End-of-the-quarter evaluation

brownfanchartAt the beginning of the year, I put together a research scheme in which I would focus on researching (and organizing the research) one branch of my family each quarter. The first quarter ended yesterday, so I thought it might be a good idea to report how it went.

Overall, I’m pleased. The first quarter of 2014 was devoted to my father’s father’s side of the family, the Adamses. Knowing which family I was researching kept me focused, which was terrific. The downside is that I certainly didn’t finish researching that family (like I ever would), nor did I finish organizing the Adams research that I had uncovered in the past. But that’s okay, because I can pick it up again in January 2015. And, of course, I can work on it whenever I want–my plan isn’t a law, after all.

So now that it’s the second quarter, I turn my attention to the Browns, my mother’s father’s side of the family. That’s timely for a couple of reasons. They’re a midwestern family for a number of generations back and I am paying a visit to the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri, next week (!). Also, there is a Brown Family Reunion in June, so I’ll be extra motivated to uncover and organize my research so I can share it with cousins.

I’m kind of excited to switch the focus of my research. I’d gotten the easy stuff out of the way with the Adams family and of course when it gets more difficult, it requires more patience. So switching gears is quite welcome.

I think it’s a little early to proclaim my quarterly research scheme a success, but at this point I can certainly imagine doing it again next year!

Don’t let the backlog get you down

Metadata can make digital files more searchable

Metadata on my GGGF’s death certificate

Lately I’ve been thinking about the backlog of electronic files that I should tag with metadata and that I should rename for consistency and ease of access. (I wrote about that in this post, It’s all about access.) When I think about doing all that, I get overwhelmed. And then I don’t want to do any of it.

I realized though, that I don’t have to wait until the backlog has been completed to start establishing new patterns with new files that I save. It’s just like I tell my clients who have an overabundance of accumulated mail in their homes: They don’t have to go through all the old mail before figuring out how to handle the new mail.

So starting today, I’m creating a simple file naming system for individual files. (I think it’s going to be Year-Document Type-First Name-Last Name). And all new files will be named accordingly.  I’ll also work on creating the habit of adding metadata immediately after saving a file. So my new files will be in good shape and I won’t be adding to the backlog. At the same time, little by little, I can work through my backlog of files and change file names and add metadata tags. I can do it systematically. And I can also just edit the file name and add metadata every time I find myself accessing a file.

One of my personal mantras is “Let it be easy.” This feels like an easy approach to a project that’s been causing me a little stress.

It’s all about access

wheelerfilefolderTo me, being organized is about having access to your stuff (and information). Often that means accumulating no more stuff than you can easily store. So I spend a lot of my professional life helping clients declutter before creating organizing systems.

When it comes to organizing your genealogy research the same principle applies. It’s really nice to have a neat workspace. But what’s really meaningful is easy access to your information, both physical and electronic. What does this mean?

  • Having a solid file structure for electronic files
  • Having an excellent file naming strategy for electronic files
  • Using metadata for electronic files
  • Creating a habit of adding  metadata and sticking to your file naming strategy
  • Actually filing paper, rather than putting it in piles
  • Carefully considering file folders versus binders for genealogy papers
  • Getting rid of any unneeded duplicates
  • Thinking about how you will access (not just file) information when you set up your organizing system

As I think about this for my own research, I realize I really need to work on my file naming. I’ve done a good job with my electronic file structure, but my names aren’t standardized (as you can see in the photo with this post). By either improving file names or adding metadata (or both) I could more easily use the search function on my MacBook.

For me, having all my research data available on my MacBook is an important goal. I’m still in the process of marrying my electronic and paper files and know when I finish this process, my research will be completely accessible (and portable). That is what I call organized.


Taking my research on the road

The Midwest Genealogy CenterUntil now, most of my genealogy research has been conducted at my desk, using online sources. I did have the pleasure of visiting the Family History Library in Salt Lake City in February for a couple of hours.  But for the most part, I search away on the various databases I have access to.

Yesterday I received a notice from the National Genealogical Society about a research trip to Washington, D.C., that they’re planning. A group of 25 people will spend a week together in Washington, D.C. and visit the National Archives, the Daughters of the American Revolution library and the Library of Congress. Professional genealogists will be taking the trip with them. It sounds a bit like heaven! But it does come with a price tag: some $1500 before airfare.

I’m tempted. And I know I’d better act fast if I want to go, because it will sell out. But for that kind of investment, I’d better be sure to know what I’m looking for. So that got me thinking about how I might organize such a trip and whether I’d be better off venturing out closer to home at first and saving my NGS research-trip dollars for later. (NGS also offers trips to Salt Lake City and elsewhere.)

I’m lucky in that I live in the state where many of my ancestors lived, some as far back as the mid-19th century. I live on the opposite side of Missouri from those folks, but I still have resources available to me within a day’s drive. As I contemplated the Washington, D.C. trip, I thought maybe I’d be better starting out with a research trip to the Mid-Continent Public Library’s Midwest Genealogy Center (pictured above), in Independence, Missouri, a mere 3.5-hour drive from my home in St. Louis. I wouldn’t have a professional genealogist to guide me, but it would be a more economical alternative, one that feels very much in reach.

Of course, I’d still need to organize myself to make the most of the trip. I know that when I walked into the Family History Library I felt overwhelmed and, while I did come prepared with a question I was trying to answer, if it weren’t for the help of a staff genealogist, I wouldn’t have known where to turn.

So here’s what I decided to do to make such a trip a success.

  • First and foremost, I’m going to set a date for the trip. That will ensure it will happen and help me get started in my preparations.
  • I’m going to do research to understand the library’s holdings.
  • After I know what the library offers, I’m going to go through my family tree software to see which relatives are pertinent
  • Once I’ve narrowed it down to individuals, I’m going to make sure I know what info I have about each of them and where the blanks are.
  • I’ll analyze the info see what questions I have so that I can have clear goals for this trip.
  • I’ll reach out to my western Missouri cousins to see if I can pay them a visit

This feels really good to me. This morning, when I started contemplating this, I started to feel overwhelmed and my head started spinning a little. But breaking it down into these clear steps, so that I can make the most of my time at the library feels really good.

I do know there are local resources I haven’t yet exhausted. The central library of the St. Louis Public Library has a renowned genealogy department. There’s the library of the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center. And, of course, there’s the St. Louis Family History Center. But I’m keen for an overnight visit, which I think will really enable me to focus on my research, rather than being distracted by daily life. I anticipate that after I’ve made this type of research trip I’ll be in a better position to use local resources.