It’s not about climbing the tree

It's not about climbing your family treeOne of my takeaways from RootsTech last week was how much one can learn about one’s ancestors by digging deep into the records. I learned techniques for how to use historical maps, military records and tax records to learn more about my ancestors. I can’t wait to dig in.

And that got me thinking: Do I want to learn more about my ancestors or learn about more ancestors? It’s a bit of a quandary. I find myself really excited every time I break into another generation on my tree. I’m anxious to try to verify my initial findings (using unverified sources), for example, that I descend from the Mayflower. I can’t do that if I’m still working in the 19th century.

But I realize that I want to know more about my ancestors than their dates of birth, marriage and death. I’d like to know how they lived, why they migrated, what their military experiences were like, among other things. And that’s going to require locating multiple sources about each ancestor and resisting the temptation to just climb the family tree.

I’m a big fan of spreadsheets and checklists, so I think I’m going to create a checklist of categories of sources to try to find on each ancestor before moving to another. This will also help me when I come back to an ancestor.

I can’t wait to see what I learn!

Photo by Juanjo+Willow via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

Off to RootsTech 2015!

RootsTech 2015 I leave really early tomorrow morning to fly to Salt Lake City for RootsTech. I’m really excited, though my to-do list for today is huge. This is my second year going to RootsTech; I wrote a similar post last year, which I just re-read. Last year I was feeling overwhelmed at the thought of such a large conference (according to this press release, there were 13,000 in attendance last year).

Turns out, this conference is so well organized that the large number of folks wasn’t a big issue. There are an expected 20,000 people going this year, since it’s being held in conjunction with the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) conference.

I bought a pass that allows me to attend FGS sessions as well. So this year I’m feeling overwhelmed not by the number of people, but by the sheer number of choices of classes each day. Thanks to the marvelous RootsTech app, I’ve gone through and selected the classes I think I want to take, but I’m leaving myself open to changing my mind.

Today, I’m focusing on deciding what I want to research at the Family History Library, the largest genealogy library in the world, and what I might need to take along to facilitate that research. I also want to pack light, because I’m going from Salt Lake to Washington state to visit family and I’d really like to do it all in a carry-on. (I by necessity packed light for my last trip to see family and it was worth the effort.) I’m hoping that my focus on keeping my genealogy files organized electronically will work to my benefit so that I don’t have to bring a lot of paper to support my research.

Last year I was feeling shy. This year I have true friend, a reader of this blog, whom I met at last year’s conference. Can’t wait to see her! I look forward to making more friends–I’m going to do my best to speak first and meet interesting people. (I want to give away my new business card!)

Can’t wait to see what I learn. I’ll be posting here about the conference, so if you’re interested, please keep an eye out.

If you’re going to RootsTech and want to meet up, let me know!

Banishing the stubborn pile

Banishing the stubborn pileFor the past few months, I’ve had this one pile on the corner of my desk that contains primarily genealogy items. When I’m hurriedly putting away the stuff cluttering my desktop, I just keep straightening that pile and leaving it there. It’s almost become a feature of the landscape of my desk. Somehow I’ve adjusted my thinking so that I have been considering my desktop clear even with that pile sitting there.

I think one of the reasons that I wasn’t dealing with it was a perception that it would take some time to really process the information in it. I was afraid that if I rushed it, I might lose valuable clues the pile might contain for my genealogy research. And I simply wasn’t taking the time to do it. (Work has been very busy lately.)

I know if I take some focused time and go through that pile, I will further my research and I won’t have an unsightly pile on my desk. But it hit me this morning that if I start but don’t finish, I’m still better off than not starting at all. So I took a photo of the pile, and wrote all the text above this line. Then I set my timer for 15 minutes and started going through the pile.

Here are some of the things I found in the pile:

  • Notes from my research trip to Kentucky and Alabama. I added tasks from those notes to my Genealogy To-Do List for the appropriate surname. Then I filed the notes in my paper files.
  • A packet of information I’d sent for from the the State of Alabama Archives pertaining to my great great grandfather, Laban Taylor Rasco. I put a sticky note saying “Analyze/process” on the packet and added that task to my Rasco To-Do List. Then I filed the packet in that couple’s file.
  • Notes from my notebook that I took on the research trip. One page had notes on Adamses on one side and notes on Rascoes on the other. I scanned the Rasco side, printed it and put in in my Rasco file for later reference. I filed the original sheet in the appropriate Adams file.
  • Notes written on several pages of two notepads I keep on my desk. I tore off the notes, logged any tasks on my To-Do list and filed or tossed the notes. Then I put the notepads where they belong.
  • A random list of how common my family surnames are. Some time ago, I found myself on a website (which I didn’t source) where you can enter a surname and see how common it is. I typed the data into Evernote so I can find it later if I ever remember it.
  • A small sticky note with a list of death certificates I’d found recently that needed to be added to my Reunion software. I checked each name to see which certificates had been entered already.  Two out of five still needed to be added and I noted that on my to-do list. I threw away the sticky note.
  • Some brainstorming notes about this blog. I filed them and made a note on my business task list to review them.

When the 15-minute timer went off I had just a few more pieces of paper to deal with. So I went ahead and finished, them did the filing.

Eliminating that pile took no more than thirty minutes. This is a pile I’d been looking at for several months. It had been mildly stressing me out, because I didn’t know its contents and it was in the way.

Now I feel in control of my research, I have clear next steps and I feel more eager to work on it. Plus I have a clear desk to enjoy. That’s the best 30 minutes I’ve spent in awhile!

What could 30 minutes of pile busting do for you?

Don’t let perfect get in the way of done

Let go of perfectionismWhen you think about getting organized there’s a natural tendency to want to found the very best possible organizing system, whether it’s for your genealogy or any other aspect of your life. Trouble is, as I’ve seen many times in my work as a professional organizer, that tendency toward perfection generally paralyzes people.

If you’re a perfectionist, it can be really hard to start organizing something if you don’t know how it’s going to work out. Or if you’re not sure what the best course of action is.

My advice: let go of perfection and embrace simplicity. If you select or create the simplest organizing system possible–the one with the fewest steps–you’ll have the best chance for success.

For me and my family history research that means I now save most things electronically, rather than printing and filing. I find it much easier to file documents on my hard drive than in a physical file folder. (And, yes, I do back up that hard drive.)

When I do use paper, I prefer file folders to binders because I think they’re simpler to use. (Way fewer steps.)

My mantra is Let it be easy, and I try to inhabit that phrase in all aspects of my life, including my organizing systems.

If you find yourself hesitating to create an organizing system or use the one you have because you’re looking for the perfect system, I encourage you to let that go. The longer you wait to organizer, the bigger the project will be. Don’t let perfect get in the way of done.