Questioning my assumptions

marriage record snippetThis past October, I wrote a post called Using a timeline to solve a problem. In it I reported how pleased I was that I could use a timeline to address a discrepancy between records I had seen that listed my great great grandparents’ wedding day as March 14, 1865 and those that listed it as May 14, 1865. I concluded, after taking into account the timeline and applying logic to the situation, that they must have been married in March, when my gggrandfather was on furlough from a “disabled camp” during the Civil War, rather than in May when records seemed to indicate that he was in a Union prison-of-war camp.

However, since that time, I sent away for records from the courthouse in Shelby County, Alabama, where they were married that spring. These handwritten records seem to clearly say May, not March. Even more compelling, it’s a chronological record and this one falls after a marriage that occurred in April. So it seems like my great great grandfather’s recollection was correct when he listed his marriage date as May 14 on the Alabama Census of Confederate Soldiers!

Perhaps he was paroled a couple weeks before the June 3 date listed in his records. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll never find out. But today, anyway, I’m going back to May 14 as the date in my records.

I’m certainly not discounting timelines as a viable way to analyze information. But what I am taking away from this is that I should avoid thinking of any problem solved, just because I reached what I think is a logical conclusion. I imagine this lesson will come back to me on more than one occasion as I do genealogy research!

 

Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness has returned!

RAOGK is back!Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK), the website where frustrated family history researchers could request (and receive) help from strangers, has returned after a three-year hiatus. In its heyday, the website, which was started in 1999, had over 4,000 volunteers. Due to the illness and subsequent death of one of its founder, Bridgett Schneider, it ceased operations in 2011. (Thanks to Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter for the background.)

The website is trying to build itself back to its former glory and is looking for volunteers to do courthouse lookups, tombstone photos, and similar local tasks. Volunteers are reimbursed for expenses, but not time, and are expected to do at least one free genealogy research task (an Act of Kindness) monthly.

This is a great example of the genealogical generosity I learned about last year at Roots Tech. I love how genealogists help one another–and I love that RAOGK will make it so easy to help. If you’re so inclined, I urge you to go to the website and register as a volunteer in your local area. (And, of course, if you’re in a fix with your research look to see if there are volunteers in the area where you need help.)

 

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!

The best organizing system

The best organizing system is the one you useWhen it comes to organizing systems, there aren’t many absolutes. But there’s one thing I know for sure: The best organizing system is the one that works for you.

An organizing system that seems great in concept isn’t great unless you use it. And an organizing system that to the outside world might appear flawed is an excellent system if you use it to your satisfaction.

Here are some signs that your genealogy organizing system isn’t doing its job:

  • You can’t find the information you seek without a lot of effort
  • You find yourself thinking, “It’s around here somewhere.”
  • Your workspace is cluttered
  • You have an overwhelming backlog
  • You feel resistance to organizing your research

If you hear yourself saying, “My organizing system would be great, if only I would use it,” take that as a clue that your organizing system isn’t great, for you. You might need to tweak your system. Or you might even need a complete overhaul.

For example, you might switch from binders to folders, if you find yourself with a perpetual pile of papers or if you have papers stuck into the binders without being hole punched or put into sheet protectors. (I’m a folder, not a binder, person.) Personally over the last couple of years I’ve made a shift away from printing and filing everything to saving documents on my hard drive. That’s a big shift, but it’s working for me.

Here are some of the characteristics I look for in a great organizing system:

  • It’s easy to implement
  • It’s intuitive
  • It’s as complex as it needs to be and not a bit more
  • It’s used

If you find yourself resisting the organizing aspect of your genealogy research, perhaps you could consider how you might make your system better for you. Remember, there’s no perfect way to organize.