While I was on vacation last week, I came across Genealogy Do-Over, a 13-week project developed by Thomas MacEntee, creator GeneaBloggers. The purpose of the project is to help those of us who need to hit the reset button on our genealogy methods. I have to say, this is something I have needed for a long time. The advice given in Genealogy Do-Over is based on Thomas’ own personal experiences as a genealogist. While I would like to think that after 15-years of genealogy research that I was more than a novice, I am sure there are many genealogy enthusiasts like me who never created good, solid habits for research. Over the years, I have taught myself through reading, conferences, and trial-and-error, and created my own unique methods. However, I know there must be a better way to ensure that I make the most of every hour I spend.
The series is in currently in week 6 but is set up in a way that anyone can jump in at any point. It’s self-paced and the great thing is you can download the materials into PDF format so it’s available when you need it.
For week 1, there are three topics: (1) Setting your current research aside (2) Preparing your research and (3) Establishing your best practices. I equate this to cleaning off the kitchen table when company comes to dinner. For many people, stopping research is the most difficult part because that is where all the fun is. However, personally, I am looking forward to not delving into another task until I have things under better control.
Topic 2, preparing for my research was another matter. Before we can begin to develop new habits, we have to understand what we do today, much of which is unconscious. It didn’t take much thought, however, for me to realize the following:
- I have a tendency to open up Family Tree Maker and just start searching. I do not always have a goal in mind.
- Instead of a planned research session, I usually do research when the mood strikes me.
- I do not have a set place for doing my research.
- My main tools are my laptop and Ancestry.com.
- I spend time repeating research because I don’t preview what I have already done or document where I have already looked. Many times, I find a record only to realize I already have it.
- I have not properly sourced all my information
- I have lots of information just sitting in boxes that has never been analyzed
During this project, all previous research is off-limits, so another task is putting away our current research materials. I spent a good part of today collecting all of my scattered research papers, books, and resources, and storing them in one location. My books and binders went on bookcase in my office.
The few organized folders went into a file box and all of my loose papers were dumped into a file box. All my digital files are on my computer and I just left them alone. I really wanted to organize, but what I am learning is that everything we do needs to be a planned task.
The 3rd task is to create a list of guidelines or best practices that I will use during my research. Thomas lists some of his favorites and there are other websites that can be used as a guideline. Just search for ‘genealogy best practices’ or ‘genealogy guidelines’. Here are some of my own, plus some borrowed from other resources:
- Find an organization method that is easy to follow. Look at what others have done and modify to meet your own needs. Lack of organization means you might miss an important piece of information because you don’t know where to find it.
- Create and maintain a data back-up system you can live with. Some people recommend monthly but if you have been updating your family tree quite heavily, you may want to back-up every day.
- Maintain a hard-copy of records, or if they are digitized, save to your computer or back-up system. Information on the Internet is known to disappear.
- Source every piece of information as soon as you enter it and rate it according to the Genealogical Standard Rating System.
- Use UPPER CASE when recording surnames. This prevents confusion when last names are similar to a first name (Like ANDREWS, THOMPSON, BRADY)
- Don’t assume all information is on-line. Only a small fraction of information has been digitized.
- Don’t assume there is a record for everything. Learn what records are available based on time and place.
- Don’t assume you found your ancestor, even if the name, place and time period are the same. Look for other collaborating evidence and don’t assume that because it is ‘close’ it must be the right person.
- Don’t share private information about living people.
- Question everything, even if it is from an ‘official document’. Information provided by a secondary source is not as valid as that provided by a primary source.
- Use other people’s research only as leads.
- As much as possible, visit the places your ancestors lived. Learn about the area and what their life may have been like. It gives you new perspective.
- Be a FAN member – Look not only to your direct ancestor but to F(riends), A(ssociates), and N(eighbors) to find information.
- Share your information with others. Yes, it seems like we are giving away our hard work but you never know who may have a piece of information you need. They can only find you if you make your family tree public
- Join societies in the areas where your ancestor’s lived.
- Talk to relatives and listen to their stories.
- Use unconventional resources – GOOGLE Books, web searches for ancestor’s name, Facebook, etc.
- Record information as it is. Don’t make assumptions about translations
- Study the evolution of your surname. Last names evolved over time and your family may have gone by a variation. Example from my family McWhorter –> McWaters –> McQuarters –> McQuatters
I’m exciting to be participating in this endeavor and will be sharing my progress in future posts. If you are interested in joining this project, go to Genealogy Do-Over and just jump in.