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.

Banishing the stubborn pile

Banishing the stubborn pileFor the past few months, I’ve had this one pile on the corner of my desk that contains primarily genealogy items. When I’m hurriedly putting away the stuff cluttering my desktop, I just keep straightening that pile and leaving it there. It’s almost become a feature of the landscape of my desk. Somehow I’ve adjusted my thinking so that I have been considering my desktop clear even with that pile sitting there.

I think one of the reasons that I wasn’t dealing with it was a perception that it would take some time to really process the information in it. I was afraid that if I rushed it, I might lose valuable clues the pile might contain for my genealogy research. And I simply wasn’t taking the time to do it. (Work has been very busy lately.)

I know if I take some focused time and go through that pile, I will further my research and I won’t have an unsightly pile on my desk. But it hit me this morning that if I start but don’t finish, I’m still better off than not starting at all. So I took a photo of the pile, and wrote all the text above this line. Then I set my timer for 15 minutes and started going through the pile.

Here are some of the things I found in the pile:

  • Notes from my research trip to Kentucky and Alabama. I added tasks from those notes to my Genealogy To-Do List for the appropriate surname. Then I filed the notes in my paper files.
  • A packet of information I’d sent for from the the State of Alabama Archives pertaining to my great great grandfather, Laban Taylor Rasco. I put a sticky note saying “Analyze/process” on the packet and added that task to my Rasco To-Do List. Then I filed the packet in that couple’s file.
  • Notes from my notebook that I took on the research trip. One page had notes on Adamses on one side and notes on Rascoes on the other. I scanned the Rasco side, printed it and put in in my Rasco file for later reference. I filed the original sheet in the appropriate Adams file.
  • Notes written on several pages of two notepads I keep on my desk. I tore off the notes, logged any tasks on my To-Do list and filed or tossed the notes. Then I put the notepads where they belong.
  • A random list of how common my family surnames are. Some time ago, I found myself on a website (which I didn’t source) where you can enter a surname and see how common it is. I typed the data into Evernote so I can find it later if I ever remember it.
  • A small sticky note with a list of death certificates I’d found recently that needed to be added to my Reunion software. I checked each name to see which certificates had been entered already.  Two out of five still needed to be added and I noted that on my to-do list. I threw away the sticky note.
  • Some brainstorming notes about this blog. I filed them and made a note on my business task list to review them.

When the 15-minute timer went off I had just a few more pieces of paper to deal with. So I went ahead and finished, them did the filing.

Eliminating that pile took no more than thirty minutes. This is a pile I’d been looking at for several months. It had been mildly stressing me out, because I didn’t know its contents and it was in the way.

Now I feel in control of my research, I have clear next steps and I feel more eager to work on it. Plus I have a clear desk to enjoy. That’s the best 30 minutes I’ve spent in awhile!

What could 30 minutes of pile busting do for you?