There’s no perfect way to organize

There's no one right way to organizeIf there’s one thing that I’ve learned in nine years helping people get organized in their homes, it’s that there’s no one right way to organize. Organizing systems that work beautifully for me (or another client) may be seriously flawed for you. That’s why professional organizers can’t take a cookie-cutter approach to organizing…we have to  customize everything for the client.

This is true in organizing a home. And it’s also true in organizing your genealogy research. There are many ways to  organize your family history–just take a look at the many and varied answers for any particular question in the popular The Organized Genealogist group on Facebook.

So that’s why I bristled a little as I read a document called Organize Your Files on the Family Search wiki about how to organize your genealogy research. I actually use the recommended one-family-per-folder system for my paper records. (I learned about it more than a decade ago on FamilySearch.org.) But the absolutes in the article, the my-way-or-the-highway tone made it less useful to me.

For example:

Computer note keeping. Computers are great for genealogists—but they are not the final storage medium. Keep your research notes on computer if you like, but make a paper copy at the end of the day. Your descendants may not know how to boot your computer, but they will be able to read your paper printouts.

Make paper copies of electronic sources such as Internet sites, email, fax, or telephone interviews.

I don’t agree with making paper copies of everything. For some people, it will feel worth the effort. For others, not. And that’s okay.

Th Family Search wiki has loads of good information. But this article served as a good reminder to me that gently guiding, rather than ordering people around,  can be more effective.

I think some people thrive on structure and probably really appreciate being told exactly what to do.  But for others, strict instructions can feel intimidating or overwhelming. Me, I prefer gentler language with options built in. I like to tell you what works for me, but I don’t pretend that it will necessarily work for you. After all, tweaking is a good thing.

Reading hard-to-read gravestones

My family reunion was last weekend and I had a great time. Family members were so warm and welcoming to my husband and me despite the fact that my branch of the family had not been represented at that reunion in a couple of generations. I was given family pictures (some of which I’ll probably scan and share here) and well as a painting that my grandmother had painted. It was a great weekend.

On Saturday, my husband and I paid a visit to the cemetery where my grandmother’s ancestors were buried. (This was a reunion of people from my grandfather’s side of the family, so it was an adjunct activity.) I had visited that cemetery, Meyer Cemetery, last year when I traveled to western Missouri.  Three generations of Jeffries are buried in that cemetery:  my great grandfather, James Earl Jeffries;  his parents, John D. Jeffries and Susan Price Jeffries; his in-laws, John Price and Mary Puffenbarger Price; and his grandparents, Richard Anderson Jeffries and Harriet McKinley Jeffries. I wanted to capture some more photos of the gravestones, as well as find the graves of the Prices, which I hadn’t seen on my first visit.

Fortunately for me, I’d learned just the prior week about using aluminum foil to make reading hard-to-read gravestones much easier. I’d seen a link to a blog post called safe solutions for hard to read tombstones on the fabulous Organized Genealogist Facebook page. That post described how you can cover a gravestone with foil and rub it to make the hidden words on a gravestone almost magically appear. The post linked above suggested using a clean makeup brush. I didn’t have one so I dug around a bit more on the web and found this post on Save a Grave that suggested using a damp sponge.

So I went to the dollar store and bought some cheap aluminum foil. I grabbed a sponge from under the sink and was ready headed to the cemetery the next day. The method really felt like magic.

This is the stone of the Mary Ann Price, my great great great grandmother.

Foil can make hard-to-read gravestones legible

Cover it in foil and rub and voila, the writing emerges.

Foil can make hard-to-read gravestones legible

There’s a gravestone  right next to my great grandfather’s grave. The top of that same stone was so worn and dirty you couldn’t really tell that there was a name on it. But when I covered it in foil and rubbed it with a damp sponge, the name “Harriett” appeared. Amazing!

aluminum foil can make hard-to-read gravestones legible againI love this method! The downside is that, unlike gravestone rubbings–which I learned are harmful to the gravestone–it’s not easy to keep and store foil rubbings. I consider them temporary and my digital photo of the rubbed stone to be my permanent record. I can’t quite get myself to throw away the foil (it’s driving around in the back of my SUV), but soon I expect I’ll put it in the recycling bin.

Giving Evernote another try

Evernote logoI know that people rave about Evernote, for genealogy and for other aspects of life. Over the years, I keep dipping my toe and withdrawing it quickly. The user interface has just never clicked for me.

I blogged back in February of 2013 that I was exploring Evernote for genealogy. That didn’t really pan out, but late in 2013 I started using Springpad, which has a more graphical interface than Evernote. Thanks to Springpad, I became hooked on cloud-based, synching organizing and storage systems. After Springpad announced it was shutting down this month, I exported my data, including my family history research logs, to Evernote.

So now I’m ready to give it another try. I’m trying to be open minded about Evernote’s interface. I bought and read the e-book Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly, and I’m going to be checking out genealogy-specific information about Evernote. (This morning, I found this great page on Cyndi’s List with genealogy templates for Evernote.)

I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime I’m wondering whether any of you have either great tips using Evernote in genealogy or  recommendations of more resources to help me learn to use and love Evernote. If so, I’m all ears!

Learning to like my contactless scanner

At the end of 2013, I purchased the Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600 contactless scanner. I blogged here about how intrigued I was by a scanner that scans from above and doesn’t need to touch the (potentially delicate) items being scanned.

It arrived, I set it up without much difficulty and almost immediately I hit a trouble spot. The first things I tried to scan had curled edges. First, there was the letter that my grandfather had written my grandmother. It had been stored for 87 years in the envelope in which it was mailed At 36 pages, the letter didn’t lie flat in the envelope, so the folds were rounded. I had hoped I could flatten the image with the included software, but gave up pretty quickly.

Here’s tdaveslettertobeapg1withoutglasshe first page of that letter. While it’s legible, the folds and curves troubled me. And it took several tries to get it to look that good.

I found myself really disappointed and even looked into returning it. But I’d waited too long and it was after the 30-day deadline imposed by the seller.

That was actually a blessing in disguise, because when I was at RootsTech in February, I had the opportunity to talk with a Fujitsu representative who gave me a great idea: Buy a piece of non-glare glass to put over the objects I want to scan that have curled edges.

It took me awhile to get that done, but in the meantime I started appreciating how great the scanner is for non-curled documents and photographs. I just lay them down on the mat and push a button. (I can even do more than one item at a pass and they’ll be saved into separate documents) The process is quite simple and I don’t have to worry about damaging the photo by putting it through my sheet-fed ScanSnap S1500M (a precursor to the current iX500). I don’t have a flat-bed scanner.

page 1 dave's letter to bea testI finally got around to buying the non-glare glass and that idea turned out to be a stroke of genius. Here’s the first page of the letter scanned through the piece of glass. It’s not perfect–the folds are still visible and a would take a little bit of effort to lift the glass for multi-page documents. But the pesky curvature is gone and the light is uniform.  It’s a simple, low-cost (under $20) solution.

I love my sheet-fed scanner, which is very fast and will scan both sides of the page simultaneously. But for delicate items and for books or magazines that can be scanned without pushing down on their spine, the SV600 is pretty swell. I haven’t experimented with scanning books yet, but for magazines, I’ve seen that it does a nice job of flattening the image so that the pages don’t slant toward the middle of a double-page spread.

I don’t know that I will use it as much as I anticipated when I purchased it–it’s unclear that my needs merit the $600 price tag. But now that I have it, I’m looking forward to getting to know it better (and appreciate it more). I know it will come in handy.

Now that I think about it, a Flip-Pal mobile scanner might have served much the same function, at much lower price point–and had the advantage of being portable. I’m tempted to purchase a Flip-Pal one of these days. (I’m turning into a scanner collector!) If so, I’ll be interested to see when I choose to use which scanner. And I’ll report here, if you’re interested too.