31 August 2012

Stop Collaborate and Listen

One of the worst things about an unorganised life is the feeling that you are always a dollar short and a day behind. You try to keep up, but it just slips away. How many birthdays have you forgotten? How many anniversaries? Do you find yourself wishing the family would stop adding new relatives before you get through the old ones? Despite your status as family historian, do family reunions, weddings and funerals feel more like a get together with strangers than a meeting of well-worn relations? Have you dug at the roots for so long, you have no idea the color of the leaves? I have said on many occasions that this is not about you and that you will eventually need the help (and social camaraderie) of others. As we continue to get you organised, we must talk about organising your correspondence. How do you keep up with your inquiries? Your connections to new family? Your continuing connections to old family? New unrelated friends that share your passion for genealogy? Societies, libraries, cemeteries and other repositories for research and the people that run them?

My system
I have said before I'm a fan of FranklinCovey. One of the products I use is their Forms Wizard. It has the ability to print to the sizes of their planners or full page for filing. Admittedly, I keep these as digital files mostly and there are other similar options online. But I got used to this one years ago and found a way to make it work for me. The forms wizard has many different organisational templates for different projects. For correspondence, I use Contact Log, Future Planning, Information Record, Party Planner, and Special Days.

Ever forget a conversation as soon as you hang up the phone?
This can make sure you keep the promise you just made. 
Contact Log is just that. It's a page of name, number and notes. When I'm calling someone or somewhere that I use infrequently (or just this once) I use this form. It's a neat place to keep track of what I've done for the day or week. I tend to keep this one digital rather than print out pages and pages of conversation I may only reference once. (Side personal note: I find this a good one for job hunting or cold-calling when you're going to get a lot of no's before you get one yes).

Perfect for adding notes that need to be placed into the
tree later. No "hold on, Myrtle, while I open my tree app
and write down what you're saying. Put it here and then
update when you get off the phone!
If I plan to use a person or source more frequently, they get an Information Record. This has their name, address, phone numbers, emails....... any way to contact them. Underneath is just a straight page of note taking space. There's a page two that can be printed as well that is just more note space. It has a column for the date, the type of contact (mail, email or phone? inquiry or touch-base?). Space for notes and a column for follow-up (add a date to get back to them and add a check when you have). I like to use this one for cemeteries and libraries that I call or mail for information. I add the name of the person I'm in contact with and/or who is in charge of records. Every conversation we have is added to this form so that I know where to find everything we've discussed. I also use this for companies I deal with when I have issues. If a company tries to give me the run around, I can pull this page and say, "No, I talked to Judith on Tuesday the 3rd and she said that I'd have my refund on the following Monday." I don't like hunting for loose pieces of paper on anything.

I do print this one out and keep them in 3-ring binders. That's another reason I like the forms wizard, it's already formatted for hole-punches so it can be added to binders. I have one binder for companies, one for family and friends, one for my business use. I separate with alphabet tabs and sort by surnames. I use this for all my calls to family whether it's a "how you doin'" or a "can you send me photos of grandpa?" It's all in one place and referenced during our call. I can also see the last time I spoke to them and if it's been a while, pick up the phone during my down-time. If it's family I've connected to via Ancestry Member Trees or people I use for their expertise, I add personal info here for when I contact them. "How's your wife, Martha? And the boys? Back in school yet? Did you get that new job/car? How did your surgery go?" I can't remember everything off the top of my head. Having it in one place keeps me from forgetting the niceties that make life fun.

If you add the dates as you learn them, you'll stop
forgetting those important times when you can be
most connected to your family.
Only difference between the Special Days form and the Future Planning form is that the future form has a column for date. So that if a cousin sends me a save the date for May 2013, I can write it down on the future planner and remember to add it to my calendar when I buy that year's edition.

Special Days is just that. It's a clean format for adding birthdays and anniversaries to remember yearly. I have a fancy wall edition with flowers and butterflies that looks pretty and really is as much for art as for reminding me to send a card. The wall one has dates for deceased relatives and I leave them there rather than mar the image and cross them out (I add a small note of death date above their birth). That wall calendar is an heirloom piece. This file is a functional piece. I remove deceased relatives so that I never forget and send a card to a distant cousin that is no longer with us. I order them by date rather than person so that I can keep them right and send cards a week in advance. If I can call, I call within a day before or after and add the conversation to my Information file where I've also noted I sent a card. (If I go to call and realise I didn't send a card, I make an apology rather than ask if they liked their gift). This is all to help me make sure my family feels special and I feel in control. They don't see the man behind the curtain. All they see is the powerful Wizard of Oz. Larger than life and always there for them.

Page one of the Party planner puts the guest list front and center.

Page 2 of the Party planner is a to-do list, grocery list and don't forget list in one place. NO LOOSE PAPER!
This one is my favorite. One place for all your info on a party, reunion or special project. Who's invited. Who's bringing what. AND follow up!!! Did I send them a thank you for coming? Did I contact those not able to come? I use this for my reunions. Those that came, get a thank you note or card. Those that didn't get a copy of photos taken sent to them (all labelled of course!) or the link to the online album. If we're doing potluck, I use the Assignment category to know that we've got everything covered. The backside breaks it down to what is needed, where I can find it, and when I've confirmed it's bought and ready to go. Want cousin Joe to bring his family albums? Write it in the what to buy area. In preparations, make sure to note calling him before the party to make sure he's got it ready and confirm the night before in the completion column. If you call and he's decided he can't bring them, you know now rather than when he arrives and you've already prepared to get copies (or told your auntie all about it and now she's pissed she can't get copies before heading home).

You'll notice it says party, but I said "special project". What kind of special project could you need this file for? Well, Gail, a good friend of mine, is currently working with one of her local cemeteries to do a clean-up of old stones. This planner would be perfect for that project. You would know who was coming and who you asked but was unavailable. You could list needed supplies and make sure you have them before the big day. You'll know who's in charge of bringing what, doing what, preparing what. And after all is said and done, you take that record home and fill out thank you cards for all their hard work. As I always say "Do it NOW". So no later than the day after, you should sit down with a stack of cards and write out your thank yous. They should be in the mail that same day so that they promptly arrive and people know you truly appreciate their help. * I promise, Gail, I will cover this in greater detail later, but thought it was a great add-in for my organise series*

I keep this separate from my family files because this isn't just about family. This is an on-going action system. Many of the things I learn while talking to family will be saved to my tree and added to my files, but many things will not. Having them in a localised place helps me keep track of important things that are happening now. My family files are for important things that happened then. I find this requires to separate systems. I love the contact and information pages for people as well as companies. You will have to deal with people unrelated to you that will never be in your family file. You may need to talk to them more than once. If you're like me, without a system in place, you'll forget what day it is. You'll forget names unless you talk to that person frequently. And God forbid you need to remember what you're job is at the next society meeting without writing it down......... was I in charge of refreshments or handouts this time?

Your to-do
Your system should be chugging along by now. You've been working and fine-tuning your files to make sense for you. You've kept your workspace clear. You've started the mantra of "Do it NOW" and have made headway on that pile of nonsense that used to clutter your life. You're working on your end-game and setting up your plan for where your research goes when you're gone and making sure the system will make sense for them. This week, let's work on those living connections. Start some kind of system (whether it's a detailed one like mine or more laid back) to ensure you remember those special days. Continue your plans for getting a reunion started by setting up a localised place for all the information related to it. Make a file for correspondence with companies, libraries, cemeteries and other repositories that you plan to deal with frequently. Learn the name of the person who could most help you and keep a log of your conversations. And for goodness sake, get into the habit of sending a thank-you note for their work! Thank them for answering your questions. Thank them for sending your info. Thank them for taking time to teach you how to use the projector. Thank your family for coming to your party. Thank your aunt for providing her photos or stories. Do it formally with a card whenever you can. Never let a week pass without thanking someone for doing something!

And since we are getting on to the living this week, learn what you can do to give back. Make this the week you pick a successor. Or the week you give serious thought to their training now. Get into the habit of sending birthday and anniversary cards early rather than late. Call those relatives you haven't spoken to in a while. Write to those new connections you've not yet introduced yourself. (Your next best friend could be an email away!). Don't let Facebook be the only contact you have to your relatives and friends. Make a point to meet in person with those nearest you. Plan a trip to see those farthest. Take a look at local cemeteries and historical locations and see if you can help save them from disrepair. Get in touch with the living while they still live.

And write it all down while you still live.

25 August 2012

Happy Happy Birthday, Baby

Keeping Promises

You're a good person, right? You work hard at your job. You do your best to be honest with people. You love your family and try to do all you can to show it to them. You're a good citizen that follows the law. In short, you try to play the game of Life fairly.

My fiance running drills with his amateur American football team in England.

Why must you lie like that?


I have no problem with someone who claims genealogy as a hobby. Some people decided long ago that stories and photos and reunions were more their thing than encyclopedias and microfiche and land grants. More power to you. But there is an insidious underworld of amateurs who call themselves "casual researchers" or "casual hobbyists" that are setting terrible examples for new family historians and the next generation researcher. These "casualists" are so unconcerned with the facts of their tree that they copy anything that "makes sense" to them onto their online work. They add photos willy-nilly to the wrong people just as often as they get them on the right people. They may look at records, but stick solely to online information and usually don't look past the name and age of the person. They spend most of their time scouring the web for free resources and volunteer groups that will find them the information at no cost (all the while forgetting the old maxim "you get what you pay for"). They don't care about the next generation, so any items and documents they have in their possession are usually in an unorganised mess, usually a box or shelf, that "makes sense" to them. If another relative becomes interested in genealogy and takes up with this sort of person's "research", they'll either continue with the incorrect information or spend the crucial first years of their new hobby learning how to fix mistakes (if they don't just ignore the work because they can't make heads or tails of it). In short, these people LIE and perpetuate the LIES of others.

My fiance lives in England. He coaches in an American football league. This league has fields, teams, uniforms, referees, playoffs....... all that the professional league would have (outside of sponsors and salaries). They follow all the rules. They spend their weekends drilling to make sure they've got the game down before facing another team. The coaches are selected based on their experience and willingness to teach others without compensation. These guys get up every Saturday of every week and play for fun, but they take it as seriously as if they were getting paid. Because it matters to them, they work hard at it. Many of these young men also play backyard football when at a family picnic or partying with friends. No uniforms, no real field, no referees telling them when they are wrong. Despite the laid-back attitude of these games, they play with rules. The same rules. They have a scrimmage line and somewhere marked off for the goal lines. Without a referee, each player calls out a rule-breaker. The offender doesn't cry about it. He doesn't call his friends bullies for pointing out he stepped out of bounds. He takes the ribbing for throwing for an interception. He knows that each person there has no ill-will specifically for him and has made a few mistakes in their day too. He just enjoys playing the game.

What does this have to do with you, genealogy, and organisation? Everything has rules. Anything that is truly organised, from your research to your kitchen cabinets, follows a set of rules. They must be easily accessible. They must be found in the most logical place. They must be continually maintained to the standard you have set. Genealogy has rules. All facts listed for a person must agree. If they disagree, they must agree to such an extent as to make any differences moot (Thomas on one record vs. Tommy on another as long as the rest of the document matches, for example, isn't enough of a disagreement to exclude either document as fact. Children born after the mother's confirmed death date, however, is so far-fetched that it cannot be a fact). They must be related by blood, marriage, adoption or household. (An exception to this one is a town tree where it traces all the families in a town whether they intermarry or not. But why would you add random floating people to your personal family tree when they don't connect at all?)

Rules aren't there to ruin your day. They are usually made to guide new people to the easiest, honest way to play the game. They are promises that offer a reward for keeping them. If I'm playing football, I promise that if I have the ball, I will run to the assigned marker for a reward (6 points) as long as I stay on the playing field. If I run off the field, I broke my promise and my penalty is I'm down. Let's expand our metaphors here. If I drive a car, I promise to drive at the posted speed. If I break that promise, I could be caught and ticketed. Of course, my insurance company may give me a discount if I do keep safe on the road. If I diet, I promise to eat right and exercise. If I am lying to myself, I don't lose weight. When I follow through, I lose weight, feel better about myself and people compliment my appearance. If I hire into a company, I promise to follow their rules, show up to work on time, and represent the company as they wish to be represented. If I fail to do so, I am fired. If I meet or exceed their rules, I get raises and promotions. When I play Monopoly with my 8 year old niece, I promise to play the game by rules she can understand and follow so she has a fair chance to win. If I cheat, I ruin the trust my niece has in me. If I play fairly, she learns that win or lose the game is the goal and has fun bonding with me. Any hobby, game, job, sport, etc. has these rules or promises and their consequences of both reward and punishment.

You'll notice some of those examples have no real referee. You follow the rules without anyone but yourself to catch you. Organisation is one of those "all you" scenarios. There are so many books, blogs, videos and so on that deal with how to organise. They tell you their system and you try to follow along with it. Sometimes they work and you stick with it. Most of the time you don't and you feel like you're just not an organised person. You'll notice that in my entire series, I've not just told you how to do it. I've suggested things, gave you an exercise. But most of the time, this is about you finding your way. It has to feel right to you and make sense to you. It has to be a promise you can keep.

And this is where the "casualists" fail. They don't keep promises to themselves or their family. When you take up the mantle of Family Historian, you make that unspoken promise to get it right. You promise to show your love for family by getting their story right. You promise to show your love for your children by leaving them a legacy they can show with pride. You promise yourself that the hours, months, and years that you spend on this hobby will not be wasted and forgotten. Everyday, the casual amateur lies to themselves and their family. They don't follow the simple rules (heck, half the time they don't even learn them). They waste their time from start to finish. And if any of their family tries to seriously use their research, they waste that person's time as well. In my family, I have the serious researcher (yes, besides me) all the way to the casual amateur and anything in between. Those amateurs drive me batty. They hand me their years of research and I pick it apart for the facts. Usually I only add the living info they have that directly relates to them as everything else is a mess and incorrect. What do I get in return? They're mad because I didn't use their research. They KNOW their great grandmother was a Cherokee. Well, she's my great aunt and no she's not. How do I know? I have the records. They have a rumor and a pair of moccasins bought at a gift shop in Oklahoma in the 80's during a family road trip. They KNOW that they're related to royalty. I've not found that to be true. They find this surprising since it's all over the internet. Ugh.

The only thing that bothers me more than their inability to use their critical thinking skills is their organisation. When I say they hand me their research, I mean I get a box or a folder that is random bits of paper. I get albums with photos in no particular order. Most of their research notes aren't in any sort of readable handwriting. Half the time, they can't even decipher it for me. There are no conclusions! No sort of timeline to explain how they know these records are for this relative. I have newspaper clippings of no discernible worth that describe events but haven't been placed in an order that paints a history. I now have to organise their research to use their research to prove their research. Again, Ugh.

This week's to-do
Last week I asked you to visualise your end-game. This week, I want you to make the promise to follow through. Set yourself and your heirs up for success. As you file your records, read the whole document to get the most out of it. Try to piece together the story of your ancestor's life as you go so that new clues will jump out at you now rather than later. Set yourself up a maintenance schedule and keep it as you would any promise.

My schedule:
Daily- 30 min. prior to research, I review my topic. I pull any files on the person or group I'm working with and read my notes. Since I work daily, this is usually just me making sure of where I left off from yesterday. If you are less frequently researching you want to review so you don't double your research (or the relatives in your tree). Plus a new day means new eyes. Reviewing your work may make something jump out at you. I also use the last 30 min. of my day to file my research and clear off my desk. (Are you still keeping up with your clean workspace task?)

Weekly- I digitise my research log (I accept my handwriting is horrendous, so I type up my notes just in case I need to give a copy to someone else). Review my plan for the next week (am I continuing with the surname or am I bored and need a new task to refresh?). I make a list of any supplies needed and make a plan to get to the store before I run out. (I use pencils like they are going out of style and try to bulk up during the Back-to-school season when they are cheapest). I use my Sunday as a refresh day to visit my dad and just "chill". But before I leave the house, I reply to messages from relatives, send emails or letters, schedule lunch dates with cousins if possible, continue with plans for reunions or get-togethers.... I use Tuesdays for any phone calls to businesses and offices, because Monday can be a hectic day for them. This way I've given them time to get over the weekend. I try to schedule a day during the week to write my blog, but this is the one promise I break too frequently. Since I often get new ideas or thoughts during the week, sometimes my blog can be written and I need to edit (like this week) or writer's block is waiting for an idea to come into view....... end result is a delayed post while I work through it. (I really have to get better at this one. If for no reason but my own pride).

Monthly- Review and renew all backups. I try to open the files to make sure that data loss hasn't occurred and save any new info or update a file. I keep up with technology changes so that my files won't be on the wrong format with a new computer (anyone ever forget to transfer their floppies to CDs only to have their old computer die and the new one not have a floppy drive?). I also have a once a month review of my living relatives. I mail those I don't talk to more often, confirm birthdays and anniversaries for the month and get in touch with new relatives found via my tree connections. I check over my monthly budget and plan the next month's expenses. I have a list of records I want to order and how much they cost. As my budget allows, I check them off the list and get them ordered. I also decide if I'm going to renew a monthly subscription at this time or if I'm going to switch subscriptions or save the money for the month.

Quarterly- I touch everything in my research once very 3 months. I review my current conclusions (what I claim to know about my relatives; where I lose them; their migration, military service; where the line ends with no progeny....). I look at my brick walls and unidentified photos to see if I've learned something new as well as to put them to the front of my thoughts. I also review my research plan and gauge my progress towards writing my book or planning my yearly reunion and adjust as necessary. I also choose this time to review my experience. If I feel there is something new to learn, I set up a schedule for the next quarter that has days to read new books, attend classes, or watch videos about the new topic. I also take this time to review the basics of searches, terms and conditions of websites and organisations I use in my research, and any part of history that I learned a long time ago but is now at the forefront of my research. I may know about the Revolutionary War, but reading up on the details may help with my current effort to find records dealing with my Patriot (or Loyalist) ancestors. And having done this for so long, even I can sometimes forget the simplest ways to accomplish a task....... before I could write my series on organisation, I had to first remember what it was like to be disorganised and how I fixed that. It had been so long, I didn't remember the first steps on the road.
This sort of schedule may be too intense for you. Or it may leave out things you want to cover. Point is this week you need to make a serious commitment to your research and your system by making a schedule. A rotating to-do list that you keep up with so that nothing ever gets out of hand again. Don't be a "casualist", be a hobbyist. Promise to do it right. Write it on a calendar if it helps. Be consistent. If you pick Wednesday to do all your filing (and I will say filing is best done daily, but it's your system), actually file on Wednesday. Police yourself since no one else can. Keep your promises.

Or keep lying to yourself.

17 August 2012

This Has Never Been About You

I want you to take a serious minute today and ask yourself what your end-game is with genealogy. I'm a firm believer in "a tree is never done", but you have a finite amount of time to research. When will the end of your journey come? Will you research until you die? Until arthritis robs you of your hands? Until your memory fails you? Until you are killed in a freak accident involving a bicycle bell, a cream pie, 3 firemen and an undisclosed woodland creature? (It could happen).

Why should you worry about the end? Well, now I want you to ask yourself what major mysteries you'd like to solve in your tree. Are you working on them now? Are you planning trips to physical locations that will open up your research? Or are you working on the easier avenues of research online rather than going after what means the most to you? Why are you avoiding the work that will lead you to the greatest high a genealogist can have solving a truly difficult mystery? Do you really think you'll be around for it forever?

Maybe for you it's not about the mysteries, but the new living connections. How many have you made? Not just on member trees, but in emails, calls, and real life. Do you plan get-togethers on small and large scales? Do you know these new cousins like they were your oldest relatives or are they a user name on a screen? They aren't going to live forever either. Get out there and share! Get the facts of your life in as many people's hands as possible to ensure the research done after you are gone is accurate. Share yourself and create new memories for the next generation. Connect with the family that has this passion to trace your family history and celebrate the finds with the people most connected to your research.

And what about your research? I've already said to make the system work for you, but make it something anyone can pick up from where you leave off. Be honest, can they? Are you citing your sources? Are you organising your documents as you go? Does your system make sense? If you aren't sure, or want to test, find a relative willing to "play a game". Have them look at your system. Ask them to find a relative or group in your research and tell you what they learned. Task them to find something that interests them. Did they just stand there, horrified, unable to choose which bookshelf to rummage or pile to destroy? Did they give up frustrated that it made no sense how you decided to put Grandma with her second husband's family even though they are related to her first marriage? Or was it such an experience that they are now asking to learn more? (probably not that last one; I've tried this several times and while I've gotten compliments on how easy it was to find, they all leave as fast as their legs can carry them when I tell them they are done helping me.)

More than that, what happens to your research when you die? Will you donate it to a library or historical society? Which one? My family travels about a lot, to get my research in the right hands would require several copies to several societies in different locales specific to my family. Oh, maybe you plan to pass this info to someone else in the family. Okay, who? I would like to pass this down to my kids, but I don't have any. I could be killed in a car accident tonight so I really can't wait for kids to be born and grown enough to research. I have a plan now to pass it to my brother, but he has no interest in genealogy. He'd only save it for the next interested party. But who would that be? And how can I be sure their research style will be compatible with mine, not to mention reliable? I plan to make surname books that can be printed on demand from an online publisher for relatives wanting an interesting historical account of their family. By doing them on a specific surname, my relatives can choose what matters most to them. Unfortunately, writing a compelling book and gather facts for several generations in a logical order is an enormous undertaking. Without a plan of how I want that book to be, what I want to include, where I want to "stop" the edition, and if I want to periodically "update", the project may never get off the ground.

Your challenge this week

This week I want you to make your end plan. Where is your research going when you are gone? Pick one or all three, but make your plan. By always keeping this as your goal, you will find yourself keeping up with your research in a different way. You'll change from someone who's collecting names and dates into someone who's organising a history.

1. Pass on to your successor- If you plan to keep your research going into the next generation, you need to start looking for a successor as soon as possible. They'll start out as your assistant, so teach them how to use the tools available. Show them how to research using Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, Archives, MyHeritage. Make them a list of all the sites you use and your member ID/password for each. Note whether you are a pay member and when your renewal is. Write down customer service numbers so they can contact the company. Specifically state in your will that all your research, photos and heirlooms are to go to them so they can have legitimate claim upon your death. Task them with independent research on a person or line you aren't working on so they can practice and you can gauge their progress. Take them on trips to cemeteries and historical societies. Invite them to seminars and conferences. Make it fun! Do a bit of genealogy, then lunch, then a movie. Show them that your life (and subsequently theirs) isn't swallowed up in dust. WE know that's a lie, but let's not scare the young ones.

I had a woman tell me about a trip her son took to New England. Since he was going that way, she asked for some records and gave him a list of names she was researching. She told him exactly what she needed, or so she thought. He came back with information she had, information not related and the expectation of being paid for the copies he purchased. She had no problem reimbursing him, but she found herself wishing she had trained him better on how to research. In the end, he had asked the desk clerk for help and was led astray. While this may not be her successor, her son wasn't unused to research. He was just unused to genealogy. She has a daughter going overseas and again she hopes to get some help in research. A lesson was learned and she's being more explicit with her instructions. With your successor, that's what you have to be. You have to remember they don't know what you know. You are the one who will warn them against using unsourced information. You will show them the importance of consistent citation and organisation. You will encourage responsible and accurate research...... unless you are an unorganised mess that uses family trees to get past your brick walls in which case you will only compound the problem facing genealogists in an era of quick results. Don't ruin it for the rest of us! Take the time needed to train your new genealogist.

2. Donate to a library or historical society- Just like your successor, the society that gets your research should receive organised and searchable files. Your research will be available to hundreds of others (hopefully), so make it workable. Type up what you can so your handwriting doesn't need to be decifered. Type transcriptions for handwritten items and keep both together. Make copies if you plan to donate to several parties and organise them in boxes labelled for each party. Find out if they have a digital library and what format they prefer. Investigate their storage capability. If the storage closet that occasionally floods is where they'll keep your records, now is the time to start a movement for better storage and updated systems. Get involved in the preservation of records and help the community to raise funds for a crumbling library now before your records are in the mouldy basement next to the decayed books of yesteryear. And again, specifically will those copies to the societies so that your executor knows what to do with your research and gives legitimate claim to your property to the right people.

3. Write a book- Why not write your history down in a book? They make great gifts. Even people not into genealogy might want one to show to relatives or display for posterity. You can do it in chronological order. It can be a simple register of names and dates for further research. You can add photos (make sure to follow all copyright laws and get permission from owners for publication of photos you didn't create). Add stories and narratives from family (again ask for permission). Before you even number the pages of this book, you need to know what it's going to be about. How much you plan to include. My surname books will not include living members for privacy reasons. I plan to allow for publication of updates as family passes. This is something I would need a successor to accomplish, as I don't want to be in a constant state of republish. But this is the stuff you have to plan for. Your tree will always be growing, so waiting for it to be done to make your book will be interminable. Pick your stop point. Figure out how you want to publish. Will you use an online publisher? Is there a minimum number required to publish or is it on demand? Do you want someone to make a hand-crafted book? I saw a publisher on Etsy that will take old fabrics like clothes and blankets to make the paper that they print the books on.... how cool would it be to take that tattered baby blanket and make a family book out of it? And what about the cost: are you going to front the bill or do you expect family to chip in?

And remember to keep up with your clean workspace and your "pinch an inch" tasks as we go!

10 August 2012

Do It Now!!!!!

So how's your workspace doing? Has a week of a clean desktop helped you unwind and clear your head? Be honest with at least yourself, have you kept it clean? Good. So what's next? Oh yeah, that big pile of crap we cleared off of it. That'll take so much time that it'll be weeks before we see research again! Well, yeah, if you do it the wrong way.

As the old saying goes, "A journey begins with a single step." The only way to make the pile smaller is to go one page at a time. One hint at a time. One person at a time. It sounds daunting, but it doesn't have to be. You don't have to do it all at once. Let's think about this as a household chore. Having a laundry day makes sense for many, but I know some that have a "do laundry when there's enough for a load". It makes sense to wash dishes as the meal is finished, but I know some who wait til the dishwasher is full even if it takes a day or two. Some choose specific days (usually weekends) to clean their house, while others pick up as they go and have fewer days dedicated to deep cleaning. On the other hand, there are those who have piles of clothes, clean and dirty, scattered about the house. Their dishes are cleaned only before they use them and never make it to the cupboard. No room is ever clean, but they seem to always be in a state of cleaning.

Organising your genealogy can be the same way. You can pick one day a week or month to do all the "boring" stuff like digitising records and filing papers. You can do a little everyday and possibly have once a month or so that you clear out any unneeded files. Or you could be where many of you are probably right now: buried under piles of paper, drowning in gigabytes of data, watching the piles grow and no sense of order coming out of the chaos. You want to clean, but it's just so much work and all you get is another pile when you don't keep up with it!

In the end, how you organise is up to you. How you chose to make things work is up to you. The last post I told you about my system that works for me. It may not be right for everyone, but I don't care, it works for me. I want you to think about what broad organisation system will work for you. And then do it! Will you be paper or digital or a combination? Will you separate your photos or keep them with your documents? (I separate mine to keep them in archive safe boxes and out of the light, you may not) Will you have a box or a filing cabinet or a shelf? Will you use file folders or binders? How do you envision your organisational workspace. Write it down if you have to. Let the idea of it flow from you. I love Martha Stewart. I get her magazine and have found some great ideas for the look of my office space. When I first set it up, I had taken pictures of clean offices and cubbies for all sorts of projects (scrapbooking, classrooms, offices, craft rooms) and put them on a bulletin board. As I set myself up, I used that visual for my inspiration. I now have maps with dry erase laminate over the top for writing location notes while researching set up on one wall. I have my desk with my action file and my computer. My filing cabinet with surnames alphabetised and individual files listed behind their surname starting with my earliest known ancestor. I use a numbering system for each individual so that I can place them in order. I keep a sheet that is my register of all names in the front of the surname file (where I keep any group information like a list of books on my shelves that reference the family in general or notes not specific to any individual).

Now, I'll give you one tip: Separate by surname. Keep women under their maiden names, reference their file in their husband(s) file, but keep them by maiden name unless she is an in-law you don't plan to research. A woman may have more than one husband, so filing her under her married name could get complicated. She may not marry at all. If you stay consistent on how you file people, it will be easier to remember where to find them. The easiest way I've found to deal with women is by maiden name. Every surname you research should have it's own file drawer, box, cabinet, hard drive space, or whatever. Your broad stroke organisation is easiest by surname. No matter if a cousin marries a cousin on the other side or you're tracking your family and your spouses, surname filing is so intuitive I feel ashamed even having to mention it.

Today's challenge!
I know what you're thinking: "This has been all well and good, but what about this pile of crap near my workspace?" This week, you're going to make that mountain into molehills. Take a small pinch of your pile. (maybe a book you need to read, a stack of photos you need to scan and label, a list of relatives you need to call, or literally pinch 1 inch of papers and take those to your desk) That's today's work. Finish that bit if it takes a minute or an hour and then use any remaining time you have for your research. Tomorrow or your next research day, do it again. Don't think about how big the pile is or how much you need to do. Take that pinch and finish it. Every day remember to clear your workspace before you go to bed. If you pick up something you can't do anything with right now, figure out when you can. Do you need to go to a court house? Pick a day and make a folder. Write the court house on the folder and the day you chose on your calendar. As you organise, if you come across more things that need to go, add them to that folder. As the day nears, review your folder so you know what you need, what you have and what you want. Don't leave it for the day before, you never know what will happen in 24 hours. Prepare at least 3 days ahead.

Make your mantra this week: "Do It Now!" While we whittle away at your pile of chaos, don't go adding to it. If you find new documents, cite them and file them now. If you find new photos, label them and file them now. If you need to talk to a relative, call them or email them NOW. Plan for a get together NOW so you and your interviewee have time to prepare. Call the court house NOW to know their hours of operation and what restrictions they have on cameras and scanners. Log your research NOW rather than forget it later! Anything you can do right now, do it. If you can't do it now, make a calendar entry for when you can.

I can't tell you the number of times someone says "if I could just plan a reunion." DO IT. You may feel your life is too busy, but let me ask you, when will it slow down? When will there be enough time? Never. You have to make the time. Call relatives and enlist their help. Pick a day you're comfortable with and then break down tasks like getting a location and inviting family into monthly or weekly tasks so that it's not just "plan reunion" for a year and nothing gets done. A common habit for organised people is to take a large project and make it into several small time-sensitive projects. Do that. Make that pile of "to organise" into several smaller piles that are manageable daily. Make that list of "I should do" into smaller "to do today" lists that you tackle a little at a time. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Know there is a finish line, but just keep your mind on that next step. Just make it for one more step and then another. "Just one more step".

For this week, every time you think you should, or you have to, do something, just do it. Or make a solid plan for the day you can do it. And then follow through. Make yourself the promise to do what needs to be done.

Yesterday is gone, Tomorrow may not be, Today is all we have

03 August 2012

Organisation Is Not a Dirty Word

Stop what you're doing and look around you. Where are you? Are you at a clean desk with your research neatly filed? Do you have your correspondence up to date? Can I ask you for any part of your family history and you can put your hands on it in less than 30 seconds? If I tell you to get in the car right now and head to the library, are you prepared with a list of questions and resources you need to look for? Oh well, good. I guess that's the end of today's post, enjoy your weekend!

What did you say? Oh, you can't find the top of your desk? There's more loose paper and stacked notebooks than there is an orderly filing system? You can find anything on your research, but you will have to move a few boxes around and it's in a couple of places? You spend a day (or a week) scouring your papers to make a list for on-site research? And you still forget half of what you need? You've got a pile of duplicate records, because you can't remember ordering them?

You are not alone. In fact, this past week has made organisation the topic of discussion in many places. It's understandable. We're halfway through the year and summer is coming to an end. You may have recognised your lack of a system long before now, but you let it grow until your family is threatening a spot on "Hoarders" is in your future. Many people are in this same boat. I'm not, but I'm awesome. Actually, what's awesome is a book called "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey. If you haven't tried it, please do. I read that book once a year to refresh. The link takes you to the book on FranklinCovey's website. FranklinCovey is a company that Mr. Covey co-founded based on his book and the organisational principles of Benjamin Franklin. I not only read the book, I use their day planner. It works for me, it could work for you.... or it could not. In the end, how you handle your filing system is your own. Today I'm going to tell you about mine and, within the next couple of weeks, give you some tips to make yours. After that, you're on your own (or just come visit me in one of the genealogy groups I frequent).

My system
You know, I've actually covered my system before. Basically, I have a hybrid system. I'm a Nervous Nellie when it comes to backups and I have several. On my post on preserving photos, I covered my theories on backups and how many I have. I prefer to keep digital a lot of records I know I can find again like census records. I use citations on Ancestry to keep track of where to find records again by adding in sources from outside Ancestry's system. Census records are kept together by decade on my computer with a file name "State_County_Town_District_Page" format so that if I find a "new" record and start adding it, my computer will show in auto-fill the name and stop my duplicating it. I use paint to add a mark to each name on a document that I've added to an individual's profile so I know who I still need to work on in any given group. My paper filing system has a blue page that lists all photos, heirlooms and documents housed elsewhere. I keep all my photos together in archive boxes, so I just list which box and group # that person's photos are in. All digitised copies are noted on the blue page with proper citation. You don't need to see the documents and photos to know how I got my "facts", but you can when you need to. I have red pages for brick walls that lists all the places I've searched for information. "New" idea pops up, I check the page. If it's already on there, I save myself a goose chase. Not, time to dig deeper. Yellow pages are rare, but those are for my guesses. Rumors and possible hints that could be who I am looking for, but not proven. This helps me when I find supporting documents that may help to prove that link. It also helps whoever may take up my research to know that I have looked into those possible links and what my thoughts on them so far are.

I keep an action file that is on my desk (the only permanent item I allow to clutter the top) and use it daily. I use a notebook as part of the action file that has perforated pages for easy tear out. I log every search, every new hint. I take all the information down for the day, separate pages for each individual or family group. Those pages can be filed in my paper system when I put that search aside, or they can be transcribed to my digital files for permanent storage. If I plan to take this group of people to a physical location (cemetery, library, courthouse), they stay in the notebook. By using a notebook, nothing goes missing. By keeping the search focused on a specific surname or family group, I keep my wandering to a minimum. As I start on people I've researched before, I pull their file and add it to the action file log. I touch everything I have on them again so I know what I'm missing and what I have. If I am going anywhere (family reunion, out of town research, whatever) I grab that one folder and know I have all that I need for my trip. I am confident that if I told a complete stranger to pull up all the information on any relative of their choosing, they could find it all within minutes. They could read it and continue research without having to retrace my search steps.

I have a schedule of clean ups. My action file is digitised once a week. I check and update my backups once a month (sometimes sooner). I touch everything in my files once every three months. Also, I research almost every day, except Sunday. It's important to have a research-free day to keep your mind sharp. And this system took a lot of practice and work. Trial and error in the beginning and a deep understanding of how to keep myself motivated. I bring up Mr. Covey's book, because it helped me open the doors of organisation in all areas of my life. It's all about balance. Sometimes I fall, but I'm only human.

So how do you get started?
Getting organised is building a habit. I forget where, but I recall hearing that a habit takes almost 3 weeks to become second nature. So when I started writing this post, I decided to break it into a series to give you time to build the small steps into one big habit.

This week, I want you to clear a workspace. A place that is specifically set up for your research is essential. You want a comfortable chair, a flat writing space (or computer space), a file cabinet if you're a paper person, a hard drive if you are a digital person. You want somewhere you can find peace and quiet at some point in the day. Most picture a desk, but I have at least one friend who enjoys spreading out on the kitchen table with her laptop and notes. Of course, because it's also where her family eats, she has to keep it clean. She can't leave her research spread out everywhere and she can't allow her family to use the kitchen table as a drop off for their crap. That's what you need in a workspace: a clean surface to start. Grab a box or make a pile (or three) of your current mess, whatever you need to, but clean off the top of your space. After every research day, clean the top back off. Put away notes. File documents. Return calls and emails. Just as long as before you go to sleep, your space is clear. You'd be surprised how much clearer your mind feels too. As we continue to put things in a sensible order, it will be very tempting to leave it for tomorrow on the top of that desk. Don't. If anyone should know how uncertain tomorrow is, it's a genealogist. It's morbid, but my grandmother used to tell me that you didn't keep a clean house for you, you cleaned it so family didn't have to trip through garbage to find your body. Don't make them trip through garbage to find your research.

Add to this workspace your action notebook/file. Whatever you are working on, log it. I use a computer program from Covey for a day planner and notebook that makes it easy to search through and find my notes on any given day. This is where my paper journal goes when I'm doing my week clean-up. It's also capable of holding files, so I "print" to it. Agilix, One Note, Endnote..... there are many notetaking software options that will help keep it all in one place and searchable. Whether you keep it paper or digital, you need one place that you go to for your current research notes. Where have you been for searches, what you found, who you need to talk to next..... if you keep it in one place, you are less likely to lose it! If a relative calls/emails, log it here. You want to make a note to search something later? Write it here. You found something relating to a relative you aren't researching right now and don't want to wander away from your focus area? Write it here!!!!! Don't allow yourself to make loose notes. If you keep your workspace clean, this notebook should be the only thing on top (save for whatever documents you are currently on). You shouldn't have to hunt for a piece of paper to make a "quick note". Remember, "quick notes are quickly forgotten."

And make sure your notes are legible. Make sure it has all the information you'd ever need to know what you were talking about. Imagine you're writing it to a complete stranger who has no idea what you are talking about. It'll keep you from having half the "conversation" in your head and not writing down the important facts you'll need to pick up where you left off.

Next week, we're going to talk about your mountain of paperwork and how to turn it into molehills