definitely an oversight on my part.

The other item I didn’t have that would have come in handy was Post-It notes for marking pages of books I wanted to copy.

I brought my laptop computer along and was glad I did. I also had my iPad, but I prefer Reunion’s desktop client more than its iPad app, so I stuck to the computer. I was so glad I’d brought a flash drive, which I did at the suggestion of reader Maria Tello. The library’s copy machines will store the image on a flash drive. So I copied pages from a couple of books right on to my flash drive, free of charge. (How cool is that?)  I was also glad I’d brought water and some snacks.

I was really glad for the preparation I’d done, but it wasn’t enough. I actually blew through the spreadsheet I’d prepared of resources I wanted to check quite quickly. And then I was faced with trying to use my time well. When I would feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities, I would focus in on the Brown family, the branch of my family that I’m focusing on this quarter.

Next time I go, I’ll try to perhaps stay a little longer and have shorter research days. After a full day of research yesterday, I was seriously tired. And I want to have a laser focus each day. I think I’ll pick just a few people and really hone in on what I know and don’t know about each of them and see how I can flesh out the information. This trip I tried to look up information on too many people and so I felt scattered.

Was the trip successful? Yes! I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t have any Eureka! moments, but I did add eight new sources in Reunion. Having been to the library once will allow me to plan even better for the next trip, as I move my way up the family tree.

My research trip preparation

Preparing for a genealogy research tripI leave today for my research trip to the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri. It’s about 3.5 hours from my home in St. Louis. I am really excited!

When I initially decided to take this trip, I felt a little anxious. I didn’t know what I would research and I knew that without a plan, I’d feel overwhelmed and incompetent the minute I walked in the door. Then I’d berate myself for not making the best use of my research time. And I’d wonder whether I could have done more.

So you know what I did to counteract that? I actually created a plan! I spent a good amount of time this weekend going through the holdings of the library online and checking my family tree to see what documents I needed. It was loads of fun to discover what I need when I have the potential to get the actual information.

Is started with a simple Pages document (Pages is the Mac’s version of Word) where I just kept a running list of what I might find and where. Then yesterday I created a Numbers document (you guessed it, Numbers is the Mac equivalent of Excel), sorted by family branch, of the info I need and where I might find it.

Because of other obligations today, I won’t get to Independence until late afternoon. The library is open until 9. My plan is to check into my hotel, grab something to eat, then go to the library to get the lay of the land and plan my day tomorrow. I’ll have a full day there tomorrow and will be able to go back to research in the morning and early afternoon on Wednesday.

I’m meeting my friend and fellow researcher, Lori Krause, whom I met at RootsTech (thanks to this blog) for some research and dinner tomorrow. Life is good!

Next week, I’ll post the list of items I brought and let you know whether I used them and what items I wished I’d brought.

Document everything

Document everything in your genealogy researchReason number 33,662 that you should document everything in your genealogy research: You can’t rely on your memory.

Today, I was trying to verify which ancestor of mine had fought in the Civil War as a substitute. I remember finding his records on Fold3.com and seeing the document that designated him as a substitute for an individual of means who could afford to pay my ancestor to fight in his place. I thought it was Benjamin Franklin Igleheart, my great-great grandfather. But when I looked at his record in my software, I found no notation whatsoever about that.

At least I remembered having found a substitute soldier, even if I couldn’t remember who it was. So I looked through the records in Reunion of all my male ancestors who were born at a time where they might have served. Nothing. I tried searching on Reunion but got nowhere. So I finally walked across the room and pulled out B.F. Igleheart’s paper file. There it was: all the info that I had printed out, but not otherwise documented. Bad researcher!

If I had finished going through the paper files of the Adams ancestors, I would have found this info and documented it. But that process probably won’t be finished for quite some time.

I’m so glad I have committed to documenting everything by entering information into my software, with source citation, and creating electronic files of the digital images of the documents. I am conforming to my file naming convention and I’m tagging the digital files so I don’t have to have my papers file to find something.

I used to believe that I would never forget certain facts I’ve learned through my genealogy research. As those facts add up (and my research grows), I know that’s just simply the case. Now all I have to remember is to enter everything into my Reunion software and tag and properly file all my electronic files.