It’s all about access

wheelerfilefolderTo me, being organized is about having access to your stuff (and information). Often that means accumulating no more stuff than you can easily store. So I spend a lot of my professional life helping clients declutter before creating organizing systems.

When it comes to organizing your genealogy research the same principle applies. It’s really nice to have a neat workspace. But what’s really meaningful is easy access to your information, both physical and electronic. What does this mean?

  • Having a solid file structure for electronic files
  • Having an excellent file naming strategy for electronic files
  • Using metadata for electronic files
  • Creating a habit of adding  metadata and sticking to your file naming strategy
  • Actually filing paper, rather than putting it in piles
  • Carefully considering file folders versus binders for genealogy papers
  • Getting rid of any unneeded duplicates
  • Thinking about how you will access (not just file) information when you set up your organizing system

As I think about this for my own research, I realize I really need to work on my file naming. I’ve done a good job with my electronic file structure, but my names aren’t standardized (as you can see in the photo with this post). By either improving file names or adding metadata (or both) I could more easily use the search function on my MacBook.

For me, having all my research data available on my MacBook is an important goal. I’m still in the process of marrying my electronic and paper files and know when I finish this process, my research will be completely accessible (and portable). That is what I call organized.


Taking my research on the road

The Midwest Genealogy CenterUntil now, most of my genealogy research has been conducted at my desk, using online sources. I did have the pleasure of visiting the Family History Library in Salt Lake City in February for a couple of hours.  But for the most part, I search away on the various databases I have access to.

Yesterday I received a notice from the National Genealogical Society about a research trip to Washington, D.C., that they’re planning. A group of 25 people will spend a week together in Washington, D.C. and visit the National Archives, the Daughters of the American Revolution library and the Library of Congress. Professional genealogists will be taking the trip with them. It sounds a bit like heaven! But it does come with a price tag: some $1500 before airfare.

I’m tempted. And I know I’d better act fast if I want to go, because it will sell out. But for that kind of investment, I’d better be sure to know what I’m looking for. So that got me thinking about how I might organize such a trip and whether I’d be better off venturing out closer to home at first and saving my NGS research-trip dollars for later. (NGS also offers trips to Salt Lake City and elsewhere.)

I’m lucky in that I live in the state where many of my ancestors lived, some as far back as the mid-19th century. I live on the opposite side of Missouri from those folks, but I still have resources available to me within a day’s drive. As I contemplated the Washington, D.C. trip, I thought maybe I’d be better starting out with a research trip to the Mid-Continent Public Library’s Midwest Genealogy Center (pictured above), in Independence, Missouri, a mere 3.5-hour drive from my home in St. Louis. I wouldn’t have a professional genealogist to guide me, but it would be a more economical alternative, one that feels very much in reach.

Of course, I’d still need to organize myself to make the most of the trip. I know that when I walked into the Family History Library I felt overwhelmed and, while I did come prepared with a question I was trying to answer, if it weren’t for the help of a staff genealogist, I wouldn’t have known where to turn.

So here’s what I decided to do to make such a trip a success.

  • First and foremost, I’m going to set a date for the trip. That will ensure it will happen and help me get started in my preparations.
  • I’m going to do research to understand the library’s holdings.
  • After I know what the library offers, I’m going to go through my family tree software to see which relatives are pertinent
  • Once I’ve narrowed it down to individuals, I’m going to make sure I know what info I have about each of them and where the blanks are.
  • I’ll analyze the info see what questions I have so that I can have clear goals for this trip.
  • I’ll reach out to my western Missouri cousins to see if I can pay them a visit

This feels really good to me. This morning, when I started contemplating this, I started to feel overwhelmed and my head started spinning a little. But breaking it down into these clear steps, so that I can make the most of my time at the library feels really good.

I do know there are local resources I haven’t yet exhausted. The central library of the St. Louis Public Library has a renowned genealogy department. There’s the library of the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center. And, of course, there’s the St. Louis Family History Center. But I’m keen for an overnight visit, which I think will really enable me to focus on my research, rather than being distracted by daily life. I anticipate that after I’ve made this type of research trip I’ll be in a better position to use local resources.

Off to RootsTech!

rootstechlogoI leave tomorrow for Salt Lake City to attend RootsTech 2014. I’m really excited, but I have to admit I’m a bit trepidatious. I love conferences. You might call me a bit of a conference junkie. (Check out the credentials page of my Peace of Mind Organizing website and you can see how many organizing conferences I’ve attended.)

In the world of professional organizers, though, our biggest conference attracts at most 900 people. I just read an article in the Salt Lake Tribune that say that 10,000 people are expected to attend RootsTech. 10,000.


When I think about a conference that big, my hidden introvert rises to the forefront. I think how overwhelmed I might feel and how I might just want to take refuge in my hotel room.

So, to combat that overwhelmed feeling, I’ve developed a strategy, of sorts. I reminded myself that this is a tremendous learning opportunity. So I will attend classes and make a concerted effort to talk with exhibitors. And I will indeed use my hotel room for refuge when necessary.

If you’ve attended RootsTech before, I’d love to hear any suggestions you have for making the most of it. If you’re going this year and you’d like to arrange to meet, please let me know!

I know the conference will give me lots of information to report on here. So please keep you eye on the blog!

Looking for my grandfather’s birth home

Looking for my grandfather's birth homeI’m in Portland, Oregon, doing some business planning my friend and colleague, Shannon Wilkinson. (This is something I try to do annually, and it really pays off.)

As I discovered earlier this year, my paternal grandfather, Dave Adams, was born in Portland. The birth announcement I found for him listed a street address for his parents, 749 Roosevelt Street. So I thought while I was here I might see if I could find the home his parents were living in when he was born on November 12, 1904.

Last night, after dark and in the fog, Shannon and I found ourselves near Roosevelt Street. (I had told her about it on the phone when I first found the birth announcement, and she remembered.) As it happens, due to the addition of freeways and an industrial plant in that area, only one residential block of Roosevelt street remains. So it was easy to narrow down our search.

However, some time in the 1930s, Portland changed its numbering scheme for its addresses. The block we were in was the 2200 block. My quest today was to find out whether the last existing residential block of Roosevelt happened to be the same block my great grandparents lived in.

Thankfully, Shannon is savvy about online resources available in Portland and she pointed me to Portland Maps, a city-run website that provides loads of information on each property in Portland. I had written down the address of one of the houses, so I looked it up.  I was able to click on historical permits on that house and the houses around it until I found a permit old enough to reveal the original address. I learned that 2354 Roosevelt was 780 Roosevelt back in the day. I clicked on the next house west and saw that it had been 782 Roosevelt, so I knew I was going in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, there were only a couple of houses east of 2354 Roosevelt, so it became apparent that my great grandparents’ house was one that was destroyed in order to make room for the freeway.

A look at the plat map of Portland in 1906 showed that the whole area had been residential. Shannon and I agree that the turn-of-the-century houses we saw in the last remaining block of Roosevelt probably are a good representation of where the Adams family had lived.

While I was ultimately disappointed in the outcome of this fun little research project, I’m thrilled to have a feel for the kind of housing my ancestors lived in 110 years ago. I’m so grateful to have this information available to me at my fingertips but also glad that I saw those houses in person.

Incidentally, I used the Research Tracker in my Family History Organizer notebook in Springpad (available to you by clicking here) to track this project. I’m finding it a really easy way to keep track of my research without feeling overwhelmed by a big spreadsheet.