How do you spell genealogy? P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E

Good genealogy takes patienceThe word that kept running through my mind as I took the excellent classes at last week’s National Genealogical Society’s conference is patience. As I listened to professional genealogists talk about strategies for success and skill building, I was reminded that good genealogy research takes time. It takes thoroughness. And it takes patience.

When I first dipped my toe into genealogy about 15 years ago, I went to an Internet cafe when I was visiting my parents (it was the days before I owned and traveled with a laptop), got on some website (probably Family Search) and started clicking through trees, going backwards in time. I created handwritten pedigree charts and was thrilled with how quickly my family tree grew.

I took everything at face value and evaluated nothing. By the time my “research” took me back to a Prince of Wales, I realized that perhaps some critical thinking was in order. I became overwhelmed at the notion of having to verify everything and put away those pedigree charts for almost a decade.

Six years ago, I decided to pick it up again and start from scratch. I’m using software now (Reunion) and nothing gets added to my tree without a source. The tree is growing slowly.

I figured out this year that I want my family tree branches to grow out, not up. While I appreciate the thrill of breaking into a new generation, I recognize now that I shouldn’t grow upward without taking the time to grow the branches outward. So I’m adding the siblings of my relatives to my tree, which can be painstaking. I’m also trying to add as many sources as possible to each fact.

In the NGS class that I mentioned in my last post, “But I’ve Looked Everywhere,” Barbara Vines Little says that we should have look for every sibling in every census. That takes patience. Combing through records, particularly unindexed records, takes patience. Figuring out alternate spellings to search or exploring friends, neighbors and associates to find elusive ancestors takes patience.

Yes, it can be thrilling to click backward in time, taking other people’s research at face value. Yet the rewards of patiently and thoroughly finding and citing sources are much greater. Good genealogists are patient people. They celebrate the small victories. And they move on to the next one, however long it may take.

Photo by Greg via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

Document everything

Document everything in your genealogy researchReason number 33,662 that you should document everything in your genealogy research: You can’t rely on your memory.

Today, I was trying to verify which ancestor of mine had fought in the Civil War as a substitute. I remember finding his records on Fold3.com and seeing the document that designated him as a substitute for an individual of means who could afford to pay my ancestor to fight in his place. I thought it was Benjamin Franklin Igleheart, my great-great grandfather. But when I looked at his record in my software, I found no notation whatsoever about that.

At least I remembered having found a substitute soldier, even if I couldn’t remember who it was. So I looked through the records in Reunion of all my male ancestors who were born at a time where they might have served. Nothing. I tried searching on Reunion but got nowhere. So I finally walked across the room and pulled out B.F. Igleheart’s paper file. There it was: all the info that I had printed out, but not otherwise documented. Bad researcher!

If I had finished going through the paper files of the Adams ancestors, I would have found this info and documented it. But that process probably won’t be finished for quite some time.

I’m so glad I have committed to documenting everything by entering information into my software, with source citation, and creating electronic files of the digital images of the documents. I am conforming to my file naming convention and I’m tagging the digital files so I don’t have to have my papers file to find something.

I used to believe that I would never forget certain facts I’ve learned through my genealogy research. As those facts add up (and my research grows), I know that’s just simply the case. Now all I have to remember is to enter everything into my Reunion software and tag and properly file all my electronic files.

Focusing my efforts in 2014

My strategy for focusing my genealogy efforts in 2014In December every year, I take some time to set some goals. I set them for my organizing business and for my personal life. This will be the second year I’ve set goals for my genealogy research. (If you want, you can read the goals I set last year.)

In thinking about my genealogy goals for 2014, I realized that I really want to be more focused and organized in going about my research. I still struggle with not knowing what to work on in any given session. And that lack of focus makes it hard for me to actually get started.

I just hit upon an idea that I think I’ll try. I’m going to assign a family line to each quarter of the year. In this structure (which I just thought of, so it’s still evolving in my head), I won’t be limited to working on that line necessarily, but if I don’t have something else specific I want to do, I will work on the family line assigned to that quarter.

I’ve decided that the schedule will be as follows:

  • 1st quarter: Adams (my father’s father’s line)
  • 2nd quarter: Brown (my mother’s father’s line)
  • 3rd quarter: Rasco (my father’s mother’s line)
  • 4th quarter: Jeffries (my mother’s mother’s line)

At the start of each quarter, I’ll take stock of where my research lies. I’ll use my progress tracker to see what census, vital and military records I’ve already located.

During each quarter, I’ll try to do the following for each of the lines:

  • Fill in the gaps on my progress tracker
  • Make sure my surname files for that line are organized on my hard drive
  • Ensure that everything in my paper files for that line is also organized on my hard drive
  • Fill in collateral relatives on my family tree in Reunion
  • Search for sources for unsourced data provided to me by cousins
  • Go up at least one generation in verified information
  • Attach photos to my family tree in Reunion

What I like about this idea is that it should keep me more focused. And help me feel less overwhelmed. It should get me past the “what should I work on today?” question that can be such a barrier. And, perhaps best of all, it gives me some specific goals and a deadline–the end of the quarter. (I love a deadline!)

Marrying my electronic and paper files

Store census documents by pressing Print, rather than SaveI used to be a paper gal. But when it comes to my genealogy records, I’ve stopped pressing the Print button. At the moment almost all my genealogy research is being done online, so I’m really understanding the utility of clicking Save rather than Print.

Part of the reason I’ve been able to make the shift is that I’ve set up a good electronic file system. That gives me confidence that I’ll find what I need on my hard drive.

Switching from paper to electronic has ramifications in at least a couple of areas. It means that it’s changing how I do things from this point forward. That’s no problem. But it also means I have a backlog to deal with. In the past, I’d print and file census documents and other resources I found online, rather than save them electronically. While all the information are recorded in my software (I use Reunion), the source documents themselves might be in a file or might be on my hard drive.

So this week, I’ve been working on marrying the two systems. It’s going to be a long process. What I’m doing is taking out a file folder for a couple and going through the documents, making sure they’re included in my software and seeing if they’re on my hard drive. If they’re not, I’m finding them online and saving them within my file structure.

I’m also taking the opportunity to do one other thing while I’m in there. As I look at census documents, I’m adding siblings of my ancestors to my family tree software, something I blogged about doing a few months ago.

This may sound really tedious to you, but I’m having a good time. It’s allowing me to reacquaint myself with various couples and really pay attention to all their kids, not just my direct ancestor. It’s also giving me the chance to clean up my hard drive and re-file errant files (and move some documents that accidentally ended up in my Genealogy folder). I’m not going through each line systematically. To keep it interesting, I’m jumping from family to family, choosing file folders as my whims take me.

Since I’m no longer printing newly found documents, I guess I’m slowly phasing out my paper files. And that’s okay with me. My hard drive is fast, spacious, orderly, and backed up both to an external hard drive via Time Machine and to a remote computer via Crash Plan Pro.

I’m looking forward to the comfort of having everything on my hard drive. Since I store my paper files in a closet a few steps from my desk, I also love that my data will be at my fingertips whenever I’m using my computer. It’ll be great when I travel, especially if I take research trips, to have all that information available to me. I believe this will be time well spent.