It’s natural to ask about questions about organizing (your genealogy or anything else) that start with the word “should.” Should I organize my documents this way or that way? Should I store things here or there? Should I focus on this or that?
When I try to answer a question that starts with should, the answer is almost always, “It depends.” Because it’s all about what will work for you.
I encourage my clients (and anyone else who will listen to me) to let go of the word should. And to also let go of asking questions that start with, “What’s the right way to…” or What’s the best way to….”
Because here’s the thing: I can’t tell you what you should do. Only you know what’s right for you. It can be much more beneficial to think in terms of what you’d like to do, or what you think will work best for you, rather than what you should do. Especially when it comes to organizing your genealogy research, the thing you should do (in my opinion) is the thing that works well for you and that you can keep up.
- Maybe you’ve always heard that you should store your paper documents in binders, but you have trouble keeping up with that. Let go of that should and consider using file folders or scanning your documents.
- Maybe you think you should print every document for the sake of posterity but you’re overrun with unfiled paper. You can let go of that should, particularly if your electronic documents are already organized.
- Conversely, maybe you’ve heard you should scan every bit of paper and store files electronically, but you’re overwhelmed by the prospect. Bye bye, should. You can let your paper files be sufficient. Or just start storing new files electronically and leaving your papers unscanned.
- Maybe you’re told you should keep a research log, but you just can’t get yourself to do it. A research log can be hugely beneficial. But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have one just because you think you should.
In other words, set yourself up for success and do what works for you. Decide what your priorities are (accessibility for you, accessibility for others, ease of use, etc.) and focus your organizing systems on those priorities. Don’t do something just because someone told you you should if it doesn’t seem like it will work for you.
All that said, there are some genealogy shoulds that I think you should pay attention to:
- You should cite your sources so you can find them again and know where your facts came from (but you don’t have to cite them perfectly if that’s getting in the way of citing them at all).
- You should back up your electronic data in case of a crash. (I use an external hard drive and automated cloud storage.)
Genealogy is supposed to be fun. Don’t let the shoulds drag you down. Make your own choices and own them. And keep yourself open to new ways of doing things. (See what I did there? I told you all sorts of things I think you should do, without using that word. Take what works for you and let go of the rest.)
[I initially published this post on May 17, 2016 with a different title. I came across it on my blog recently and liked the message so much I wanted to share it again for newer readers.]