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.

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?

An embarrassment of riches

bambooforestOne of my tendencies when it comes to my genealogy research is to get overwhelmed and then paralyzed. I’ve worked hard to avoid the “Where do I start?” question that used to prevent me from getting to work.

My feelings of overwhelm have taken on a new quality of late. I went to two excellent genealogy conferences (the National Genealogical Society conference and the Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree) within in one month one another recently and I learned about so many amazing resources to pursue that I don’t know which way to turn.

On top of that, I took action after the first day of the NGS conference and ordered Civil War pension files for three of my Union soldier ancestors and now have literally 300 pages of documents to go through. (That’s exciting but overwhelming!)

It’s an embarrassment of riches. I feel like there are so many good things to pursue, I don’t know how to choose. (On my other organizing blog, I’ve written about how challenging I find it to have too many choices.)

Doing nothing because I have too many choices is clearly not a good option. So I need to figure out how to narrow things down.

When I was at the two conferences, I used my mobile devices to add genealogy tasks to my Things task-management app.  But just looking at that list has become overwhelming.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do:

  • Sort the tasks by surname
  • Remind myself of my quarterly goals
  • Prioritize the tasks so that I can see the Rasco ones easily, since the new quarter starts tomorrow (and I’ll therefore be shifting my focus to the Rasco family)
  • Give myself permission to work on pension records even though they’re not Rasco-related, so that I can work on properly processing them, a little at a time

Just giving myself a plan of action has made me feel less overwhelmed. Assigning surnames to the tasks so I can isolate one family has limited the options and made me feel more calm.

I think I’m going to create a separate “Opportunities” list that I’ll populate with the various resources I want to explore so that I can get inspired without having the distraction of including those resources in my genealogy task list.

Genealogy is such a journey of discovery. Sometimes I feel surrounded by data and learning opportunities and I can’t see where I’m going. Creating a clear path to follow will help me stay focused and happy while I explore my roots.

Photo by Stale Grut via Unsplash.

Processing Civil War pension files

Processing civil war pension filesAs I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I received my 3d great grandfather’s Civil War pension files from the National Archives in record time. I’d been prepared to wait 45 to 120 days and it arrived the week after I submitted the request online.

I dug right in and started processing the information. I was so grateful that I had attended the class Anatomy of a Military Pension, presented by Certified Genealogist Julie Miller at the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference that month. She provided step-by-step instructions of what to do with a military pension.

So the day after I received that 65-page pension file, I did what Julie suggested. I put the documents in chronological order and I assigned a number to each. Then I figured out a citation for the overall file and a  citation for each of the numbered documents.

Coming up with a proper citation was a bit of a challenge and I emailed Julie, who was kind enough to share the citation she uses for these files. (She had given us that info in the talk, but I hadn’t written it down.)

Here’s the citation I’m using for the overall pension file for my ggggrandfather, Richard Anderson Jeffries:

[278] Jeffries, Richard Anderson (1st Sgt., Company D, 13th Regiment, Missouri Volunteer Infantry, Civil War), application no. 567612, certificate no. 529585, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veteran Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

278 was the next number in my source list in Reunion, my family tree software. Each of the individual documents is numbered, starting with 1, and has its own citation. My intention is that when I enter a fact into Reunion, I’ll use Source 278, but I’ll include in the memo field which of the 26 individual documents that particular fact came from.

I created citation labels for each of the documents and affixed them to the appropriate pages. (That’s the citation for document 16 above.) Then I scanned the whole document into a pdf. (I elected to have one pdf, rather than 26 individual ones–time will tell whether that was a good choice.)

The next step, according to Julie is to transcribe the documents. Yes, I’m going to type word for word exactly what is on the documents. Julie urged us not to skip that step because when we transcribe, we learn things we would not otherwise learn.

After I transcribe, I will abstract the documents, so I can tell at a glance what they are and what info is contained within each.

Then I’ll analyze the documents and enter the new-found facts into my software.

That’s a lot of work, but I’m delighted to have learned how to be thorough with it. And I know I’ll learn so much about my ancestor.

I am so grateful to have this structure, because just a few days after receiving Richard Anderson Jeffries’s file, I received the pension file for my gggrandfather, George Washington Adams. That file is over 100 pages; I had to request and pay for the rest of the file (another 80 pages) to be copied–I’m still waiting for part two. That same week I received the third and final pension file, for another gggrandfather, Benjamin Franklin Igleheart. All three pension files, probably 250 pages, came within two weeks of my request.

If I did not have the structure Julie provided in that talk to thoroughly process the information, I know I would feel overwhelmed. I would probably skim the documents, pluck out a few easy-to-find facts, and put them away intending to get to them later. And I don’t know when later would be.

I have skimmed the most recently received pension files to get a preview what I’m going to learn. (G.W. Adams had a big dispute about the amount of his pension–an adversary in the Soldier’s Home turned him in for saying he was more disabled than he was!) But I’m not going to analyze them until I’m finished with Richard Anderson Jeffries. So that will be motivation to go through the process.

I think these pension files are going to be a great learning experience not just about my ancestors, but also about doing proper genealogical research. This feels great!