The value of transcribing

The value of transcribing documentsWhen I took Julie Miller‘s class at the NGS conference, Anatomy of a Military Pension, I felt inspired and motivated. I went home that night and ordered the pension files from my three Union soldier ancestors. I took her advice on how to process the files. Starting with the first one that arrived (for my 3d great grandfather, Richard Anderson Jeffries, 1823-1914), I put the papers in the file in chronological order, created citations for each of the 26 documents, scanned the documents into one file and am now in the process of transcribing them.

When Julie told us to transcribe the documents, I remember thinking that sounded like way too much work. I had trouble picturing myself taking the time to do it. But Julie urged us not to skip that step. She said that when we transcribe, we learn things we would learn no other way. So I decided to take her advice. I’m now in the middle of transcribing this pension file. (I’m on document 19 of 26.) It’s what I’ve been doing daily in my 30 x 30 challenge–I find that it takes about 30 minutes to transcribe one document.

I am so glad I’m making effort! Reading and typing the documents word for word means that I’m not just skimming; I’m digesting what the documents say. I’m memorizing important dates and items that appear on every form. (He fought in Co. D, 18th Regiment, Missouri Infantry Volunteers–those words came out of my memory.)

I’ve learned things that I never would have noticed in a simple reading of the file. For example, his first (unfortunately unsuccessful) pension lawyer was a woman. In 1886! It’s also allowed me to really get to know this ancestor. He was a smallish man, 5 feet 8 inches, with dark hair and complexion and blue eyes. I’ve read and internalized in exquisite detail his physical ailments as he’s aged. Each application for an increase in pension is accompanied by a doctor’s report, some of which are quite personal in nature.

The next step, once I’ve finished transcribing, will be abstracting the data and entering it into my Reunion software. The pension file has been really helpful, revealing heretofore unknown-to-me between-census information, like the fact that he lived in the state of Washington for part of the first decade of the 20th century before moving back to Missouri. (Maybe some day I’ll find out how he traveled to and from Washington.)

I have two more ancestors’ files to process–one of them, for G.W. Adams, 1845-1938,  has over 100 individual documents (as opposed to the 26 of R.A. Jeffries). It’s going to take me awhile. But, as I know already, there is gold to mine from these amazing pieces of history. And I know that going to the trouble to transcribe will help me mine it even better.

OYFH’s top five posts

The readership of this blog had grown steadily over its three years of existence, so today I thought I’d list the five most-read blog posts in the event that new readers haven’t discovered them. Combined, these posts have been read more than 32,000 times. Have you read them yet?

Foil can make hard-to-read gravestones legible

Reading hard-to-read gravestones. I outline the aluminum foil trick I used to make illegible gravestones readable, like magic. With over 16,000 pageviews, this is my most-read post hands down.

This simple spreadsheet helps me keep an eye on who needs researching.Tracking progress. I created a spreadsheet that allows me to tell at a glance which important records I’ve identified for each direct-line ancestor and which I still need to track down.

My genealogy file cartAre you organized enough? In this popular post, I bring my experience as a professional organizer to the question, “What does being organized really mean?” And then I take you step by step through the process of becoming organized enough.

Top five OYFH postsFree family fan chart. Thank you, Google, for making this post so popular.  Martha Stewart did a post a few years ago on building a family tree that offers a free, downloadable family fan chart. This posts links to it. And that link is still live.

Are yoAre you backing up your genealogy data?u backing up your genealogy data?  I advocate a belt-and-suspenders approach to back up. In this post, I relay the sad story of a friend whose (non-genealogy) files were deleted by Dropbox.

 

My 30 x 30 challenge

30 x 30 genealogy challengeOne of my biggest challenges when it comes to doing family history research is making and taking the time to actually do it. Sometimes it falls to the bottom of the priority list and doesn’t happen. That’s a shame, because I really love doing the research and am anxious to make progress. I’ve found that putting it on my task list is helpful.

But this month I’m taking it up a notch. I decided to commit to doing 30 minutes of family history research every day for 30 days. I started last Friday, and so far I haven’t missed a day.

Thirty minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time (which makes it easier to accomplish), but if I do 30 minutes a day for 30 days, that will be 15 hours of research. Two full days. There’s no way I could take two full days to do research this month, but I can find 30 minutes a day.

Since I’ve made this commitment, I’ve worked on my genealogy on days I never otherwise would have. I had a couple of stressful days this week due to a family emergency, but I did the research at the end of the day. That felt great. Right now, one of my projects is transcribing Civil War pension files and that has the advantage of being non-intimidating and easy to open and close. I love that I’m making progress on it!

One tool I’m using to strengthen the commitment and just make it more fun is Don’t Break the Chain. It’s a simple calendar I mark when I’ve accomplished the goal (doing 30 minutes of research). It’s powerful because after a few marks you don’t want to break the chain. That’s my Don’t Break the Chain calendar in the photo above.

Anybody care to join me in your own personal 30 x 30 challenge?

Time-management wisdom from Joshua Taylor

djoshuataylorcropI’m a professional organizer and I routinely give time-management advice to my clients who want it. But, as regular readers of this blog know, managing my genealogy research time is a work in progress for me. I struggle with staying focused, knowing what to work on and combating overwhelm.

That changed a little on Saturday. I was fortunate to be in the audience at the Genealogy Society of Southern Illinois’s annual conference. The speaker was D. Joshua Taylor, professional genealogist and truly organized person. Joshua has been doing genealogy research since he was 10 years old and had his first professional clients while he was in high school. He is the president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the director of family history for FindMyPast.com. He is paid to do genealogy research for others, but he still works on his own genealogy research on a regular basis.

Joshua gave four talks at the GSSI conference, all of them terrific. He’s clearly a very thorough researcher; I was very impressed with the tenacity that came through in his talks. He leaves no stone unturned in his research.

While all four talks were really valuable, one talk that really blew me away. It was The Modern Genealogist: Timesaving Tips for Every Researcher, in which he outlined how he stays happy and focused while exploring his roots. Here were my big takeaways:

  • He works on only 1 to 3 projects/problems at a time, along 3 to 5 extended projects (brick walls).
  • If he comes across something else he wants to check out, he just adds it to his project list to work on in the future. (The discipline of that amazes me.)
  • For each research project, he sets a manageable goal and commits to a finished product, putting the research into some sort of meaningful form. I love that he knows what success looks like, in advance.
  • He plans each research session before he starts.
  • He writes a mini-research report for each research session, even when he’s doing it for his own research.
  • He reviews his research log every month or two to see what he’s missed and what he can apply to other families.

One benefit to working on just a few projects at a time, he said, is that you have a fighting chance of completing them. “I would rather leave behind 3 to 5 completed projects than 50 started, but not completed, projects,” he said. I was impressed that such a young man (I think he’s about 30, if that) thinks about his legacy–that’s probably a byproduct of being a genealogist, isn’t it?

When I got home from the conference, I immediately identified the three projects I’m allowing myself to focus on at this time. It’s been absolutely liberating–I don’t have to try to figure out what to work, which makes it much easier to get started. I will keep you posted how this all plays out, but I’m feeling very good about following Joshua’s excellent advice.

One other mind-blowing revelation at the conference was that Joshua and I are cousins. I’m going to repeat that, because it’s so amazing. Joshua and I are cousins. Our common ancestors are my third great grandparents, Joseph Price (1820-1904) and Mary Puffenbarger (1823-1896). (It’s Mary’s grave that I used aluminum foil to read in my blog post Reading hard-to-read gravestones.) How did I discover that? Like many good genealogy lecturers, Joshua used his own research in examples. In his very first talk of the day, he mentioned Joseph and Mary, much to my excitement. Joseph Price is one of Joshua’s brick walls, so it’s conceivable that I might, at some point, be able to give him a hand. That would be a dream come true!