You may well be familiar with professional genealogist Kenyatta D. Berry, a host of PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow. She has a new book out, The Family Tree Toolkit and when I heard her talking about it on the podcast Genealogy Happy Hour, I knew I wanted to interview her about she organizes her genealogy research. So here’s this month’s How They Do It interview. Enjoy!
How They Do It: Kenyatta D. Berry
How long have you been doing genealogy?
I have been doing genealogy research and writing for over 20 years.
What’s your favorite thing about being a genealogist?
I love helping people find their people especially descendants of enslaved individuals. Their reaction when I uncover and share some remarkable information about their family history gives me chills. It is my calling to help people uncover their family history and share their ancestors story. I have seen people literally change before my eyes on Genealogy Roadshow.
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to organizing your genealogy?
The biggest challenge is digitizing the research I have collected over the past twenty years. I have a closet full of binders and boxes of research from when I started doing genealogy and took field trips to my ancestral homelands.
What is your favorite technology tool for genealogy?
I like using Evernote to help organize research projects, stories and my family history. I also use Dropbox to share documents with clients and family members. I have created Dropbox folders for my maternal and paternal ancestors.
If you were starting out new as a genealogist what would you do differently?
I would have cited my sources, developed better research logs and started an organizational system from the beginning.
Do you keep a research log? If so, what format?
I keep a loose version of a “research log” in Evernote for projects. When I am doing enslaved genealogy research, all of my notes are handwritten. I am a visual person and I need to track the movement of enslaved and enslavers on a blank piece of paper. Once I have analyzed my notes, then I enter them into Evernote.
How do you keep track of clues or ideas for further research?
I use notebooks and small sheets of papers to keep track of clues or ideas for further research. I type the notes into Evernote and update as needed. Transferring the notes helps me work through any outstanding questions and organize my thoughts in a logical process.
How do you go about sharing your personal research with cousins or other interested parties?
I share my personal research with my family members via family stories, biographical sketches and documents on Dropbox.
What’s the most important thing you do to prepare for a research trip?
The most important thing is to know everything about the county including the resources available at the local repositories, courthouses and archives. Also, be nice to the court clerk because it goes a long way.
What’s your biggest piece of advice to genealogists in terms of organizing their research?
Create a system that works for you and don’t be afraid to try something new if something doesn’t work. We all learn differently and as your research expands you might need to alter your system for organizing research. There isn’t a right or wrong answer for organizing your research.
Do you have a dedicated space in your home for doing genealogy research? What’s it like?
I do not have a dedicated space in your home in my apartment because I live in a one-bedroom. My research is stored in closets, cabinets and a portion of my bookshelves are dedicated to genealogy books.
Do you have anything to add?
Develop your library of genealogy and historical resources based on your interests. This will help broaden your knowledge as you continue to uncover your ancestors place in history.
I can so relate to these responses, especially what Kenyatta said there being no right way to organize and that organization systems sometimes need to change. Also, as someone who keeps a very casual research log in Evernote, I was thrilled to read that Kenyatta also keep a loose version of a log there. For more information from Kenyatta, I encourage you to check out her book, The Family Tree Toolkit: A Comprehensive Guide to Uncovering Your Ancestry and Researching Genealogy.