Don’t forget labels!

Label everything in your genealogy roomI enjoy perusing the popular Facebook group, The Organized Genealogist. Recently, I’ve seen a number of posts where people are showing off pictures of their genealogy research rooms after they’ve taken the time to declutter and organize them. They’re beautiful and really fun to look at.

But the organizer in me is disturbed when I don’t see labels on containers and shelves, as is sometimes the case. I imagine that the person who has organized the room thinks that she’ll remember where everything is. But why tax your brain? It’s a simple thing to create a label. And it has a big payoff: it makes it easy for you to find what you’re looking for and, perhaps even more importantly,  put things away.

Another benefit to labeling is that it helps ensure that you’re organizing in identifiable categories. In other words, if you can’t put a label on a drawer or a bin, it’s probably because you have a mish-mash of categories contained in that space. Labels help you clarify. And clarity is good.

Your labels don’t have to be fancy. I do love my Brother P-Touch label maker. (I have the P-Touch 2030, but there are a variety from which to choose.) But there are plenty of other ways to make labels:

I think it’s a great idea to create labels that are easy to remove or change, in case you want to reorganize or your categories change. It also makes it a little easier to pull the trigger and create the label if you know it might not be there forever.

Please don’t get caught up in making the most perfectly gorgeous label, if it gets in the way of getting it done. That said, if you’re the crafty type who takes great pleasure in beautiful labels, go for it.  Pinterest is a great place to search innovative ways to label.

In my work as a professional organizer, I frequently am called into spaces where organizing systems have broken down. And in those spaces I almost always notice an absence of labels. If you’re going to the effort of organizing your genealogy space, labels will help you maintain that organization. Again, it’s a big payoff for a relatively small effort.

Putting your ancestors’ lives in context

HistoryLines can help you create a timeline for your ancestorsOne of the ways I want to explore my ancestors as I try to dig deeper into their lives (learning more about my ancestors, rather than learning about more ancestors) is to put their lives in social context. I’d like to learn more about how they lived and what life was like for them.

At RootsTech, I learned about a new service, HistoryLines, that helps me do just that. I think it’s pretty exciting. You enter in an ancestor name or link a Family Search tree or upload a GEDCOM and you’re presented with a timeline of information about what was going on around your ancestor at the time he or she lived.

The service is in Beta now, but I signed up as a Beta user (as can you) and have had a good time exploring it.

Here’s a video they debuted at RootsTech.

The timeline that HistoryLines produces includes historical events that may have had an impact on the ancestor’s life, as well as more personal information, like how childbirth might have been for the ancestor’s mother, and what education, hygiene, clothing, medicine and entertainment were like at the time. (That’s just the tip of the iceberg of available information.) There’s also an interactive map, so that you can see their migration patterns. You can edit the timeline, which allows you to quite easily create a meaningful story to share with others.

My ancestors are all from the U.S. and the U.S.-related information on HistoryLines is plentiful. They also have information from Germany and Denmark and data for Canada and France are in process. I’m sure they will be adding data from more countries.

Timelines can be a great organizing aid. Adding social to the context makes this a really fun, and potentially very meaningful, tool.

Digging out after a conference

Diggin out after a conferenceI love going to conferences. Between organizing and genealogy conferences, I attend at least three a year.

Conferences are wonderful learning and networking opportunities, but they can present an organizing challenge. When I return home from a conference, I’m usually behind in my work and it’s so easy to leave everything I learned on a back burner. The biggest challenge is probably dealing with the literature I bring home from conferences. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that, in the past, items I picked up at trade shows have stayed in the bag untouched until they’re thrown away months or even years later.

Last month, I attended RootsTech. It had a gigantic trade show and I learned about so many new resources I wanted to explore. I was bound and determined that the information I bought home with me would not languish. Here’s how I handled it this year. (Spoiler alert: I’m feeling pretty good about it!)

  • I minimized what I brought home by carefully going through all the paper before packing my bag at the hotel room in Salt Lake City.
  • Once I got home to St. Louis, I put all the literature together until I could process it.
  • I spread it out and scanned it for the photo to go with this post (something non-bloggers wouldn’t have to consider!).
  • Then I gathered it into a pile and went through it piece by piece. I looked up the websites for each of the flyers I brought home. If the product or service still interested me, I added it to a note I created in Evernote called “Interesting resources from RootsTech 2015″ that I placed in my Evernote “Genealogy Resources” notebook.
  • For a couple of the resources, I created a follow up task in Things, the task management application I use.  I can assign a due date, so these tasks will pop up on my Today page next year  (helpful for reminders about conferences I might want to attend in 2016).
  • I jotted down some blog post ideas sparked by the literature and put them in my Blog Post Ideas notebook in Evernote.
  • I recycled all the paper, except two items I decided to file

The whole process took me about 30 minutes. It feels great! There were some resources I’d forgotten about already, but now they’re safe inside Evernote. I took action on a couple of items, signing up for newsletters and other services and making one inquiry about working with someone. And, perhaps best of all, I got rid of a pile of paper.

Taking 30 to 60 minutes to process this information really adds value to what I brought home from RootsTech. It’s an amazing return on the investment of time spent! I’m grateful for Evernote and Things which help me free up my memory so I can find this information when I need it.

I can’t wait to do it again after next month’s National Association of Professional Organizers conference.

Do you have a better (or different) way of digging out after a conference?

When do you do your genealogy research?

Setting aside time for genealogy researchI love doing genealogy research. I just have a hard time finding the time to do it. When I was at RootsTech two weeks ago, I was immersed in genealogy talk for three days and it was divine. Trouble is, I went from there to visit family members with health issues and was immediately immersed in that. I’m back home now, but have been booked solid with organizing clients. So I have yet to do any research, despite my getting all jazzed up in Salt Lake City.

I realize that the time to do genealogy research is not going to just present itself. I need to set aside time in my busy schedule to do it. I think I’ll set a goal of doing research at least once a week. That feels realistic. Given my work schedule of late, working on family history on a weekend is probably going to be easiest.

I’ve learned through my blogging that if I want to get something done, I should do it first thing in the morning. So I think that for the next month or so I’m going to try hard to do family history research (for as long a period of time as I’m able) first thing on Saturday mornings. If I’m seeing a client on Saturday (which is fairly often the case), I’ll shift to Sunday. It’s rare that I have both Saturday and Sunday clients.

Maybe you can help me. When do you do your genealogy research? Do you schedule it or does it just happen when you feel like it? I’d love to learn from your experience!