Identifying military ancestors

identifying military ancestorsWhenever I read about a records collection for a certain conflict (which seems to happen around military-related holidays, like Veteran’s Day or anniversaries of conflicts) I get excited about researching my ancestors in those collections, which can be such a treasure trove of information. But in the past sometimes I would have difficulty remembering which ancestor might have fought in which war and I’d become overwhelmed and abandon the effort.

So I created a document that shows me the prospective ancestors for each conflict, based on the dates they were born. At the time, I used a table from Family Tree Magazine but when I went looking for it to share in this post, I couldn’t find it. However, I did find an even-better table called Ages of Servicemen in Wars that lists 20 military conflicts, the years they were fought, the typical birth dates for soldiers and the  typical ages of soldiers. Thank you, FamilySearch!

Armed with that information, I created a simple spreadsheet (pictured, in part, above) with the following column headers:

  • Conflict
  • Likely Birth Year of Soldiers
  • Prospective Ancestor
  • Confirmed Ancestor

For each conflict, I entered the names of the ancestors who were born during the birth-year window listed in column 2. After I ascertained that one had indeed fought in that war, I entered an X in the Confirmed Ancestor column. What I should have done and will from here forward, is place a dash or an N in the Confirmed Ancestor column to indicate that I’d ruled that ancestor out.

This is a simple way to see at a glance who I might research when I’m looking at military collections at the National Archives, Fold3 or elsewhere. It’s easy to create and well worth the time spent.

Letting go of should

shouldgraphicIt’s natural to ask about questions about organizing (your genealogy or anything else) that start with the word “should.” Should I organize my documents this way or that way? Should I store things here or there? Should I focus on this or that?

When I try to answer a question that starts with should, the answer is almost always, “It depends.” Because it’s all about what will work for you.

I encourage my clients (and anyone else who w’ill listen to me) to let go of the word should. And to also let go of asking questions that start with, “What’s the right way to…” or What’s the best way to….”

Because here’s the thing: I can’t tell you what you should do. Only you know what’s right for you. It can be much more beneficial to think in terms of what you’d like to do, or what you think will work best for you, rather than what you should do. Especially when it comes to organizing your genealogy research, the thing you should do (in my opinion) is the thing that works well for you and that you can keep up.

For example:

  • Maybe you’ve always heard that you should store your paper documents in binders, but you have trouble keeping up with that. Let go of that should and consider using file folders or scanning your documents.
  • Maybe you think you should print every document for the sake of posterity but you’re overrun with unfiled paper. You can let go of that should, particularly if your electronic documents are already organized.
  • Conversely, maybe you’ve heard you should scan every bit of paper and store files electronically, but you’re overwhelmed by the prospect. Bye bye, should. You can let your paper files be sufficient. Or just start storing new files electronically and leaving your papers unscanned.
  • Maybe you’re told you should keep a research log, but you just can’t get yourself to do it. A research log can be hugely beneficial. But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have one just because you think you should.

In other words, set yourself up for success and do what works for you. Decide what your priorities are (accessibility for you, accessibility for others, ease of use, etc.) and focus your organizing systems on those priorities. Don’t do something just because someone told you you should if it doesn’t seem like it will work for you.

All that said, there are some genealogy shoulds that I think you should pay attention to:

  • You should cite your sources so you can find them again and know where your facts came from (but you don’t have to cite them perfectly if that’s getting in the way of citing them at all).
  • You should back up your electronic data in case of a crash (I use an external hard drive an automated cloud storage).

Genealogy is supposed to be fun. Don’t let the shoulds drag you down. Make your own choices and own them. And keep yourself open to new ways of doing things. (See what I did there? I told you all sorts of things I think you should do, without using that word. Take what works for you and let go of the rest.)

Doing the research vs. organizing the research

doing research vs organizing researchI suspect that most genealogy enthusiasts prefer doing research to organizing the results. A large part of the fun (for me, anyway) is playing detective and making discoveries. That’s thrilling. But if we don’t process our finds, what good do they do us?

I was thinking about that today as I thought about whether to do some genealogy research or spend the time working on organizing my research. I feel I’ve been so out of touch with my research (still blaming my puppy, Bix, and my long work hours) that I don’t even know where I stand with anything. That makes me feel a bit paralyzed.

I could jump right back into the research and maybe have some fun, but I think I’d be better off taking stock of where things stand organization-wise. And for me that means:

  • Looking over my genealogy to-do list
  • Looking at my progress tracker and updating it if necessary
  • Looking on my hard drive for electronic files related to the Adams family (this quarter’s family) and filing them
  • Pulling out my backlog box marked “genealogy stuff to read” that I didn’t even remember I had and going through the contents. I just peeked in it and it contains documents picked up at genealogy conferences in 2015. I suspect I’ll be able to pretty swiftly dispatch a lot of it. If not, I’ll add items to my genealogy task list (like I described in my blog post, Banishing the stubborn pile).
  • Updating my task list with the tasks that will inevitably result from this activity.

That’s a pretty long list, but it shouldn’t take too long. And, I remind myself, I don’t have to do all of it. Any effort here will be beneficial. Once I have a better handle on what I’m doing and what steps I need to do to improve my organization, I’ll have a clearer head. And I’ll have more direction when it comes to doing actual research. Something tells me it will be much easier to get started researching then!

Photo above taken by me using the SHOTBOX tabletop photo light studio.

Taking notes at genealogy conferences

Template for taking notes at a genealogy conferenceIf you’re going to RootsTech next week (or any other genealogy conference this year) I encourage you to check out the free template I created in Transpose.

Transpose is a business platform/website that I wrote about last year. It allows you to create templates (which they now call “solutions”) to create customized forms. You can also download solutions that others have created and uploaded into the Transpose Public Library.

I’ve created a bunch of solutions for my own use and uploaded seven solutions to the Transpose Public Library. One of these is a solution called Genealogy Conference Notes. It’s designed to make it easy to take notes at a genealogy conference.

I’ve only been to one genealogy conference since I created this solution (the Genealogy Society of Southern Illinois conference last August). Using the template, I created a new record for each lecture. The template allowed me to capture general notes from the lecture and also jot down which ancestors the information might apply to, along with action ideas. It worked out really well for me–I love having a structured place to take notes. When I got home, I had a list of concrete action steps.

I chose to take notes on my laptop, because I prefer a full keyboard. Transpose has an app you can use on a tablet or smartphone, but I haven’t yet tried out taking notes with my solution on a mobile platform.

If you’re interested in trying it, you’ll need a free account at Transpose. Go to the Genealogy Conference Notes solution in the library and just copy it into your account. There it will be among any other solutions you copy or download. Just click on the solution and create a new record for each lecture you attend. All the information you capture will be saved for you in Transpose, in a searchable and filterable database.

You can also use it as a basis creating your own solution that works better for your needs. The folks at Transpose work hard to make it easy for you to use the platform. Here’s a great getting started tutorial.

I can’t wait to use it for the next genealogy conference I attend!