Do you have any genealogy documents hiding in your home?

birth certificate Dave Adams cropped2In an extreme example of the perils of letting household filing pile up, I found my grandfather’s birth record over the weekend.

Over the last few years, I’d put some effort into figuring where he was born. It was mysterious to me because the census records said he was born in Oregon, yet his residence was always Washington. My father, his son, had no recollection of any family history in Oregon. Two years ago, I blogged about it when I discovered a birth announcement in a Portland paper. At that time I said I had written away to the state archives for a copy of the birth certificate. Alas, I received a letter from the Oregon Health Authority saying that no birth record was found.

Fast forward to October 2015. I decided to stop ignoring a pile of household filing that had been sitting on top of the file cabinet for a long time. They were mostly paid bills, some records of home repairs, things like that. I file pretty consistently, I had just let this pile happen slowly over time when I had items that would take a little extra effort to file. I’d gone without touching it for some time. It had become part of the landscape.

I set my timer for ten minutes and filed. Some of the items had aged out, so I could just throw them away. It took four or five ten-minute sessions over a couple of days before I reached the bottom and, to my embarrassment (I’m a professional organizer!), I realized that the items at the bottom of the pile were set there in 2007.

Among them was a file marked with my parents’ address. In it were some documents I had snagged when cleaning out their file cabinet in 2007. I remember that epic file-cabinet clearing. My parents had saved decades’ worth of certain paid bills. There were home purchase documents and some fun records, like the hospital bill for my birth in 1962 ($261.30), which was also in the file in my filing pile. But the real gem was a certified copy of my grandfather’s birth record, issued in 1944. Apparently there was never an actual birth certificate, since this copy was based on “affidavit and documentary evidence.”

In 2007, when I saved that document from being shredded with the rest of my parents’ old records, I was interested in genealogy. But wasn’t working on it properly or seriously. I knew enough to save that birth record, but I wasn’t interested enough to file it away properly or even remember ever having seen it.

Needless to say, I was delighted, if a little chagrined, to find it. I’ve added it to the source list in my family tree software. I’ve scanned it and filed it electronically and filed the copy among my paper files. It’s now safe and sound where it belongs.

Are there any piles or files in your home that might reveal some genealogical treasures? It might be worthwhile to catch up on your filing!

Announcing new Orderly Roots guides!

10 secrets to organizing your genealogy researchI’m very excited to announce the launch of a new series of downloadable pdfs that I’m offering for sale here on Organize Your Family History.  I’m calling the series Orderly Roots, and the first is now available for purchase.

The Orderly Roots guides give me a way to go a little more in-depth on genealogy organizing topics than I can on the blog. 10 Secrets to Organizing Your Genealogy Research, the first of a planned series of 10 such guides,  is available now!

Each guide is delivered as a downloadable pdf with ten pages of text. They sell for $8.99 each. Here’s the list of topics I’m planning so far:

I’d love your input on topics. Do any of these particularly float your boat? Are there any topics not on the list that you’d like to see me explore in an Orderly Roots Guide?

10 Secrets to Organizing Your Genealogy Research is hot off the (figurative) presses and I plan to make 10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Doing Genealogy available this week. [Update: I just made it available for purchase!] The rest, I hope, will be completed by year’s end.

I’d love your input on topics and may create a poll to post on the blog. In the meantime, feel free to give me feedback in the comments!

Getting my own handwriting analyzed

Getting my handwriting analyzedAs I’ve written here, I hired Nancy Douglas of WriteMeaning to analyze the handwriting of my paternal grandfather, after I saw her at her booth at RootsTech. My grandfather had written a long letter to my grandmother before they were married and I was intrigued by what I might learn about him through having his handwriting analyzed, since I had this robust sample.

I showed the analysis to my father and his sister and they were both surprised by some of the character traits that the Nancy gleaned from the handwriting. Of course, they didn’t know their father during that period of his life, since they weren’t yet born, but the report didn’t completely jibe with their memory of him. That made me curious about whether the discrepancy was in my father and aunt’s recollection or in the analysis itself.

So I decided to have my own handwriting analyzed in what Nancy calls a Personality Profile. I figured that would put me in a position of knowing whether my grandfather’s handwriting analysis was accurate. Plus I’ve always been fascinated by graphology and it sounded just plain fun.

I filled out Nancy’s forms (by hand, of course) and paid the $50 fee.

My verdict? The analysis was spot on! I loved reading the report. She correctly identified me as efficient and productive, but “not following through on some projects you would like to” (so true!). The analysis says that I am honest, broadminded and an active listener (such important traits for a professional organizer), but that sometimes efficiency and getting things done can trump active listening for me.

The report goes on to identify that I like to talk, am extroverted, open, frank and loyal. It also said I’m analytical thinker and that I prefer quality over quantity (that’s definitely the case). Nancy (correctly) identified some areas where I might be feeling unfulfilled.

The great thing about the report is Nancy details (with snippets from my handwriting to illustrate) what it is about the handwriting that tells her these things. Reading it was truly a learning experience!

If you’re curious and have $50 to spare, I heartily recommend filling out the form and seeing what Nancy has to tell you. Not only did I find it fun, but having my handwriting analyzed helped my genealogy because it lends credence to the historical family documents analysis of my grandfather’s handwriting.

Thank you, Nancy!

Time-management wisdom from Joshua Taylor

djoshuataylorcropI’m a professional organizer and I routinely give time-management advice to my clients who want it. But, as regular readers of this blog know, managing my genealogy research time is a work in progress for me. I struggle with staying focused, knowing what to work on and combating overwhelm.

That changed a little on Saturday. I was fortunate to be in the audience at the Genealogy Society of Southern Illinois’s annual conference. The speaker was D. Joshua Taylor, professional genealogist and truly organized person. Joshua has been doing genealogy research since he was 10 years old and had his first professional clients while he was in high school. He is the president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the director of family history for He is paid to do genealogy research for others, but he still works on his own genealogy research on a regular basis.

Joshua gave four talks at the GSSI conference, all of them terrific. He’s clearly a very thorough researcher; I was very impressed with the tenacity that came through in his talks. He leaves no stone unturned in his research.

While all four talks were really valuable, one talk that really blew me away. It was The Modern Genealogist: Timesaving Tips for Every Researcher, in which he outlined how he stays happy and focused while exploring his roots. Here were my big takeaways:

  • He works on only 1 to 3 projects/problems at a time, along 3 to 5 extended projects (brick walls).
  • If he comes across something else he wants to check out, he just adds it to his project list to work on in the future. (The discipline of that amazes me.)
  • For each research project, he sets a manageable goal and commits to a finished product, putting the research into some sort of meaningful form. I love that he knows what success looks like, in advance.
  • He plans each research session before he starts.
  • He writes a mini-research report for each research session, even when he’s doing it for his own research.
  • He reviews his research log every month or two to see what he’s missed and what he can apply to other families.

One benefit to working on just a few projects at a time, he said, is that you have a fighting chance of completing them. “I would rather leave behind 3 to 5 completed projects than 50 started, but not completed, projects,” he said. I was impressed that such a young man (I think he’s about 30, if that) thinks about his legacy–that’s probably a byproduct of being a genealogist, isn’t it?

When I got home from the conference, I immediately identified the three projects I’m allowing myself to focus on at this time. It’s been absolutely liberating–I don’t have to try to figure out what to work, which makes it much easier to get started. I will keep you posted how this all plays out, but I’m feeling very good about following Joshua’s excellent advice.

One other mind-blowing revelation at the conference was that Joshua and I are cousins. I’m going to repeat that, because it’s so amazing. Joshua and I are cousins. Our common ancestors are my third great grandparents, Joseph Price (1820-1904) and Mary Puffenbarger (1823-1896). (It’s Mary’s grave that I used aluminum foil to read in my blog post Reading hard-to-read gravestones.) How did I discover that? Like many good genealogy lecturers, Joshua used his own research in examples. In his very first talk of the day, he mentioned Joseph and Mary, much to my excitement. Joseph Price is one of Joshua’s brick walls, so it’s conceivable that I might, at some point, be able to give him a hand. That would be a dream come true!