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.

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!

SHOTBOX can help you digitize documents

One of the RootsTech vendors I was most excited about was SHOTBOX, a tabletop photo light studio. This portable lightbox makes it easy to use your phone to take good-looking, well-lit photos of three-dimensional objects, which is great for those of who blog. It would also be really useful for folks selling items on eBay, etsy or craigslist.

What’s great for the genealogist, though, is that it provides the ability to easily take photos from above, which can be very useful for digitizing documents or photos (or photo album pages). If you have delicate documents you wouldn’t want to put through a sheet-fed scanner, or if you don’t have a scanner at all, SHOTBOX might be the tool you need to use your phone to digitize documents without risk of damage and without shadows.

Right now, SHOTBOX is running a Kickstarter campaign while they work with the factory to finish the manufacturing and ship by October. I pledged and pre-ordered the SHOTBOX plus the SideShot Kit (a lighted attachment to hold the phone or tablet steady for photos taken from the front), for a total of $149. Once the product is in production, the anticipated retail price will be $149 for the SHOTBOX and $89 for the SideShot.

Go to this page to see examples of photos taken with SHOTBOX.

I’m really excited to receive my SHOTBOX this autumn and put it to use!

Ten organizing truths

Ten organizing truthsI am celebrating the 10th anniversary of Peace of Mind Organizing®, my organizing business, this month. I wrote an article for my monthly newsletter yesterday that listed ten organizing principles I’ve come to believe over my years as an organizer. They’re not genealogy-related, but I thought readers of Organize Your Family History might benefit from them. (Keep reading to the end to see a very special, limited-time offer.)

  1. The less stuff you own, the easier your life is. Less stuff = more freedom.
  2. Relationships are more important than things. Don’t let your stuff get in the way of your relationships.
  3. There is no such thing as perfectly organized. Strive for “organized enough” instead.
  4. You can’t put something away unless you have a place for it. And you can’t have a place for it if you have more stuff than you can comfortably store.
  5. It’s easiest to create a new habit if you pair it with something you’re already doing. Use that trick to let habit creation be easy.
  6. Indecision leads to clutter. Make it a habit to decide immediately what to do with items.
  7. It’s okay to ask for organizing help. In fact, it can be very beneficial.
  8. Messy does not equal disorganized. I’m living proof.
  9. Tidy does not equal organized. I’ve seen many neat but disorganized spaces.
  10. You are not your stuff. Don’t let your stuff (and your ability to organize it) define you.

In yesterday’s newsletter, I made a special, limited-time offer in honor of my anniversary. For the next week, you can purchase all nine of my Organizing Guides for the price of one, just $9. Organizing Guides are my concise, downloadable pdfs that touch on the most common organizing issues that I’ve seen in my decade as a professional organizer. Through July 22, 2015, go to the Organizing Guides page on my website, scroll down to Want them all?, click Add to Cart and use the coupon code POMO10th at checkout to receive all nine guides for just $9.