It’s not about climbing the tree

One 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.

Off to RootsTech 2015!

RootsTech 2015 I leave really early tomorrow morning to fly to Salt Lake City for RootsTech. I’m really excited, though my to-do list for today is huge. This is my second year going to RootsTech; I wrote a similar post last year, which I just re-read. Last year I was feeling overwhelmed at the thought of such a large conference (according to this press release, there were 13,000 in attendance last year).

Turns out, this conference is so well organized that the large number of folks wasn’t a big issue. There are an expected 20,000 people going this year, since it’s being held in conjunction with the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) conference.

I bought a pass that allows me to attend FGS sessions as well. So this year I’m feeling overwhelmed not by the number of people, but by the sheer number of choices of classes each day. Thanks to the marvelous RootsTech app, I’ve gone through and selected the classes I think I want to take, but I’m leaving myself open to changing my mind.

Today, I’m focusing on deciding what I want to research at the Family History Library, the largest genealogy library in the world, and what I might need to take along to facilitate that research. I also want to pack light, because I’m going from Salt Lake to Washington state to visit family and I’d really like to do it all in a carry-on. (I by necessity packed light for my last trip to see family and it was worth the effort.) I’m hoping that my focus on keeping my genealogy files organized electronically will work to my benefit so that I don’t have to bring a lot of paper to support my research.

Last year I was feeling shy. This year I have true friend, a reader of this blog, whom I met at last year’s conference. Can’t wait to see her! I look forward to making more friends–I’m going to do my best to speak first and meet interesting people. (I want to give away my new business card!)

Can’t wait to see what I learn. I’ll be posting here about the conference, so if you’re interested, please keep an eye out.

If you’re going to RootsTech and want to meet up, let me know!

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.

 

Had my DNA tested: now what?

DNA test. Now what?Last spring I blogged that I wanted to do a genealogy DNA test but was overwhelmed by the options. In July, I reminded myself that done is better than perfect and I took advantage of a sale that Ancestry DNA was having and sent for an autosomal DNA kit.

I got the results back in August, and was tickled to see my ethnicity breakdown. I’ve never felt a kinship with any particular nationality, but I was very interested to see that my primary ethnicity is Ireland (38%). That didn’t come as much of a surprise since the first immigrant ancestor I’ve confirmed so far in my research was from Ireland. After Ireland, the breakdown is West Europe (23%), followed by  Great Britain (11%), Scandinavia (9%) and Finland/Northwest Russia (7%). Before this, when asked my ethnicity I would have guessed Great Britain.

I saw a few DNA matches on Ancestry DNA, but beyond reaching out to one match, I haven’t done much with it. Recently, I decided to upload my Ancestry DNA results to Family Tree DNA. For a small fee, my matches were displayed. They presented me with some 900 matches, ranging from 1st to 3rd cousin all the way to remote cousin. I just reached out to the closest match.

At this point, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and wondering “now what?” I was contacted by a cousin and asked to join a surname project, which I did. I uploaded my GEDCOM to Family Tree DNA. But I’m not sure what, if anything, I should do next. When I start to read about genetic genealogy, something in my brain rebels. (I’m more of a social science than a hard science person.)

My inclination is to sit tight and wait for people to contact me. But I’d love to hear any suggestions from you about more active ways to benefit from my DNA test. Thanks in advance!