Do-over, go-over or just keep going?

January 1 is the most popular time for fresh starts. Let’s not discuss how many of them falter later, shall we? Thomas MacEntee has updated his immensely popular 13-week Genealogy Do-Over to make it a year-long effort, complete with a workbook to keep participants on track month to month. I tried a couple of times last year to follow his excellent strategies for my own research, but got sidetracked by work, gardening, and a reluctance to actually put aside over 10 years of admittedly haphazard findings.

What finally got me focused was the Progen Study group I took part in for several months starting in August. The rigorous exercises examining source attributes and crafting citations sent me back to my research with determination to re-examine each source and data point critically and thoroughly. It’s going to take a while: of my 414 current sources, I have checked and fixed 28. In this process, I throw out a few, but sometimes add new ones.

While working on this since September, I realized that a go-over, not a do-over, would suit me best this year. Thomas allows for, and even encourages, that approach in his topics for each section of the program, and in his workbook. So, not exactly a fresh start for me, but a continuation of an organized go-over.

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The best kind of homework

I just found an excellent post by Amie Bowser Tennant on 6 Things to Do When Your Family History is “Done”, ideas that would be quite worthwhile even if you don’t consider yours “done.” The first suggestion is to create an accurate source citation for each fact in your history. I have embarked on this task very recently, as an outcome of participating in a ProGen study group working through Tom Jones’ book Mastering Genealogical Proof. Each chapter was discussed in detail along with the exercises in the book and specific tasks set by the discussion leader – lots of homework! Several assignments required us to work with research questions from our own family history, creating citations for the sources we already had or found anew. My genealogy software, Reunion, contains a hodge-podge of source references I have accumulated over the years. It is my goal to examine all 400+ sources, evaluate their quality, and document them properly.

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Old TV series worth watching

As so often happens, a tip from one genealogy blogger leads me to an excellent idea from another. In this case it was Dear Myrtle recommending a post by The Organized Genealogist, who pointed out some useful handouts related to a vintage TV series from BYUTV. I’ve seen the handouts before and noted their usefulness, but this time I discovered and sampled the TV episodes themselves. If you accept that they are at least 15 years old, they are still worth watching, as reminders of what we can be doing and inspiration to keep going. They are short enough (about 25 minutes each) and well produced, including interviews with notables such as photo expert Maureen Taylor.


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Dealing with Old Technology

On rainy days in summer I turn to the thousands of family photos I have and work on sorting, filing, and yes, even culling. My objective is to create a catalog of pictures that are mostly identified as to time, place, and the people in them. This collection derives mostly from my mother and grandmother, including many sent to my grandmother from her relatives in England, covering more than 100 years. With my mother’s help, most are sorted into decades, many people are named and we’ve even taken best guesses at locations. 

My most recent effort with this took me into the 1980s with a box of mini photo disks (example pictured). These were briefly popular, but eventually disappeared from the consumer market because they were awkward to process and produced poor quality prints. The disks I have were not stored with their prints (that would be too easy) and it’s very tempting to just dump them. After all, if the prints turn up in the collection, they won’t be very good, and getting new prints made would be very expensive. However, as the steward of the collection, I try to exercise due diligence. My light table that I use for slides wasn’t good enough, so I turned to YouTube and found a useful video on how to use an iPad as light table. With this setup, I can get a good digital photo of the disk with my iPhone and invert it in Photoshop to see the positive images. This gives me enough information to identify the images and decide if they are worth keeping. 

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A guide to selecting records

I have amassed many more guides and charts than I can ever use, but I am always willing to try another of either type if looks helpful. In my continuing efforts to learn more about doing genealogy research properly, I was browsing the Brigham Young University site for online courses and came across their collection of guides and charts, including an excellent Record Selection Guide. It’s a bit dated (no references at all to online sources), but a very comprehensive organized list of types of records. The guide’s premise is that “your research objective is clearly defined” and offers categories of sources ranging from vital records to yearbooks. 

With a helpful glossary at the back, this is an excellent guide for anyone starting out in genealogy, but I am going to use it as I progress through Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Do-Over. Yes, I’m really doing it this time!

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It’s catch up time!

Summer weather is finally here and my day job hours have become sensible again, so I can turn to catching up on the genealogy tasks I have put aside for months. I missed most of not one, but two, rounds of Thomas MacEntee’s Do-Over, but fortunately he is encouraging a third round, so there is lots of support for late starters like myself. I had a bit of a start on several parts of the do-over methodology since my initial effort last January. I waffled on the question of whether to completely set aside my database and start a new one, then spent some time exploring the software (Reunion) to see if I could easily work with more than one database (my old family file and a new one). This is important to me because I want to have a separate database, or possibly several, for my one-name study as well. It turns out that I can easily use multiple files and can even drag and drop sources from one to another.

Still to be dealt with: clearing physical work space for the do-over and the one-name study. I have a small office with every available surface covered and much of the floor piled with genealogy-related stuff. I won’t let that hold me back, though. I already spent most of a day last weekend on the one-name study. More on that in a future post.

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Do-Over Week 2: I’m still setting aside and sorting

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The Genealogy Do-Over is into its second week, but I am still doing part of the first week preparation tasks. I am setting aside the database I have lived with for years to start building it again, but as I’ve said previously, I’m not ditching the hundreds of sources I have accumulated, as many are going to be relevant. I’m prepared to look at each with fresh eyes and to create proper citations, but if they are legitimate sources, I see no reason to throw them away, particularly if they are certificates I have paid for. But that means I have to have a reasonable idea of what they are and where they are.

For the individual digital files, that was pretty easy. I had a Genealogy Inbox folder that needed attention, but I already had folders named for surnames and places, so anything from the Inbox that related to specific family names or locations was quickly filed. I didn’t undertake to rename files at this stage. Then I tackled my Evernote files.

I am a huge fan of Evernote and have been using it for everything, both personal and business, for years. I am approaching 10,000 notes in Evernote, within a finely tuned set of Notebooks, and making heavy use of tags. However, here too I had the “inbox” problem. A while ago, I had one notebook for genealogy and used tags for each surname and for places. I found this didn’t give me the flexibility I wanted, so I switched to using a notebook for each name within a stack called Genealogy. I could still use tags for notes that related to more than one surname, or for categories such as birth, death, etc. I spent some time reorganizing then, but left over 1000 notes in a genealogy Inbox notebook, truly a miscellaneous pile.

As I went through this one, I started to add to one of the tools I am determined to use in this do-over effort, a research toolbox. Thanks again to Thomas MacEntee, I didn’t have to start this from scratch. Many of the notes I am processing are links to items that fit nicely into the toolbox, such as courses, location records, maps, and so on. Once they’re in the toolbox, I delete them from Evernote. For my genealogy notes, I use Evernote as just a holding area, until I can process them and relocate them in their permanent home.

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Do-Over Week 1: Getting Ready

Setting aside what I’ve done so far in ten years of researching my family connections is only the first part of Week 1 of this genealogy do-over. The next step is to prepare for research by figuring out what tools and methods to use. A research log is an obvious necessity, something I have used in various formats over the years, but never consistently. There are dozens of examples available online, but the one I like and have adapted is from Thomas MacEntee, prime mover of the do-over.

Another useful tool, especially as a reminder of the big picture is Mark Tucker’s Genealogy Research Process Map

The third tool is a map of my own. I have seen various checklists to apply to research on individuals, so I wanted something concise that would help me cover all of the significant avenues I could explore for each person in my tree. Here are the top level categories that came to me for a first draft. What have I missed?



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Do-Over Week 1: Setting Aside

Well, I asked for it, and it arrived in my inbox today the topics for the first week of Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Do-Over. They are simple enough, but oh so hard to contemplate. The first step is to set aside previous research. This will involve different things, depending on where one’s research exists. For me, that means several formats and locations:

• my database in Reunion

• my digital files on Dropbox, including scans of certificates, assorted notes, forms, and logs

• my scanned photos, managed in Aperture — these are family photos, but also more scans of documents, and even photos of microfilms

• hundreds of notes, references to online searches, to-do lists, and probably much more, in Evernote

• digitized interviews with family members dating back decades, stored in iTunes

• original photos and slides, some filed, but hundreds only roughly organized, in boxes around me in my office

• paper files, including more notes(!), certificates, diaries, letters, etc. — these are also mostly filed, but there are some scary piles as well

Whew! The main reason for “setting aside” is to avoid accepting previous assumptions, carelessly applied sources, or facts unsupported by any research at all. As Thomas points out, that doesn’t mean throwing away valuable resources, such as certificates and other goodies. I’ve thought a lot about how to approach this because I know that many of the sources I’ve collected have citations that are close enough to be fixable to the standard I am after. I started the fixing work earlier this year and, along the way, I developed a good workflow for capturing new sources and their citation information. I won’t ditch that work, but I need to look at each discovery anew.

What I will do is create a brand new database in Reunion. I have resisted this idea because I hate retyping anything, but it seems like the best option if I am to commit to this do-over.

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My Golden Rules for the Genealogy Do-Over

It’s not surprising that Thomas MacEntee’s proposed Genealogy Do-Over has been popular with hundreds of people, even before we get going. As we approach the start in the new year, he has posted some Golden Rules, both his own and those of blogger Alona Tester. I don’t disagree with either list; in fact, they are excellent reminders of how we should be thinking about this project, and our research generally.

So here are my own Golden Rules for the coming year and the many hours I see it taking to rebuild all of my family tree:

1. Go slowly and savour each discovery. I remember the thrill I have had in the past with each nugget of information I uncovered. I think there will be moments like that ahead of me and I want to appreciate them.

2. Fresh thinking requires a fresh mind. I need to get enough sleep and take enough walks in the woods to let my brain be creative. Sitting at the computer alone is not going to cut it.

3. People before things, living before dead. I use this mantra when I need to prioritize just about anything. The people in my life, in this project, and in the wider world, are more important than papers, certificates and even books. And the living people and pets around me deserve my time and attention every day. I need to keep a healthy balance between working the project and living my life. 

That’s it! What’s next, Thomas?

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