The latest addition to my How They Do It series of Q&As is with Lisa Louise Cooke, CEO of Genealogy Gems. Lisa is a prolific podcaster (she hosts both the Genealogy Gems podcast and the Family Tree Magazine podcast), author (her books include The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox and Mobile Genealogy), as well as a blogger and speaker. Lisa has an immense amount of genealogy knowledge and when she interviewed me recently for the Family Tree Magazine podcast, I asked her to do a How They Do It interview. I was thrilled when she agreed!
Since it’s a new year, I’ve changed up the questions just a little. Enjoy reading Lisa’s terrific answers!
How long have you been doing genealogy?
I got bit by the genealogy bug when I was 8 years old. I was the only kid in my class spending her allowance on death certificates!
What’s your favorite thing about being a genealogist?
It’s quite a challenge to pick just one favorite aspect of genealogy. But I think it would have to be working the puzzle and piecing together the past. I thrive on the challenge, and particularly enjoy using technology in creative ways to accomplish my goals. A close second is pulling my ancestors back from obscurity. When you consider it only take a generation or two for someone to completely be forgotten, it’s incredibly rewarding to ensure that doesn’t happen.
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to organizing your genealogy?
It’s changed a lot in the last few years. It used to be paper posed the biggest challenge. But these days it’s definitely photo storage. Not only are we digitizing more of our past photos, we are taking photos of today’s memories at a break-neck rate. Those images are the family history of the future. And while technology offers answers, it’s constantly evolving. So, the method we thought was a good solution just a few years ago may already look outdated. I think most folks never dreamed ten years ago that they would have the mountain of digital images they have today.
What is your favorite technology tool for genealogy?
Land sakes, that’s a hard one for me! Honestly, my favorite tool is the one that is solving today’s challenge. But generally speaking, it’s still Google. And as I say in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, it’s really a toolbox of tools rather than just one tool, though they do come from one source, Google. On a daily basis, it’s Google search; nearly every day it’s Google Books; and Google Earth follows closely behind. Their power is only limited by your imagination.
These days many folks think “oh, I know how to Google!” But I find in most cases they are just scratching the surface. Like all tech, Google is constantly evolving. So, to really maximize it, you have to stay current and not rely just on what you did even a year ago.
If you were starting out new as a genealogist what would you do differently?
I’m fortunate, in that at a very young age I interviewed my oldest relatives. I also cited my sources. I find that those are the most common regrets genealogists have. For me, if I had the opportunity to do something differently, it would be to have taken more photos with my grandmother, and to have audio recorded the interviews.
How do you keep track of clues or ideas for further research?
I use Evernote to track items I find along the way that I want to set aside (so I don’t get off track) and return to later. But it’s not just how you track them. Success really comes from scheduling dedicated time to return to them. If you know in your heart of hearts you’re never going to do that, you’ll be tempted to jump down the rabbit hole right then and there. But if you regularly schedule “BSO Time” as I call it (Bright Shiny Objects) on your calendar and stick to it, you will trust yourself, and resist the temptations along the way. When it comes to BSOs found in books, I track those in Google Books’ “My Library” feature.
How do you go about sharing your personal research with cousins or other interested parties?
Video. Period. Successfully sharing genealogy is all about telling your ancestor’s stories in a way that speaks to your intended audience: Non-Genealogists! Most people get resistance and eye-rolling to hearing about their genealogy because they want to share the way they like to share, not the way a non-genealogist would be able to appreciate. Plus, video is the perfect tool for sharing online through social media – and that’s where your family is hanging out!
What’s your biggest piece of advice to genealogists in terms of organizing their research?
Do it as you go. And whatever method you choose to use to organize your stuff, do it consistently!
Do you have a dedicated space in your home for doing genealogy research? What’s it like?
I have a separate office in our home that is devoted to genealogy and all the roles that genealogy plays in my life, personally and professionally with Genealogy Gems. It’s comfy, carpeted (which I need for podcasting), features a bright sunny window, a wall of book shelves and a walk-in closet. Most importantly, it’s decorated with anything and everything that inspires me and makes me happy. I spend too much time in there to not make it a haven.
I love the idea of BSO time: scheduled time where you explore the bright shiny objects you found along the way. What a great way to keep from being distracted. I’m also inspired to use video to share family stories. That’s an excellent idea.
Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your insights!