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!

Don’t take photo labels at face value

When I was at the Brown family reunion the last weekend in June, I was given a bunch of old family photos that pertained to my branch of the family. Some were duplicates of ones I already had (from the big box of photos my mother gave me). Some I’d never seen before. I was delighted to receive them.

One photo in particular brought home an important lesson: Don’t take the labels on the back of photos as the gospel truth. When a picture has an identifying label I tend to assume that the label is accurate, in the absence of any information to the contrary. But that’s not necessarily the case.

I was given this photo of a little girl.

My mother as a young girl

I know that it’s a photo of my mother, because I’ve seen many photos of my mother as a child. She also recognizes it as a photo of herself. My mother’s name when she was a girl was Betty Sue Brown.

This is what’s written on the back of the photo.

Labels aren't always accurate

My mother’s grandmother was Alice Jeffries. I’m assuming that the label was some sort of direction to share the photo with Alice. But it sure seems like it’s identifying the photo, doesn’t it?

Now, I think most people would assume the girl in the photo isn’t married and therefore isn’t Mrs. Jeffries. But what if the label had said “Alice Jeffries” rather than “Mrs. Jeffries?” Then someone who didn’t know what my mother looked like as a child might assume the little girl in the photo was Alice Jeffries.

This is an important reminder to apply critical thinking when looking at photo labels. Don’t take  them at face value; rather, try to find a few other clues to help verify the accuracy of the label, if you don’t know the people in the photos. In this example, Alice was born in 1885, so the attire in the photo would be a clue that it’s not a photo of her. Taking that extra step might help avoid misidentificaton.

Public vs private trees on Ancestry.com

Pubic or private family trees?I keep track of my family tree on my Mac with Reunion software. I do that because I like having my data stored on my hard drive (backed up, of course), rather than in the cloud. When I first started focusing on my genealogy research a few years ago, I created a small family tree on Ancestry.com,  entering a few family members on my father’s side of the family. (Including my father’s paternal grandparents, at left.) But I soon realized that I preferred storing my genealogy data on my computer.

Lately I’ve been thinking that it might be wise for me to add my family tree data to Ancestry.com. That way I could benefit from the shaky leaf hints that Ancestry provides and perhaps make connections with relatives.

I’m dedicated to adding only sourced data to my family tree on Reunion and it would be the same on Ancestry. If I do create Ancestry.com trees, I would continue to keep my data in Reunion as my primary genealogy data storage, updating Ancestry periodically.

But I don’t know whether to make my Ancestry tree public or private. It seems to me that a public tree would be a way to be helpful to others. Am I missing a pitfall or danger of making my tree public, especially since my data will be sourced?

If you have a tree on Ancestry, I’d love to hear whether it’s public or private and what led to that decision. Thank you in advance!!

Reading hard-to-read gravestones

My family reunion was last weekend and I had a great time. Family members were so warm and welcoming to my husband and me despite the fact that my branch of the family had not been represented at that reunion in a couple of generations. I was given family pictures (some of which I’ll probably scan and share here) and well as a painting that my grandmother had painted. It was a great weekend.

On Saturday, my husband and I paid a visit to the cemetery where my grandmother’s ancestors were buried. (This was a reunion of people from my grandfather’s side of the family, so it was an adjunct activity.) I had visited that cemetery, Meyer Cemetery, last year when I traveled to western Missouri.  Three generations of Jeffries are buried in that cemetery:  my great grandfather, James Earl Jeffries;  his parents, John D. Jeffries and Susan Price Jeffries; his in-laws, John Price and Mary Puffenbarger Price; and his grandparents, Richard Anderson Jeffries and Harriet McKinley Jeffries. I wanted to capture some more photos of the gravestones, as well as find the graves of the Prices, which I hadn’t seen on my first visit.

Fortunately for me, I’d learned just the prior week about using aluminum foil to make reading hard-to-read gravestones much easier. I’d seen a link to a blog post called safe solutions for hard to read tombstones on the fabulous Organized Genealogist Facebook page. That post described how you can cover a gravestone with foil and rub it to make the hidden words on a gravestone almost magically appear. The post linked above suggested using a clean makeup brush. I didn’t have one so I dug around a bit more on the web and found this post on Save a Grave that suggested using a damp sponge.

So I went to the dollar store and bought some cheap aluminum foil. I grabbed a sponge from under the sink and was ready headed to the cemetery the next day. The method really felt like magic.

This is the stone of the Mary Ann Price, my great great great grandmother.

Foil can make hard-to-read gravestones legible

Cover it in foil and rub and voila, the writing emerges.

Foil can make hard-to-read gravestones legible

There’s a gravestone  right next to my great grandfather’s grave. The top of that same stone was so worn and dirty you couldn’t really tell that there was a name on it. But when I covered it in foil and rubbed it with a damp sponge, the name “Harriett” appeared. Amazing!

aluminum foil can make hard-to-read gravestones legible againI love this method! The downside is that, unlike gravestone rubbings–which I learned are harmful to the gravestone–it’s not easy to keep and store foil rubbings. I consider them temporary and my digital photo of the rubbed stone to be my permanent record. I can’t quite get myself to throw away the foil (it’s driving around in the back of my SUV), but soon I expect I’ll put it in the recycling bin.