Don’t forget labels!

Label everything in your genealogy roomI enjoy perusing the popular Facebook group, The Organized Genealogist. Recently, I’ve seen a number of posts where people are showing off pictures of their genealogy research rooms after they’ve taken the time to declutter and organize them. They’re beautiful and really fun to look at.

But the organizer in me is disturbed when I don’t see labels on containers and shelves, as is sometimes the case. I imagine that the person who has organized the room thinks that she’ll remember where everything is. But why tax your brain? It’s a simple thing to create a label. And it has a big payoff: it makes it easy for you to find what you’re looking for and, perhaps even more importantly,  put things away.

Another benefit to labeling is that it helps ensure that you’re organizing in identifiable categories. In other words, if you can’t put a label on a drawer or a bin, it’s probably because you have a mish-mash of categories contained in that space. Labels help you clarify. And clarity is good.

Your labels don’t have to be fancy. I do love my Brother P-Touch label maker. (I have the P-Touch 2030, but there are a variety from which to choose.) But there are plenty of other ways to make labels:

I think it’s a great idea to create labels that are easy to remove or change, in case you want to reorganize or your categories change. It also makes it a little easier to pull the trigger and create the label if you know it might not be there forever.

Please don’t get caught up in making the most perfectly gorgeous label, if it gets in the way of getting it done. That said, if you’re the crafty type who takes great pleasure in beautiful labels, go for it.  Pinterest is a great place to search innovative ways to label.

In my work as a professional organizer, I frequently am called into spaces where organizing systems have broken down. And in those spaces I almost always notice an absence of labels. If you’re going to the effort of organizing your genealogy space, labels will help you maintain that organization. Again, it’s a big payoff for a relatively small effort.

Genealogy is a marathon, not a sprint

Genealogy is a marathon, not a sprintLast Saturday, I squeezed some genealogy research in, because I had marked it on my calendar. I know that if it weren’t in my calendar, I wouldn’t have focused on my research that morning. I was preparing to go to a baby shower that morning and contemplating starting on my taxes in the afternoon. But because I’d made that commitment, I did a little something.

Keeping my commitment to doing research every weekend was important to me and I told myself that it didn’t matter what I did, as long as I did something. So I spent some time creating the beginnings of a new sheet for progress tracker on more in-depth information, which I’ll share as soon as I feel it’s finalized, and I added two siblings to my tree, in an effort to flesh out my collateral lines.

As I was looking for small tasks to do in the short period of time I had allotted to me, the title of this post came to mind: Genealogy is a marathon, not a sprint.

Isn’t that the truth? Genealogy research is a lifelong endeavor in which a series of short research sessions can add to an important body of work.

In my fantasy life, I’m a wealthy retired organizer and I could spend all my time researching and perhaps traveling the country and the world (à la Who Do You Think You Are) solving research challenges.

In my real life, I’m a working organizer wedging genealogy research time in between client appointments, running a business, and family and personal obligations. So I do what I can, when I can do it (which, right now, is every Saturday or Sunday morning). And I take satisfaction in knowing that all the work will add up.

There are several tools that help me keep continuity as I do my research a little at a time:

Those things help me pick up where I left off, which has traditionally been a real challenge for me.

Whenever I get frustrated at not being able to spend more time with my genealogy research, I’m going to remind myself that this is not a sprint, and I’m in it for the long haul. Then I’ll do a little something.

Photo by Steven Pisano via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

Digging out after a conference

Diggin out after a conferenceI love going to conferences. Between organizing and genealogy conferences, I attend at least three a year.

Conferences are wonderful learning and networking opportunities, but they can present an organizing challenge. When I return home from a conference, I’m usually behind in my work and it’s so easy to leave everything I learned on a back burner. The biggest challenge is probably dealing with the literature I bring home from conferences. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that, in the past, items I picked up at trade shows have stayed in the bag untouched until they’re thrown away months or even years later.

Last month, I attended RootsTech. It had a gigantic trade show and I learned about so many new resources I wanted to explore. I was bound and determined that the information I bought home with me would not languish. Here’s how I handled it this year. (Spoiler alert: I’m feeling pretty good about it!)

  • I minimized what I brought home by carefully going through all the paper before packing my bag at the hotel room in Salt Lake City.
  • Once I got home to St. Louis, I put all the literature together until I could process it.
  • I spread it out and scanned it for the photo to go with this post (something non-bloggers wouldn’t have to consider!).
  • Then I gathered it into a pile and went through it piece by piece. I looked up the websites for each of the flyers I brought home. If the product or service still interested me, I added it to a note I created in Evernote called “Interesting resources from RootsTech 2015″ that I placed in my Evernote “Genealogy Resources” notebook.
  • For a couple of the resources, I created a follow up task in Things, the task management application I use.  I can assign a due date, so these tasks will pop up on my Today page next year  (helpful for reminders about conferences I might want to attend in 2016).
  • I jotted down some blog post ideas sparked by the literature and put them in my Blog Post Ideas notebook in Evernote.
  • I recycled all the paper, except two items I decided to file

The whole process took me about 30 minutes. It feels great! There were some resources I’d forgotten about already, but now they’re safe inside Evernote. I took action on a couple of items, signing up for newsletters and other services and making one inquiry about working with someone. And, perhaps best of all, I got rid of a pile of paper.

Taking 30 to 60 minutes to process this information really adds value to what I brought home from RootsTech. It’s an amazing return on the investment of time spent! I’m grateful for Evernote and Things which help me free up my memory so I can find this information when I need it.

I can’t wait to do it again after next month’s National Association of Professional Organizers conference.

Do you have a better (or different) way of digging out after a conference?

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.