My Genealogy Blueprint

My Genealogy Blueprint

Loose papers stored in a single locationI am mid-point into Week 1 of the Genealogy Do-Over, (GDO) a 13-week initiative to improve my genealogy habits and research skills. I have learned a lot this week from fellow participants, a great testament that collaboration always brings better results than working alone. Week 1 signals the end of my old genealogy ways. I have stopped work on my current project and filed my research documents. After a bit of reorganization, I can now happily state that all of my resources are in a central location instead of scattered all over the house. I have also started putting together family notebooks, but that is a topic for another day.

In Hitting the Reset Button – Genealogy Do-Over Week 1, I listed some of my  bad research habits that I hope to overcome. It is comforting to know that I am not alone when it comes to such things as not properly citing sources and trying to fit genealogy research in between other tasks. I believe the success of Genealogy Do-Over initiative has a lot to do with the fact that many of us have been at this for years, without proper training, and now recognize there is a better way. Reflection is never about blame. It simply means we cannot change what we do not understand.

Looking forward, I want genealogy to be more than a time-filler. I want the time I invest to be of value. To do that, I need to add structure and consistency to what I do. I have come up with a simple model that will get me started.

Genealogy Model Signed

Many people use the term ‘research’ as an umbrella for the various tasks they do, but I found this to be too restrictive. The term ‘Genealogy Work’ is purposely vague because it allows me to expand my model with additional categories and work as the process matures. For now, there are three categories of tasks, described below.

Get started

In pre-GDO days I rarely prepared for my work session. This resulted in a lot of wasted time due to stopping and starting. I would have to stop and look for documents I needed, or insert genealogy work between other tasks. It is a proven fact that the brain cannot handle more than one task at a time and every time we try to multi-task, our productivity goes down. As part of GDO, I will determine what I need in the way of supplies and resources, review what I want to do and how I will do it, clear my schedule so other things do not interrupt me, and find a tidy space to work. It might take me five minutes or 30 minutes but getting started will allow me to focus on the work and make my work time more meaningful.

Do Work

This category includes the actual work done. Not everything is research. Genealogy work includes time spent analyzing our findings, writing letters and emails to relatives, organizing our files and documenting the results. Whenever I start working without knowing what I am going to do, I end up chasing after BSO’s (Bright Shiny Objects) that tend to distract me. Anything I do will link back to my general research plan and goals, which I explore in more detail during Week 2.

Shut Down
As much as I would love to spend all my time engaged in genealogy work, there has to be a stopping point and it is much better when planned. Going forward, I will attempt to time-box my work so I do not have to worry about other pending tasks. I will close out what I am working on, back-up files if necessary and make sure everything stored away so I know where to find it next time.

I know this is not a perfect system and will change over time as I learn what works and what does not. This system establishes a foundation for better habits. Over time, my genealogy results should improve. I can hardly wait until we get back into work mode so I can try it out.

If what you do is not working, try something new. George Bernard Shaw said it best:

 “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”

The Curse of the Common Surname

The Curse of the Common Surname

We all face brick walls during genealogy research and the one I hate most is having a too-common surname. Unless there is a lot of family lore full of hints, an uncommon given name, or GPS precision as to where they lived, trying to sort out family members with common names can be quite… trying.

Case in point is my 2nd great grand-father James Snyder Brown. The surname ‘Brown’ just so happens to be one of the top 10 most common names, based on the 1990 census. A family line does not produce 1.7 million descendants from nothing so I image eSurnameven back in the early 1800s, the name Brown was fairly common.

I don’t know a lot about James Snyder, or Snyder James as he was sometimes known as (or S.J as recorded on his tombstone). He was born on 30 Oct 1827, some place in South Carolina. His parents and any brothers or sisters are still a mystery. He married my 2nd great-grandmother Mary Ann Walker, a line more thoroughly documented in spite of the common last name, and they had nine children, more or less. I know the family lived in Itawamba, Mississippi for a while, and in 1868 moved to Johnson County, Texas, where died on 11 May 1881. I know that much because I have visited his grave at Center League Cemetery. He died on 11 May 1881.

Brown, S.JIn all honesty, I haven’t spent a lot of time on this line. I’m sure there is more information available today and with DNA testing it is much easier to connect with real family members who may have information I am missing. I’ve also learned a lot of new techniques for breaking through brick walls and sometimes the smallest clue can yield great results.


Hitting the Reset Button – Genealogy Do-Over Week 1

Hitting the Reset Button – Genealogy Do-Over Week 1

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. Read more