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?

Don’t let perfect get in the way of done

Let go of perfectionismWhen you think about getting organized there’s a natural tendency to want to found the very best possible organizing system, whether it’s for your genealogy or any other aspect of your life. Trouble is, as I’ve seen many times in my work as a professional organizer, that tendency toward perfection generally paralyzes people.

If you’re a perfectionist, it can be really hard to start organizing something if you don’t know how it’s going to work out. Or if you’re not sure what the best course of action is.

My advice: let go of perfection and embrace simplicity. If you select or create the simplest organizing system possible–the one with the fewest steps–you’ll have the best chance for success.

For me and my family history research that means I now save most things electronically, rather than printing and filing. I find it much easier to file documents on my hard drive than in a physical file folder. (And, yes, I do back up that hard drive.)

When I do use paper, I prefer file folders to binders because I think they’re simpler to use. (Way fewer steps.)

My mantra is Let it be easy, and I try to inhabit that phrase in all aspects of my life, including my organizing systems.

If you find yourself hesitating to create an organizing system or use the one you have because you’re looking for the perfect system, I encourage you to let that go. The longer you wait to organizer, the bigger the project will be. Don’t let perfect get in the way of done.

 

Rededicating myself to collateral lines

reunionchildrenWhen I rebooted my genealogy research a few years ago and started my family tree from scratch, adding only those people for whom I had verified source information, I focused on my direct-line ancestors. That approach felt less overwhelming, less tedious, and it allowed me to move up my family tree more quickly, which felt rewarding.

In August 2013, I pondered whether I should be adding collateral lines (the siblings of my direct ancestors) and concluded it would be a good idea. I started adding children I found on censuses, properly sourcing them, of course. It did prove to be a bit tedious and it sort of dropped off my radar.

Then I took an Ancestry DNA test and transferred my DNA results to Family Tree DNA. Since then I’ve been contacted by a number of distant cousins. While I’m still trying to figure out how to use the DNA results to further my research, one thing has become very apparent: Having those siblings in my family tree would help me, as well as these cousins, figure out our relationships.

I’d like at the very least to have their name and approximate birth dates, easily obtainable from my ancestors’ census records. More information would be great, and maybe I’ll do more research on these siblings eventually, but right now I’m setting my sights on names and birth dates and states.

So I’m going for it. I’ve moved the goal of adding collateral lines to each family to the top of my list of things to accomplish when I’m focusing on a certain line. I’d added a sheet called Siblings Entered to my progress tracker. (I was glad to see that I’ve already entered the siblings of eleven ancestors; it’s a start.) The clues these collateral lines will give me should make them less tedious to enter. At last, I’m really seeing the value of the effort.

I look forward to having a more robust family tree!

FTU’s week-long genealogy organizing course

organize your genealogy in a weekIf you’re reading this blog, I know you’re interested in organizing your genealogy research. That’s why I wanted to let you know about an online course I just signed up for: Organize Your Genealogy in a Week, from Family Tree University. It’s being taught January 24 to 31 by Denise Levenick, The Family Curator. I’m a big fan of Denise’s blog and her book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes.

As a professional organizer and genealogy enthusiast, I have lots of ideas about how to organize genealogy research. But I’m very excited to learn what Denise has to teach and I’m sure I’ll pick up great ideas. Plus I’m sure I’ll benefit from the questions course participants ask Denise.

The workshop tuition is $129.99. It takes the form of six 30- to 60-minute videos and two written lessons, to watch/read at your leisure, along with expert advice from Denise in the message boards.

If you plan to attend as well, let me know in the comments!