Building flexibility into your genealogy trip

building flexibility into a genealogy research tripI just finished with my cemetery research trip to Kentucky and Alabama, where some of my ancestors lived and died. Being the professional organizer that I am, I planned the trip fairly extensively, down to the GPS coordinates of the cemeteries I was planning to visit. I worked up a schedule and made hotel reservations. My intention was to visit four cemeteries in three cities over two and a half days. I needed to end up in Nashville mid-afternoon of the third day for a conference.

On Day One, I realized that my plan was flawed. And I was so glad that I had the flexibility to change it. What I hadn’t done in all my planning was to build time in to look at local genealogy repositories for resources that might not be available to me on the internet. When I discovered that there was a Kentucky Room in a public library in Owensboro, Kentucky, 45 minutes north of where I was, I chose to stay and do research, rather than proceeding to Alabama as I’d originally planned.

That extra time in the Kentucky Room garnered me a death certificate on microfilm for my great great great grandmother, Elizabeth McEuen (that’s her grave marker in the photo), which in turn gave me her parents’ names.

The next day I proceeded to Baileyton, Alabama, where I had no trouble locating the grave markers of my great great grandparents, Laban and Margaret Rasco, and Laban’s parents, Jesse and Martha Rasco. When an internet search revealed a genealogy room at the library of Wayne State University, in Hanceville, Alabama, I decided to stay in northern Alabama and forgo my trip south to Marion Junction, Alabama, to visit another cemetery. I chose library research over cemetery research. This also saved me a few hours of driving in each direction.

I think it was a good decision. At the Wayne State library, the helpful librarians quickly identified Laban Rasco’s death certificate on microfilm and, in addition, they located his Confederate pension application, a 15-page document that I am looking forward to poring over.

I’m so glad I took this trip. Stepping away from the desk can be so beneficial. To stand in front of the graves of my ancestors was so powerful. To see the towns in which they lived helped me see them as humans. And talking with local people who knew my family’s surnames, brought my ancestors to life for me. One of the librarians in Hanceville, it turns out, grew up next to my family’s homestead. Making that connection with her was priceless.

Thanks to a blog reader, I called ahead to the church associated with one of the cemeteries and was connected to a wonderful local historian who went out of his way to help me and even met me at the cemetery. The trip couldn’t have gone better. And I learned a valuable lesson: When on a genealogy trip, keep my schedule loose and flexible so I can take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.

Step away from the desk

Leaving the house can make you a better genealogist

Thomas MacEntee and me

When I started doing genealogy research, I did all my research online, from the comfort (and isolation) of my desk. I was able to find a huge amount of information. Twenty-first century genealogy researchers are truly fortunate.

But I’ve learned that getting away from the desk and researching at other repositories can be really beneficial. When I was researching at the Midwest Genealogy Center, I was reminded of the benefits of scanning a section of books. Titles jump out that I wouldn’t have thought to search for. Friendly librarians pointed out resources I didn’t know existed. At the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, a professional genealogist on staff gave me a mini research lesson as she helped me confirm that a person I’d found was actually my great great grandfather.

There’s another way to learn by stepping away from the desk: Going to conferences. Last Saturday, I attended a one-day conference sponsored by the Genealogy Society of Southern Illinois. It was in Carterville, Illinois, two hours from my home in St. Louis. I learned about it from a blog reader, Vickie Sheridan, who commented after I expressed my disappointment over not being able to attend the Midwestern Roots Family History and Genealogy Conference in Indianapolis as planned.

The conference was terrific! I am so grateful to Vickie for telling me about it. There were at least four ways it benefited that made it well worth the time and (somewhat minimal) expense:

  • I learned a huge amount of information that will help me in my research
  • I got ideas for blog posts
  • I met Vickie
  • I met Thomas MacEntee, the conference speaker (he did four talks!), whom I’d been looking forward to meeting in Indianapolis

I’ll write more in a future post about some of the great research tips and tricks Thomas presented, but I’ll whet your appetite with this one. Tom has created what he calls a Genealogy Research Toolbox in which he has organized a huge collection of over 150 valuable genealogy links. He encourages people to use it and share it. Here it is: Genealogy Research Toolbox.

In discussing the value of curating links such as these, Tom made a very cogent point.

Why should I spend 30 minutes looking for a link when I could spend that 30 minutes looking for my ancestors?

That’s just another way that being organized can help us be more productive researchers. I’m so glad I left my house in an effort to become a better genealogy researcher!

 

 

Trying out Ancestry.com family tree

Ancestry family tree screenshot from iPhoneThanks to the lively discussion here earlier this month about public vs private family trees on Ancestry, I decided to go ahead and create a GEDCOM file from my Reunion software and upload it to Ancestry. I  considered the pros and cons of a public tree, as expressed in the comments of that post (I so appreciate the comments!), and decided to make the tree private when I uploaded it, do some quality control, and then make it public once it’s ready.

I’d been keeping all my data on my computer in Reunion, rather than on Ancestry, because I don’t like to rely on cloud-based databases; I really like the information to reside on my hard drive. But I decided to upload the file for four reasons:

  • I’m intrigued by the prospect of the shaky-leaf hints (though I understand they often lead nowhere).
  • I would like to find cousins.
  • I would like to help others with my research.
  • I just did an Ancestry DNA test and I want to be able to link the results to a tree to give me maximum return.

So I uploaded the tree this week, which was very easy. But then I hit a snag. I am meticulous about not adding any ancestor for which I don’t have a source to my tree. Everything is sourced. But the sources don’t upload in a satisfactory manner. The source is noted in non-hyperlinked text. So the source is there, but isn’t as helpful to others (or me) as I was expecting. (I did a google search and apparently that’s just the way Reunion talks to Ancestry.)

The shaky leaf hints, though, make it easy to add many of these sources as hyperlinks that others can click on. So yesterday, I spent some time going through the hints, evaluating them, and adding them to records. I’m starting with the Rasco family (that’s my father’s mother’s family, and this quarter’s focus).

Two challenges came to the forefront immediately. One is keeping my Reunion software updated while I’m adding things to my Ancestry tree. (In other words, if I come across new data that’s not already in Reunion, I have to be diligent about adding it to Reunion as well as to the tree.) The other is overwhelm. I need to take this one person at a a time, and try not to skip around or get lost in exploring and evaluating other people’s research on my family members.

For the moment, the tree is still private as I get a handle on the source situation. But i intend to make it public soon. I’m already so grateful for those who have public trees.

I think ultimately I’ll be glad that I have put my tree on Ancestry. It seems to have potentially added another layer of complexity (and work) to my research activities–and I really do like to keep things simple. But once I get through this source situation, I think it will be great to have an online tree and I’ll be delighted if it helps others and helps me meet new-to-me cousins.

Making organizing easier

How to make organizing your genealogy easierIf you’re like me, the thrill of doing genealogy research is about uncovering clues and putting them together to make exciting discoveries. It’s about connecting me with others. And it’s about being a detective.

If you’re going to do a good job of putting clues together, your information needs to be organized. If you research without keeping track of your findings, your chances of success–or at least of verifiable success–are reduced. So, in my opinion, it’s critical to keep your genealogy information organized.

But so many people don’t enjoy the task of organizing information and papers. So they let an overwhelming backlog build up. I’ve chosen to make my living helping people get organized, so of course I enjoy organizing. But I know that for many people it feels like drudgery. If you’re someone who doesn’t like organizing your family history, how can you make it easier for yourself? I have some ideas.

  • Recognize the importance. Make getting and staying organized a priority by acknowledging that being organized makes you a more effective researcher. When you’re organized, you can easily put clues together and you don’t have to rely on your memory of names and dates–that information is at your fingertips.
  • Divide organizing projects into small chunks. To keep from being overwhelmed by your backlog, work on just a little bit at a time. Set a timer and work for a set (short) period of time. Or organize a small area of your genealogy space–a pile on your desk for example. Keep repeating until your backlog is gone.
  • Stay on top of it. Create a habit of organizing at the end of each session. When you’re finished with a genealogy research session, build in time to file papers or electronic files. Doing this each time you research will keep a backlog from forming again.
  • Jettison the “To File” file. Rather than putting something in a file or pile of papers to be filed later, just file it now.
  • Let go of perfection. There’s no such thing as perfectly organized–don’t even strive for it. Instead, set a goal of being organized enough.
  • Let it be easy. I always say that organizing systems should be as complex as they need to be and not one bit more. Don’t make yourself jump through hoops to put things away. (See my blog post How accessible are your genealogy materials? for more information on that.)

If you get through your backlog in small chunks at a time and create a habit of organizing as you go, you can stay organized relatively painlessly. And I’m willing to bet that if tend to resist organizing, this will make your genealogy research not only more effective but more enjoyable!