Organized genealogy workspaces in Family Tree Magazine

Organized genealogy spaces in Family Tree MagazineOne of the things I enjoy about my work as a professional organizer is seeing how people live and work. Of course, I love helping them improve their organizational systems. But I love quizzing already organized people about how they stay organized. We’re all so different and I find there’s always so much to learn.

That’s why I loved the cover story of  the May/June issue of Family Tree Magazine . The article, called Making It Work, by Denise Levenick, The Family Curator, takes a look at the workspaces of six successful genealogy professionals. Those professional are:

  • Photo Detective Maureen A. Taylor
  • Writer and editor Sunny Jane Morton
  • GeneaBlogger founder Thomas MacEntee
  • Genealogy Guys podcast co-host Drew Smith
  • Genealogy Guys podcast co-host George G. Morgan
  • Genealogy Gems podcaster Lisa Louise Cooke

We see photos and learn the inside secrets behind the workspaces–and work systems–of each of these successful genealogists. In addition, Levenick provides lots of organizing tips and suggestions from these pros.  (One of my favorites: “Take a few minutes to file or recycle papers and neaten your desk after each use. You’ll be able to start your next research session with fewer distractions.” ) She also includes a list of online resources. I’m delighted that Organize Your Family History is included in that resource list!

It’s an enjoyable read, full of good advice. A theme among all six subjects was the benefit of eliminating distracting clutter. I know from my experience that putting things away (and having a place to put them) is the key to my productivity at my desk. After reading the article, I was itching to tidy up a bit more!

Incidentally, one way I keep clutter at bay is to subscribe to digital editions of magazine. I receive Family Tree Magazine as a digital subscription. I get an email when it’s available and I download it to read on my computer or iPad. I was able to switch from the print to digital edition mid-year, by simply asking. I love that I don’t have the physical copies of the magazine lying around!

It’s Preservation Week! What should you keep?

davebealetterThis week is Preservation Week, according to the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services. That makes it a great time to think about preserving our inherited items.

Denise Levenick, The Family Curator, has a tremendous post on her blog about how to decide what to keep and what to throw away when it comes to inherited items. I strongly urge you to take a look.

Her post really resonated with me, because I work with clients all the time on deciding on what to keep and what to let go of. Usually, it’s stuff they purchased, not inherited. That’s tough enough. Inherited items are much more challenging to decide about. Denise’s blog post provides some great guidelines and great questions to ask yourself as you make these decisions.

There are two principles that I say to clients all the time and that I think hold true with inherited items as well:

  • Less is more
  • When you keep everything, nothing is special

When I read this statement in Denise’s blog post, I said “Yes!”

 Sometimes, it’s ok to give yourself permission to hold on to the memory and let go of the clutter.

If you struggle with deciding what to keep among your inherited items, you’ll get some great insight with Denise’s post.

Where are your family treasures?

Where are your family treasures?This week, I was working with a wonderful organizing client. As she gave me a tour of the storage spaces in her home, she said, “This is my most treasured possession!” And she bent down and pulled a plastic bin out from under the bed. Inside was her father’s World War II photo album, along with a few other war artifacts. The photo album had small black-and-white photos mounted onto black paper with meticulous white handwritten captions. The pages were deteriorating and some of the photos had fallen out of their mounting.

I oohed and ahhhed because it was an amazing heirloom. But I challenged her a little by saying, “Why is your most treasured possession stored under the bed in a non-archival plastic bin?” One day (soon, I hope), we will work together to get this item and some other heirlooms into safer storage.

That very same day, my mother’s cousin asked me for a photo of my grandfather for the genealogy poster he is putting together. So I rifled through the box of family photos that my mother gave me, trying to locate a good picture for him. As I did that, I realized that these photos are among my most treasured possessions, yet I am not treating them with the respect they deserve. They’re not archivally stored, nor are they organized.

When I acquired this box in December, I blogged about my plan to deal with them. But I’ve done nothing. I keep waiting for a free block of time.  should know by now that the free time is never going to materialize on its own. I have to set aside time for this project. Luckily for me, this branch of the family is having a reunion in a couple of months, so I can get some help identifying the people in these photos!

How about you? Do you have treasured inherited items that are languishing in unsafe conditions? If you need information on how to handle and store them, check out Sally Jacobs of The Practical Archivist and Denise Levenick of The Family Curator. Don’t wait for something bad to happen. Carve out some time to deal with them now.

To print or not to print?

questionmarkI admit it. I like to print out source documents I find online. When I see a census record for an ancestor, for example, I have an overwhelming desire to print it out and put it in that ancestor’s paper file. That system has worked well for me, though of course there’s potential for all those printed records to take up a lot of space.

Yesterday, I was listening to Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems podcast, specifically the Digitize, Organize, and Archive episode in which she interviews Denise May Levenick about organizing family memorabilia and genealogy records. Listening to that, I was inspired to take their advice and try to squash my compulsion to print and instead save these documents as pdfs.

I thought I’d do that today, but I’m realizing that I take some comfort in having paper records. I know my house could catch on fire and the records would vanish. But I think I have more faith in my house remaining unburned than I do in my hard drive not failing. As I’m typing this, though, I know that’s not the true reason. (I back up to an external hard drive and I have an online backup service.) I think the real reason is that my paper files are more organized than my electronic genealogy files.

Saving pdfs rather than printing would require me to clean up my electronic act. And that would be a good thing. As I see it, I’d need to come up with a good naming system and file hierarchy. I’m a Mac user and I typically rely on its excellent search functionality to help me find what I need on my hard drive. But I can imagine that pinpointing specific records in a search might be more difficult.

One advantage I can see to saving these documents on my hard drive is that sometimes I’m doing research in the absence of my paper files. I might be using my laptop upstairs, while my file cart resides downstairs. I might be at a library or a conference. I can certainly see advantages to saving, not printing.

So I’m going to continue printing, but only until I get my head around doing a better job with organizing my hard drive. (Step 1: Read Denise May Levenick’s book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes, which offers information on file naming protocols.) Once I clean up my electronic genealogy files, I think I’ll try saving, rather than printing, and see if I can feel comfortable.