Going beyond online resources

Going beyond online resources

The National Personnel Records Center

Like many beginning genealogy researchers, my first inclination is to go online to look for a fact or find a resource. If I don’t find what I’m looking for, more often than not I move on to the next thing to research online. But as I’m listening to veteran genealogists share their knowledge and expertise at the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference, I’m learning that online resources are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg.

The first break-out session I attended was “But I’ve Looked Everywhere,” presented by Barbara Vines Little, CG, FNGS, FVGS. It was a tremendous session and a great way for me to kick off the conference. She went over an amazing array of resources where you might find the information you’re looking for. And guess what? Many of those resources aren’t easily available online.

After two days (so far) of the conference, I’ve come to realize that I need (and want) to get out of the house and explore the amazing repositories of information available in my own community. I’m fortunate to live where there are not one, but two, large public library headquarters (St. Louis City and County), both of which have genealogy departments. There is also the Missouri History Museum Library as well as the National Personnel Records Center of the  National Archives at St. Louis (the largest federal archive outside of Washington, D.C.). Also, the Missouri State Archives is just a couple of hours away in Jefferson City. They provide a great deal of information online through Missouri Digital Heritage, but I learned at the conference that there is much more information available that is not digitized. There is much for me to discover by researching in person.

One thing I’ve learned when I have gone out of town to research at various libraries is that it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed and not take full advantage of what the repository has to offer. That’s because, I think, I’ve gone in thinking that I wanted to cast a wide net and learn as much as possible. Now I’m thinking I’m better off with a single focus, particularly if I’m using these local libraries where I can return again and again without effort.

In her talk, Barbara Vines Little said something that keeps echoing in my brain:

“You have to know what the question is before you can look for the answer.”

 –Barbara Vines Little

I need to go into to these libraries and archives with a very specific question in mind. That will help me stay focused and help me use my time well. I’m excited to figure out those specific questions and get started!

Don’t forget your conference notes!

arcnotebookcameraYesterday I was flying home from an organizers’ conference and decided to take a few minutes to read through the notes contained in the notebook I take to meetings. (In case you’re an office-supply junkie like me, I’ll tell you that I use the Arc disc notebook from Staples–that’s it in the picture–which has repositionable pages that allow me to easily organize my notes in sections.)

As I read through the genealogy section, I became reacquainted with the notes I took from the wonderful sessions I attended at RootsTech 2015. Honestly, some of those sessions had completely slipped my mind as I re-entered real life after the conference. So I put a note on my task list to try out some of the resources in my next genealogy research session. (I’m particularly excited by trying out what I learned in the excellent session called Map My Ancestors, presented by A.C. Ivory.)

I see now that there is a bullet item missing from the list I created when I wrote the blog post Digging out after a conference. I need to add, Review session notes to the list of things I do at home after a conference. It doesn’t matter whether I took regular handwritten notes, used my Livescribe pen, or typed them directly into my iPad or laptop. If I don’t review the notes I’m going to miss out on some of what I learned, because I certainly can’t keep all of it in my head.

My crazy travel schedule this month has precluded my doing any genealogy research so far in April. But I intend to do some on Sunday. And the first place I’m going to look when I start my session is in my conference notebook. I can’t wait!

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?