Going paperless

Going paperless with my genealogy filesI just realized I’m gradually going paperless when it comes to my genealogy research. It’s been almost a year and a half since I wrote the post To print or not to print?  in January 2013. Back then, I was working hard to resist the temptation to print source documents for my files.

Well you know what? That temptation is completely gone. In fact, I’ve been going in the opposite direction as I slowly work on marrying my paper and electronic files. I’m in the process of making sure that all the documents in my paper files are properly named and filed on my hard drive. Most of these documents were originally found online, so it’s easy for me to find them in electronic form and save them to my hard drive. But if I don’t have an electronic version, it’s easy enough to scan the paper version.

I’ve found several advantages to going paperless:

  • My electronic files are at my fingertips; I don’t have to walk to the file cabinet
  • My electronic files are much more portable–they’re on my computer or accessible on mobile devices or remote computers via Dropbox
  • My electronic files take up much less space
  • My physical desktop is less cluttered during a research session
  • Typically, I can zoom in and magnify electronic files, so reading them is much easier on my eyes
  • I save paper and toner, of course

This feels like a really big shift and it happened so gradually that I didn’t even realize it! I think a key component was coming up with an electronic file system that works for me. That gives me confidence that I will find information on my hard drive. (I’m still working on properly filing all the electronic documents that might have been misfiled before I set up that electronic file system.)

How about you? Are you paper or electronic? Or perhaps both?

Where are your family treasures?

Where are your family treasures?This week, I was working with a wonderful organizing client. As she gave me a tour of the storage spaces in her home, she said, “This is my most treasured possession!” And she bent down and pulled a plastic bin out from under the bed. Inside was her father’s World War II photo album, along with a few other war artifacts. The photo album had small black-and-white photos mounted onto black paper with meticulous white handwritten captions. The pages were deteriorating and some of the photos had fallen out of their mounting.

I oohed and ahhhed because it was an amazing heirloom. But I challenged her a little by saying, “Why is your most treasured possession stored under the bed in a non-archival plastic bin?” One day (soon, I hope), we will work together to get this item and some other heirlooms into safer storage.

That very same day, my mother’s cousin asked me for a photo of my grandfather for the genealogy poster he is putting together. So I rifled through the box of family photos that my mother gave me, trying to locate a good picture for him. As I did that, I realized that these photos are among my most treasured possessions, yet I am not treating them with the respect they deserve. They’re not archivally stored, nor are they organized.

When I acquired this box in December, I blogged about my plan to deal with them. But I’ve done nothing. I keep waiting for a free block of time.  should know by now that the free time is never going to materialize on its own. I have to set aside time for this project. Luckily for me, this branch of the family is having a reunion in a couple of months, so I can get some help identifying the people in these photos!

How about you? Do you have treasured inherited items that are languishing in unsafe conditions? If you need information on how to handle and store them, check out Sally Jacobs of The Practical Archivist and Denise Levenick of The Family Curator. Don’t wait for something bad to happen. Carve out some time to deal with them now.

The importance of a clear workspace

A clear desk makes you more productiveIs your genealogy work surface clear? If not, do you have to clear if off before you start researching? I think a messy desk can make it hard to do your best work.

I’m a big believer in clearing off my (physical) desk top every night. That way I can hit the ground running in the morning. I do my genealogy work at same desk where I blog and run my organizing business. If I didn’t keep a clear desktop, I think I’d find next to impossible to even contemplate doing genealogy work.

This point was brought home emphatically this morning. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but as of last night I had not finished my family’s taxes. I started them a month or two ago, but when it became apparent that I was going to have to pay additional taxes, I kept procrastinating on finishing them. I thought I’d finished them Sunday night and was just planning to print out the return and write checks yesterday (April 14). But when I went through the Review process on Turbo Tax, errors came up that had me pulling out my hair. After a few hours of trying to deal with it through online resources and a call to a tax-lawyer friend, I decided to throw in the towel and file for an extension. About then, my husband let me know that dinner was ready, so I just left my desk to go eat. And I didn’t come back that night.

So this morning, I was greeted by a messy desk top. And I had to fill out the forms to file for extensions for federal, state and local taxes and figure out how much to pay with each extension request. I also had figure out what to pay in estimated taxes. And I had to write the checks. This kind of thing stresses me out under the best of circumstances. But with my messy desk (pictured above), I could feel my blood pressure rising.

I have to leave to see a client in 90 minutes, but I’m happy to say that despite the messy desk, I got the tax forms filled out and checks written. (I’ll come back to my Turbo Tax problems in a couple of days and hope to get my return filed soon.) I also wrote my monthly newsletter and two blog posts this morning. But I could have done all that with less stress if I hadn’t been surrounded by paper. And I felt so busy I didn’t take the time to clear it.

If your workspace is typically cluttered, I encourage you to take a little time to clean it off and then establish a habit of clearing it nightly. It’s one of three habits that really help keep me at the top of my game. It might help you get more genealogy research done!

 

 

My research trip preparation

Preparing for a genealogy research tripI leave today for my research trip to the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri. It’s about 3.5 hours from my home in St. Louis. I am really excited!

When I initially decided to take this trip, I felt a little anxious. I didn’t know what I would research and I knew that without a plan, I’d feel overwhelmed and incompetent the minute I walked in the door. Then I’d berate myself for not making the best use of my research time. And I’d wonder whether I could have done more.

So you know what I did to counteract that? I actually created a plan! I spent a good amount of time this weekend going through the holdings of the library online and checking my family tree to see what documents I needed. It was loads of fun to discover what I need when I have the potential to get the actual information.

Is started with a simple Pages document (Pages is the Mac’s version of Word) where I just kept a running list of what I might find and where. Then yesterday I created a Numbers document (you guessed it, Numbers is the Mac equivalent of Excel), sorted by family branch, of the info I need and where I might find it.

Because of other obligations today, I won’t get to Independence until late afternoon. The library is open until 9. My plan is to check into my hotel, grab something to eat, then go to the library to get the lay of the land and plan my day tomorrow. I’ll have a full day there tomorrow and will be able to go back to research in the morning and early afternoon on Wednesday.

I’m meeting my friend and fellow researcher, Lori Krause, whom I met at RootsTech (thanks to this blog) for some research and dinner tomorrow. Life is good!

Next week, I’ll post the list of items I brought and let you know whether I used them and what items I wished I’d brought.