An embarrassment of riches

bambooforestOne of my tendencies when it comes to my genealogy research is to get overwhelmed and then paralyzed. I’ve worked hard to avoid the “Where do I start?” question that used to prevent me from getting to work.

My feelings of overwhelm have taken on a new quality of late. I went to two excellent genealogy conferences (the National Genealogical Society conference and the Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree) within in one month one another recently and I learned about so many amazing resources to pursue that I don’t know which way to turn.

On top of that, I took action after the first day of the NGS conference and ordered Civil War pension files for three of my Union soldier ancestors and now have literally 300 pages of documents to go through. (That’s exciting but overwhelming!)

It’s an embarrassment of riches. I feel like there are so many good things to pursue, I don’t know how to choose. (On my other organizing blog, I’ve written about how challenging I find it to have too many choices.)

Doing nothing because I have too many choices is clearly not a good option. So I need to figure out how to narrow things down.

When I was at the two conferences, I used my mobile devices to add genealogy tasks to my Things task-management app.  But just looking at that list has become overwhelming.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do:

  • Sort the tasks by surname
  • Remind myself of my quarterly goals
  • Prioritize the tasks so that I can see the Rasco ones easily, since the new quarter starts tomorrow (and I’ll therefore be shifting my focus to the Rasco family)
  • Give myself permission to work on pension records even though they’re not Rasco-related, so that I can work on properly processing them, a little at a time

Just giving myself a plan of action has made me feel less overwhelmed. Assigning surnames to the tasks so I can isolate one family has limited the options and made me feel more calm.

I think I’m going to create a separate “Opportunities” list that I’ll populate with the various resources I want to explore so that I can get inspired without having the distraction of including those resources in my genealogy task list.

Genealogy is such a journey of discovery. Sometimes I feel surrounded by data and learning opportunities and I can’t see where I’m going. Creating a clear path to follow will help me stay focused and happy while I explore my roots.

Photo by Stale Grut via Unsplash.

Processing Civil War pension files

Processing civil war pension filesAs I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I received my 3d great grandfather’s Civil War pension files from the National Archives in record time. I’d been prepared to wait 45 to 120 days and it arrived the week after I submitted the request online.

I dug right in and started processing the information. I was so grateful that I had attended the class Anatomy of a Military Pension, presented by Certified Genealogist Julie Miller at the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference that month. She provided step-by-step instructions of what to do with a military pension.

So the day after I received that 65-page pension file, I did what Julie suggested. I put the documents in chronological order and I assigned a number to each. Then I figured out a citation for the overall file and a  citation for each of the numbered documents.

Coming up with a proper citation was a bit of a challenge and I emailed Julie, who was kind enough to share the citation she uses for these files. (She had given us that info in the talk, but I hadn’t written it down.)

Here’s the citation I’m using for the overall pension file for my ggggrandfather, Richard Anderson Jeffries:

[278] Jeffries, Richard Anderson (1st Sgt., Company D, 13th Regiment, Missouri Volunteer Infantry, Civil War), application no. 567612, certificate no. 529585, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veteran Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

278 was the next number in my source list in Reunion, my family tree software. Each of the individual documents is numbered, starting with 1, and has its own citation. My intention is that when I enter a fact into Reunion, I’ll use Source 278, but I’ll include in the memo field which of the 26 individual documents that particular fact came from.

I created citation labels for each of the documents and affixed them to the appropriate pages. (That’s the citation for document 16 above.) Then I scanned the whole document into a pdf. (I elected to have one pdf, rather than 26 individual ones–time will tell whether that was a good choice.)

The next step, according to Julie is to transcribe the documents. Yes, I’m going to type word for word exactly what is on the documents. Julie urged us not to skip that step because when we transcribe, we learn things we would not otherwise learn.

After I transcribe, I will abstract the documents, so I can tell at a glance what they are and what info is contained within each.

Then I’ll analyze the documents and enter the new-found facts into my software.

That’s a lot of work, but I’m delighted to have learned how to be thorough with it. And I know I’ll learn so much about my ancestor.

I am so grateful to have this structure, because just a few days after receiving Richard Anderson Jeffries’s file, I received the pension file for my gggrandfather, George Washington Adams. That file is over 100 pages; I had to request and pay for the rest of the file (another 80 pages) to be copied–I’m still waiting for part two. That same week I received the third and final pension file, for another gggrandfather, Benjamin Franklin Igleheart. All three pension files, probably 250 pages, came within two weeks of my request.

If I did not have the structure Julie provided in that talk to thoroughly process the information, I know I would feel overwhelmed. I would probably skim the documents, pluck out a few easy-to-find facts, and put them away intending to get to them later. And I don’t know when later would be.

I have skimmed the most recently received pension files to get a preview what I’m going to learn. (G.W. Adams had a big dispute about the amount of his pension–an adversary in the Soldier’s Home turned him in for saying he was more disabled than he was!) But I’m not going to analyze them until I’m finished with Richard Anderson Jeffries. So that will be motivation to go through the process.

I think these pension files are going to be a great learning experience not just about my ancestors, but also about doing proper genealogical research. This feels great!



Rededicating myself to collateral lines

reunionchildrenWhen I rebooted my genealogy research a few years ago and started my family tree from scratch, adding only those people for whom I had verified source information, I focused on my direct-line ancestors. That approach felt less overwhelming, less tedious, and it allowed me to move up my family tree more quickly, which felt rewarding.

In August 2013, I pondered whether I should be adding collateral lines (the siblings of my direct ancestors) and concluded it would be a good idea. I started adding children I found on censuses, properly sourcing them, of course. It did prove to be a bit tedious and it sort of dropped off my radar.

Then I took an Ancestry DNA test and transferred my DNA results to Family Tree DNA. Since then I’ve been contacted by a number of distant cousins. While I’m still trying to figure out how to use the DNA results to further my research, one thing has become very apparent: Having those siblings in my family tree would help me, as well as these cousins, figure out our relationships.

I’d like at the very least to have their name and approximate birth dates, easily obtainable from my ancestors’ census records. More information would be great, and maybe I’ll do more research on these siblings eventually, but right now I’m setting my sights on names and birth dates and states.

So I’m going for it. I’ve moved the goal of adding collateral lines to each family to the top of my list of things to accomplish when I’m focusing on a certain line. I’d added a sheet called Siblings Entered to my progress tracker. (I was glad to see that I’ve already entered the siblings of eleven ancestors; it’s a start.) The clues these collateral lines will give me should make them less tedious to enter. At last, I’m really seeing the value of the effort.

I look forward to having a more robust family tree!

Creating a genealogy to-do list

gentodolistsampleI know I have two big impediments when it comes to making progress with my genealogy research. One is that I often don’t know where to start in a particular session. The other is that I think I need a huge block of time and that huge block rarely comes.

But I know better. I am a big believer in grabbing snippets of time to complete discrete tasks. For me, this is true in life and in genealogy research. But my reluctance to start a short session still rears its head.

Yesterday, as I was pondering this situation, I came up with a strategy that might be helpful. I created a form for myself where I can separate tasks by the amount of time I think they’ll take. That way, when I find myself with 30 minutes to spend on family history research, I can scan the “30 minutes” section (or the “15 minutes or less” section) and hop right into a task. The form I created has seven sections: 15 minutes (or less), 30 minutes, one hour, two hours, half day, full day, and weekend.

Since I’m trying to focus on one branch of my family per quarter, I decided to make a separate list for each branch. That way, if I come across some leads for families I’m not working on this quarter, I can put them on the appropriate list, and when that quarter rolls around I’ll already have a task list to get me started.

If I manage to use this form consistently, it should serve a few purposes:

  • I’ll be able to jump right into my research without feeling overwhelmed
  • My sessions should be more focused and productive
  • I’ll research more frequently, because I won’t be waiting for large blocks of time to emerge
  • If I hit a dead end, I can go right back to my list to refocus

I can’t wait to give this a try. I’ve started with a short list for a couple of family branches. I’m going to figure out a way to include routine tasks on the list (like updating my progress tracker and making sure that all paper documents are also properly stored on my hard drive) so that they get done relatively painlessly. I think this will definitely be a work in progress.

In the next week or two, I’ll create a template for you to use in your research and include it in the Printables section of this site. I’m going to wait a little while to do so, so that I can refine it a bit, based on my use. (An excerpt of my one-day-old version of the form is what’s pictured with this post.) I’m thinking that I may drop the final two sections, since I want to include smaller tasks, not large projects, on the list. But I’ll use it awhile before deciding.

I’m curious: Do you find it hard to figure out where to start when you have time to do genealogy research? Or is that something peculiar to me?