What’s your biggest organizing challenge?

questionmarkI polled readers last month to find out what you’d like to read here. The top vote getter was “Organizing tips and tricks.” I’m in my tenth year as a professional organizer, so, as you can imagine, I have a lot of organizing tricks up my sleeve. But in thinking about what to share with you, I realized it would be really helpful to know your biggest challenges with regard to organizing your family history research.

So can you please help me help you by letting me know what you struggle with?

Is it setting up a filing system? Keeping track of sources? Finding things on your hard drive? A cluttered genealogy workspace? No genealogy workspace? Finding time to do research? Not letting genealogy research take over your life? A backlog of stuff that needs to be organized?

Please don’t limit yourself to those suggestions. Just post a comment stating any and all genealogy-related organizing challenges so I can try to address them in future posts.

Thank you!

The curse of abundance

deathcertificatesarrayIn my role as a professional organizer, I often help people deal with an overabundance of items. Our work together allows my clients let go excess and organize those meaningful things they decide to keep. It’s very rewarding work and it’s led me to believe fervently that one’s life is easier when you streamline your possessions to those you use and love.

I’ve learned that when I have too much of an item–even something great–it becomes much less meaningful. Years ago I noticed that if I had a Costco-sized package of Oreos I wouldn’t eat any of them. But if I bought a small package of a treat, I’d enjoy a few at a time until they were gone.

What does this have to with genealogy research? Well, believe it or not at the moment I feel like I have an overabundance of death certificates and they’re stressing me out a bit. My September research trip resulted in my putting my hands on a few death certificates. Those led me to others and right now I’m looking at a small pile of five death certificates. All of them came my way as paper copies, so I need to scan them and file them electronically, in addition to filing the actual pieces of paper. I think I’ve gleaned all the information off them and put them into Reunion, but I want to take another pass at them to make sure I’m not missing anything.

If I had just one death certificate, I’d get the task taken care of lickety split. But since I have five, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and dragging my heels a little. Crazy, isn’t it? Overabundance can lead to paralysis.

I love finding death certificates. I’m fortunate that I have Missouri ancestors and here in Missouri it’s incredibly easy to download death certificates. Yet here I find myself not appreciating my bounty just because I have too much.

The solution? Like any big project, I need to do a little at a time. I could break the project down into steps (scanning, for instance) and do that step for all the certificates, then move on to the next one. Or I could just process each certificate separately. Or I could stop overthinking this and just do something. (In order to get the photo for this post I needed to take my death certificates to my ScanSnap SV600 contactless scanner, so I went ahead and scanned all of them. At least I’ve done something!)

All this speaks to the benefit of handling my genealogy findings as soon as they come in. If I let tasks pile up, they turn into chores instead of treats.


Ancestry offering free access to military records for Veteran’s Day

1918 WWI Draft Registration Card-James Jeffries-Bates Missouri croppedIn honor of the upcoming observance of Veteran’s Day on November 11, Ancestry.com is offering free access to its military records for the weekend. If you aren’t a subscriber to Ancestry, this is a great opportunity to delve into their extensive database. I never cease to be astounded at the digitized documents that we have access to without leaving our chairs.

Featured collections in this promotion include:

  • World War I Draft Registration Cards
  • U.S. World War I Mother’s Pilgramage
  • World War I, World War II and Korean War Casualty Listings

They’re also offer a free downloadable guide to World War I Draft Cards.

Just go this Veteran’s Day promotion page to get started (and download the guide). The page promises free access to “military collections from around the world, including all U.S. war records.”

Happy hunting!

Are you backing up your genealogy data?

externalharddriveI have a good friend who recently lost most of her data on Dropbox. She was using Dropbox instead of her computer for storing work-related files (not genealogy related). She felt they were safe there. Until they weren’t. One day she realized that most of her files on Dropbox seemed to have vanished. She hesitated to contact them immediately, figuring it was some sort of temporary glitch or user error.

When she did contact Dropbox, they confirmed that the files and folders were gone. They offered no explanation. And they informed her that they delete files that haven’t been touched in 30 days. They offered her nothing in terms of assistance. And they did all that via email, declining to give my friend a telephone number for customer support. I was really shocked and disappointed.

Luckily, my friend uses Carbonite and her Dropbox account was included in the backup. So she was able to restore the files lost by Dropbox to her computer.

That got me thinking about how horrible I would feel if I lost my digital genealogy records (or most of my digital files, for that matter). I’ve developed a back-up scheme that makes me comfortable, but I’d be very interested to hear from you about how you ensure that your data are protected.

I store all my data on my hard drive. (I have a perhaps irrational fear of storing things only in the cloud.) My family tree info is in Reunion. My scanned files are in my Genealogy folder, filed by surname. I do have an Ancestry.com tree, but it’s a supplement to what I have on my hard drive.

I back up my hard drive every 15 minutes with CrashPlan Pro. When my MacBook is at my desk at home, I have it plugged into an external hard drive. I use Time Machine to back up hourly as well.

There are some things in my genealogy life that aren’t fully backed up. Some of my items on Evernote, for example, aren’t stored on my hard drive. This blog is backed up to Dropbox daily. (I felt better about that before my friend’s Dropbox experience.)

I feel secure with this system, but I fear it’s a false sense of security. I’d love to hear from you. How do you back up your genealogy data?

Photo by Karen via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.