I spent an enjoyable hour or so going through all 12 of this year’s How They Do It interviews to see whether there were common themes that emerged among all the interviews. I wasn’t surprised to learn that there were!
Here are the 2017 participants (in chronological order), with links to their interviews:
- Thomas MacEntee
- Denise Levenick
- Michael Lacopo
- Diahan Southard
- Pat Richley-Erickson
- D. Joshua Taylor
- Amy Johnson Crow
- Melissa Barker
- Crista Cowan
- Randy Seaver
- Kitty Cooper
- Drew Smith
There were a lot of commonalities among these successful genealogists. Most of them, for example, keep their data digitally, rather than on paper. Staying on top of paper was a bigger struggle than organizing digital files. Almost all wish they had crafted a source citation for all information when they first started out. (Don’t we all?) The thrill of the hunt, the problem solving, the discoveries and/or the connections were the favorite aspects of genealogy research with everyone.
The piece of advice that virtually everyone offered is no surprise. Cite your sources. Other themes that emerged include Keep a research log (and note unsuccessful searches as well as successful ones). Organize as you go — don’t let a backlog build up. Use an organizing system that works for you. And in order to avoid being overwhelmed, several of the interviewees suggested you focus on one line or one family at a time.
There was so much wisdom in these interviews that I don’t have space to quote them all. But here are some of my favorite quotes from the interviews:
My philosophy on organizing things right away is this: the more you put it off or delay it the more difficult it will be. That time spent reorganizing could be better spent researching for ancestors. Lack of organization basically squanders your precious time. (Thomas MacEntee)
I’ve learned that “getting organized” can become an all-consuming goal if we get stuck in the mindset of finding the “perfect” system or solution. I do better when I remind myself that progress is better than perfection; fix what isn’t working and move forward. (Denise Levenick)
The Internet is a bittersweet trap. You will never solve your tough genealogical problems by using only online sources. There is so much more out there that will never see the light of digitization. (Michael Lacopo)
I would encourage people not to make their systems too complicated. If another researcher or a family member ever has to go through your papers later and it isn’t clear how things are organized, that’s when research ends up getting tossed. Simple is good. (Amy Johnson Crow)
When we freely and openly share, family history becomes this truly collaborative environment that helps us make discoveries quicker and helps us be more accurate. (Crista Cowan)
In 2017, I basically asked the same questions of all interviewees. I’m thinking I should change up the questions for 2018. Help me out. What would you like to hear from the experts? And do you have folks you’d like me to interview for the series in 2018? Please share!