Wednesday, February 11, 2015

All in for Better Research

Well, it is already week 5 of the genealogy do-over. The topics this week are:
  • Building a Research Toolbox
  • Citing Sources

Friday, January 30, 2015

Weeks 3 and 4 in Do-Over Land

Learning new research skills

   Well this has been all about teaching an old dog new tricks. My learning curve has been very steep this month. But finally, the struggle to tweak my research habits has shown some success.   My old modus operandi for genealogy research was to pick a name or family from my family tree to research. I would use Google, Ancestry, Family Search and any other records place I could find. I usually kept track of the information I found but it was on sticky notes, spiral notebooks or just random pieces of paper. I have no idea how many times I would do a new search and then realize that months or years ago, I had already found the same information. It’s no wonder I had so many brick walls in my tree. All that information on paper and in digital files had no sources listed. I had no idea (without a lot of work) where I got each piece of data. That has been the one big change in this do-over adventure.
   To do this right I started with the work process that I developed in week 2.
  • Family Group Sheet
  • To-Do List
  • Research Log
  • Family Tree Entry

   In week 2, I filled Family Group Sheets for myself and my parents. From these sheets, I input my goals into the research log. The log I am using is an Excel spreadsheet developed by Thomas MacEntee the leader of this Genealogy Do-Over. This spreadsheet has tabs for a to-do list, research log and search attempts log. The great thing about this log is tweaking it for your own ease of use.

   I knew that I needed to set up a process to prevent doing the same searches over and over.  In order to get used to this way of working, I started with the goal of proving my date of birth and marriage. Using my birth certificate and marriage license, I input the information in the research log. This gave me some insights into what changes I could make to the spreadsheet to streamline the process.

  I also learned to thoroughly read all documents. I have looked at my birth certificate many times but I had missed some information on it.  An address that I always assumed was the hospital’s address was, in fact, my mother’s address at the time I was born. I grew up in the town I was born in but I never knew my parents had lived at that particular address. Of course, it wasn't a bombshell or anything but it did show the importance of reading all details without making assumptions.

Tracking Searches

   Entering my parent’s information took longer simply because there were more records. This is where I used Family Search and Ancestry to search for any records on them. These searches were important to learning the next step of Tracking Searches.

   Learning to track all your searches is hard to get used to but it can be invaluable. We all know our successful searches because we have new data to show for it. The unsuccessful searches are just as important. If a database is searched and it doesn't yield any results, the search and its parameters should be noted in the search results worksheet. It can be easy to do the same searches over and over without realizing the work is being duplicated.

  I have found that keeping track of my searches and citing all sources has improved my productivity. No more wasted time trying to find things I already knew. No more chasing bright shiny objects with nothing gained. I feel like I can focus and see over those brick walls a bit easier now.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over Week 2

Time to do a self- interview, family interviews and set research goals.

The Self-Interview

Self Interview

   I started by listing my facts, date of birth, marriage information etc. I discovered it is hard to just list facts about yourself and not expound on each detail until you've written a book. Instead of writing an autobiography, I decided to add to the details with snippets of personal information to make them more interesting. I thought of the information I would like to know about my ancestors. I have always wondered why families relocated, what drew them to a place, where they met their spouses and so on.
   If my descendants were to search future records, they would find that I moved to Colorado from Florida. From there to Kentucky, Michigan, Texas, back to Colorado then to Washington state. The records only show the different locations but not the back story. So in my new narrative, I will include information about each move. We can’t all be famous and have our life stories well known, but we can share a little piece of ourselves for future generations.

Interviewing family members

   It is very important to interview the older members of your family. They have stories that are impossible to find elsewhere. It is great to turn dry facts into a narrative. I am trying to motivate my son in law to interview his grandmother. She will be a wealth of information, family facts, and stories. It can be hard to make the time but it will be well worth it.
   In my case, there is no one left to interview about the past. I do, however, have three narratives that were done by other relatives regarding different parts of our family tree. I am using these to satisfy this step of the Do-Over. As with all family stories, it is necessary to do fact checking. One of these stories will be the focus of the next step. 

Research Goals

  It is important to set a goal in genealogical research. Establishing a goal and tracking your progress keeps your work on track. It is so easy to go off on a tangent and end up not having accomplished the work you needed to do. Once a goal is set, it is important to set incremental goals or deadlines in order to accomplish the main goal. This step of setting goals and the next steps in the following weeks are the areas I need to address the most. I have three goals and all of them are brick walls in my direct family line. By following this do-over, I hope to break down those walls.

   On to begin week 3...............

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over Week One

It has been an interesting first week of the Genealogy Do-Over. As I was starting to organize my digital files, my nine year old computer decided to call it quits. Problems had been cropping up but moving and merging files was too much for it, I guess. One new computer later and I am ready to begin.
There are three topics to work on this week. The following are the topics and the work I did on each one.

1.Set Previous Research Aside
The digital files are backed up and out of sight so that was the easy part, in my case. 
Now to tackle the paper files. These paper files go back to 1989. I found scraps of paper, sticky notes (no longer sticky), computer print outs, and several spiral notebooks. In looking through this mound of paper, I found the same research being done over and over.  I have found my biggest problem is not keeping track of my research.
At least I was organized enough to have everything filed in surname folders. Most of the paper was shredded and recycled. Various documents such as birth, death, marriage and other certificates will be in my new filing system. Folks in the Do-Over Facebook group have numerous ideas for filing systems, both digital and paper. I have found several ideas to fit my needs.

2. Preparing to Research

I had been using One Note to track my old research electronically. My notebook was really a mess. I decided to try Evernote after reading others suggestions and I am hooked. I am able to organize scanned documents and keep track of things better than I did in One Note. The tagging system alone is worth the switch.
After trying several genealogy programs over the years, I will stay with Roots Magic for my family tree. It works fine and after I upgraded, it suits my needs for now.
A more recent problem I have discovered is taking a spare 10 or 20 minutes to search surnames from my DNA matches. These searches weren't very productive and I wasn't confident of things I did find.
Taking care of this issue leads me to topic three.

3. Establishing Base Practices and Guidelines
  1. Schedule a specific time to do research.
  2. Have Evernote and Roots Magic open before starting.
  3. Establish goals on a research goal sheet.
  4. Always note all findings especially dead ends.
  5. Cite all sources in my new family tree.
Using these guidelines, will give me confidence in establishing my connection to ancestors. It will certainly make DNA research less harrowing.

Thanks to Thomas MacEntee and everyone on the Do-Over Facebook page for all the ideas and help.

Now on to Week Two!