Lessons learned from my research trip

Lessons learned from a research tripI just arrived home from my trip to the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri (about a 3.5 hour drive). I wrote earlier in the week about how I prepared for it.

I had a great time. The library is beautiful and the people who work there so helpful. I met up with my friend and fellow genealogy researcher Lori Krause and we researched together at the library and had dinner together.

There were two things I didn’t bring that I wish I had, most notably my reading glasses. I wear progressive lenses in my glasses, which have a reading area at the bottom. But since I spent some time using microfilm reading machines, I had to tilt my head way back to read. And that got a little uncomfortable. I actually have computer glasses, too. Next time I’ll bring those as well. This was definitely an oversight on my part.

The other item I didn’t have that would have come in handy was Post-It notes for marking pages of books I wanted to copy.

I brought my laptop computer along and was glad I did. I also had my iPad, but I prefer Reunion’s desktop client more than its iPad app, so I stuck to the computer. I was so glad I’d brought a flash drive, which I did at the suggestion of reader Maria Tello. The library’s copy machines will store the image on a flash drive. So I copied pages from a couple of books right on to my flash drive, free of charge. (How cool is that?)  I was also glad I’d brought water and some snacks.

I was really glad for the preparation I’d done, but it wasn’t enough. I actually blew through the spreadsheet I’d prepared of resources I wanted to check quite quickly. And then I was faced with trying to use my time well. When I would feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities, I would focus in on the Brown family, the branch of my family that I’m focusing on this quarter.

Next time I go, I’ll try to perhaps stay a little longer and have shorter research days. After a full day of research yesterday, I was seriously tired. And I want to have a laser focus each day. I think I’ll pick just a few people and really hone in on what I know and don’t know about each of them and see how I can flesh out the information. This trip I tried to look up information on too many people and so I felt scattered.

Was the trip successful? Yes! I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t have any Eureka! moments, but I did add eight new sources in Reunion. Having been to the library once will allow me to plan even better for the next trip, as I move my way up the family tree.

End-of-the-quarter evaluation

brownfanchartAt the beginning of the year, I put together a research scheme in which I would focus on researching (and organizing the research) one branch of my family each quarter. The first quarter ended yesterday, so I thought it might be a good idea to report how it went.

Overall, I’m pleased. The first quarter of 2014 was devoted to my father’s father’s side of the family, the Adamses. Knowing which family I was researching kept me focused, which was terrific. The downside is that I certainly didn’t finish researching that family (like I ever would), nor did I finish organizing the Adams research that I had uncovered in the past. But that’s okay, because I can pick it up again in January 2015. And, of course, I can work on it whenever I want–my plan isn’t a law, after all.

So now that it’s the second quarter, I turn my attention to the Browns, my mother’s father’s side of the family. That’s timely for a couple of reasons. They’re a midwestern family for a number of generations back and I am paying a visit to the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri, next week (!). Also, there is a Brown Family Reunion in June, so I’ll be extra motivated to uncover and organize my research so I can share it with cousins.

I’m kind of excited to switch the focus of my research. I’d gotten the easy stuff out of the way with the Adams family and of course when it gets more difficult, it requires more patience. So switching gears is quite welcome.

I think it’s a little early to proclaim my quarterly research scheme a success, but at this point I can certainly imagine doing it again next year!

Don’t let the backlog get you down

Metadata can make digital files more searchable

Metadata on my GGGF’s death certificate

Lately I’ve been thinking about the backlog of electronic files that I should tag with metadata and that I should rename for consistency and ease of access. (I wrote about that in this post, It’s all about access.) When I think about doing all that, I get overwhelmed. And then I don’t want to do any of it.

I realized though, that I don’t have to wait until the backlog has been completed to start establishing new patterns with new files that I save. It’s just like I tell my clients who have an overabundance of accumulated mail in their homes: They don’t have to go through all the old mail before figuring out how to handle the new mail.

So starting today, I’m creating a simple file naming system for individual files. (I think it’s going to be Year-Document Type-First Name-Last Name). And all new files will be named accordingly.  I’ll also work on creating the habit of adding metadata immediately after saving a file. So my new files will be in good shape and I won’t be adding to the backlog. At the same time, little by little, I can work through my backlog of files and change file names and add metadata tags. I can do it systematically. And I can also just edit the file name and add metadata every time I find myself accessing a file.

One of my personal mantras is “Let it be easy.” This feels like an easy approach to a project that’s been causing me a little stress.

It’s all about access

wheelerfilefolderTo me, being organized is about having access to your stuff (and information). Often that means accumulating no more stuff than you can easily store. So I spend a lot of my professional life helping clients declutter before creating organizing systems.

When it comes to organizing your genealogy research the same principle applies. It’s really nice to have a neat workspace. But what’s really meaningful is easy access to your information, both physical and electronic. What does this mean?

  • Having a solid file structure for electronic files
  • Having an excellent file naming strategy for electronic files
  • Using metadata for electronic files
  • Creating a habit of adding  metadata and sticking to your file naming strategy
  • Actually filing paper, rather than putting it in piles
  • Carefully considering file folders versus binders for genealogy papers
  • Getting rid of any unneeded duplicates
  • Thinking about how you will access (not just file) information when you set up your organizing system

As I think about this for my own research, I realize I really need to work on my file naming. I’ve done a good job with my electronic file structure, but my names aren’t standardized (as you can see in the photo with this post). By either improving file names or adding metadata (or both) I could more easily use the search function on my MacBook.

For me, having all my research data available on my MacBook is an important goal. I’m still in the process of marrying my electronic and paper files and know when I finish this process, my research will be completely accessible (and portable). That is what I call organized.