Genealogy Do-Over: Week 1 – My Progress So Far

Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers describes his Week 1 progress for the Genealogy Do-Over

Wow! Don’t think that just because I came up with this crazy idea called the Genealogy Do-Over, that it would be easy for me. I’ve been making good progress since last Friday, January 2nd, and I’ll be in good shape by time Week 2 starts.

Here’s an idea of what I’ve done:

  • I copied my old Genealogy file in Dropbox to my c:/Documents folder on my hard drive (which is NOT in Dropbox) and renamed it HOLD Genealogy. And of course, I made sure it was added to my iDrive backup . . .
  • I went through The Box which is an old photo copy paper box where I’ve had a few things sitting such as original records. I know – very bad and not very archive-friendly. That is one of the things I’m committed to as well: making sure that I am preserving original records in archivally-safe materials. I also went through my files and pulled the records I think I will need over the next 13-week period.
  • As for guidelines and standards, well I’ve already committed myself to the Golden Rules which I’ve posted. I also have been paying close attention to all the file naming conventions that other participants in the Genealogy Do-Over are posting over at the Facebook group. One that I really like is the one Diana Ritchie has put forth (you can see the photo here if you are a member of the Facebook group).As Diana states: “I use a system I found long ago (I can’t even remember where) that names documents starting with the person’s name then the year that person was born and then the year of the document and document type: LastFirstbxxxxYYYYDeathCert.”So for my grandfather’s birth certificate, it would be “Austin Alfred b1917d1984 Death Cert.”

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Well I am off to do some writing and getting materials ready for Week 2 of the Genealogy Do-Over. Just a housekeeping note: I will be traveling to Salt Lake City starting Wednesday, 7 January and I’ll be attending the Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Management Conference 8-9 January 2015. I will be fully connected with wireless access, but it may take me longer than usual to respond to Genealogy Do-Over emails, messages and requests.

©2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Genealogy Do-Over: Slow Down, You Move Too Fast!

Things are moving so quickly with the Genealogy Do-Over that many of us are already overwhelmed! What we all need is a slow down - Thomas MacEntee shows us why.

As we get closer to the official launch date for the Genealogy Do-Over, here is what I’m seeing over at the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook Group as well as on blog posts and in social media:

  • Some are already worrying about whether or not they have to evaluate genealogy software choices and pick a new one.
  • Others are concerned about how they name their files and how they’ll organize their data.
  • Still others want to know if they have to cite their sources or not.

These are all valid concerns, but to be honest, they are a bit premature. Let’s stop a minute, take a collective breath, and think . . .

This is Exactly How Many of Us Research: We Get Ahead of Ourselves

One of the concerns I had about posting the Genealogy Do-Over topics too far in advance was exactly what seems to be happening: people either over-analyzing topics (“analysis paralysis”) or simply skimming over topics (“skimming”). This is exactly how I used to research.

I say “used to” because I developed the Genealogy Do-Over so I could share my insights into what has worked for me in the past year. One of the major bad habits I had to break? Getting ahead of myself and working too quickly! Here’s what I tweaked in my research habits and an area we’ll focus on over the course of the next 13 weeks:

  • Capture everything and save for later. This means using apps like Evernote to “clip and save” articles, links to new databases and even digitized documents and photos for closer inspection when time permits.
  • Build a good research toolbox and keeping adding to it. Use those capturing skills above, but know add the art of curating content to create a set of resources that can greatly advance your genealogy research.
  • Create to-do lists. When I start researching a specific branch of my family, I always have a document open and available – a text file, a Word document, a spreadsheet or even a pen and paper – for writing down those nagging “I have to remember to do THIS” thoughts. Example: As I research my great-grandfather John Ralph Austin, I determine that his birth date means he would have been the right age for being drafted during World War I. So I enter on my to do list: “Locate World War I draft registration for John Ralph Austin.”
  • Pay no attention to that bright and shiny object. Note how in the example above, I didn’t stop everything and look for that draft registration card right then and there. Why? There is an evil rabbit at the end of that rabbit hole where I think the draft registration card lives. Mr. Rabbit likes nothing better than to rob me of time and to distract me. If I don’t place the task on a to-do list as it pops into my head, I will then go out in search of the draft registration card. And guess what? I find out that on the reverse it says “missing half of index finger on left hand” and then I go off trying to find out how he lost the finger and then . . . and then . . . And then it is 3:00 am and I have not accomplished ANY considerable research. And let’s not talk about all my research goals I had for that night.

According to “fallible mom” and blogger Katy McKenna, “You can’t make up with speed what you lack in direction” which applies to so many things including genealogy research.

The fact is that I didn’t even know I was working too fast and most of us don’t realize it. I just happen to think it is one of the ways (or curses) of modern life. We might be working during one of Ancestry.com’s freebie weekends and want to get the most out of that research time. Or we’re working at the Family History Library and worry that we won’t cross everything off of our ambitious research check list.

To be honest, what good is working quickly if it gets you where you are right now: doing your research over for a second (or third, or fourth) time?

Technology and Social Media to the Rescue

One of the benefits of the Genealogy Do-Over and doing it in 2015 is that we have so many more tools via technology and the Internet than we did 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. We’ll be discussing tools such as Evernote, Pinterest and others throughout the next 13 weeks and showing you how they might be able to help slow down your research and keep you in the moment.

To set a good example I’ve set up a Genealogy Do-Over board on Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/geneabloggers/genealogy-do-overtm/) where I’m collecting blog posts related to this project and also resources that others are sharing over in the Facebook group. I personally use Pinterest to capture research goodies I want to remember and review later (this is a good use of Pinterest’s Secret Boards function).

And finally, if you are at your wits end trying to remember the upcoming Genealogy Do-Over topics or that neat tool that someone posted on Facebook last week, there’s help. The Genealogy Do-Over mailing list (http://www.geneabloggers.com/gendo-over-emails) has been created; sign up and each Friday you’ll receive a list of the new Genealogy Do-Over topics as well as a recap of resources and goodies shared during the previous week.

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So between now and January 2nd when the Genealogy Do-Over officially beings, think about slowing down and putting the advice above into action. Create your own “to do list” for the Genealogy Do-Over. Start to collect resources. By doing so you’ll get a head start on building good research habits and you’ll already be working smarter.

Remember . . . you’ve got to make the moment last – that research moment. And get the most out of that moment. You may never pass that way again; you might not get a “do-over” again.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Genealogy Do-Over: Golden Rules of Genealogy

As we gear up for the Genealogy Do-Over starting on 2 January 2015, what are your "golden rules" for genealogy - what best practices would you recommend?

As you get ready for the Genealogy Do-Over to begin on 2 January 2015, you might want to get a head-start on one topic: Setting Base Practices and Guidelines (see Schedule of Topics for the complete list).

I like the term “golden rules” because the term invokes the spirit of The Golden Rule and focuses not just on my own research practices, but also on how I interact with other genealogists.

The Golden Rules of Genealogy

One technique that I use to come up with any list of practices is to look at them as recommendations: what key practices would I tell a new genealogist are absolutely necessary for success in tracing your roots?

A recent example is the 27 Golden Rules of Genealogy as put forth by Australian genealogist and blogger Alona Tester. She has sorted her list by Do’s and Don’ts and Alona covers many areas upon which most genealogists would agree.

Another example is a list that I put forth in my recent e-book 500 Best Genealogy & Family History Tips – 2015 Edition, entitled Genealogy Rules to Live By:

1. There is No Easy Button in Genealogy. You will work hard to find your ancestors. Genealogy will require more than passion; it will require skills, smarts and dedication. Don’t believe the hype of instant hints, smart matches and shaky leaves. If it were that easy, the journey of discovering our roots would have little or no meaning.

2. Research from a Place of “I Don’t Know.” Your genealogy research will likely run counter to your cherished family stories. It will upend your preconceived notions about certain events and people. It will change the way you think about your ancestors. This can only happen if you research with an open mind and take off the blinders.

3. Track Your Work and Cite Your Sources. When I started out in genealogy, I’ll admit I was a name collector and would “dump” almost any name into my database. Years later, I am crossing out entire branches of a tree that never really should have been “grafted” on to mine. Use a research log, track your work, cite your sources, and analyze data before it is entered into any software or online family tree program.

4. Ask for Help. The genealogy community is populated with people of all skill levels and areas of expertise, most of whom want to assist others. There are no stupid questions; we all started as beginners. There is no right way to ask. Post a query on Facebook or ask a question during a webinar or email your favorite genealogy rock star.

5. You Can’t Edit a Blank Page. Which means: you have to start in order to have something to work with. That project you keep putting off, like publishing your family history, won’t complete itself. Commit yourself to move from “obsession” to “reality.” Remember: A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today.

6. Work and Think Like Your Ancestors. While I’m not sure about your ancestors, mine were resourceful and developed tools and skills to get what they wanted. They were not “educated” per se, but they had “street smarts” and knew where to go so they could learn new things. Also make sure you have a plan; my ancestors didn’t just wake up one day and on a whim decide to come to America and make a better life. They had a plan, they had a network of people to help them, and they made it happen.

7. You Do Not Own Your Ancestors. Researching your roots can create emotional connections to not only your ancestors, but to the actual research itself. Many people become “possessive” of their ancestors and fail to realize that a 3rd great-grandparent is likely the ancestor of hundreds of others. You can’t take your research or your ancestor with you when you die; take time to share your research and be open to differences in information and research when collaborating with others.

8. Be Nice. The Genealogy Community is a Small Place. While there are millions of people searching for ancestors, genealogists worldwide have developed a community with relatively few degrees of separation. Whether it is online in a Facebook group or in-person at genealogy conference, it is likely you’ll already know someone. Being “genealogy nice” is not fake; the connections with other researchers tend to be deep and genuine. We know that all of our roots are interlocked and a genealogist can’t always go it alone.

9. Give and Be Abundant. Exchange information freely with other researchers; don’t hold data “close” to you or exchange it in lieu of something else. Most genealogists who have heard me speak know my own story of abundance: Don’t let your hand keep a tight grip on information. Let it go. Once your hand is free, it can be open and ready to receive the next good thing coming your way.

What Are Your Golden Rules of Genealogy?

Are you ready to come up with your own list of Golden Rules? Since all advice is auto-biographical (it is based on your own experience), look back at your past failures and successes and come up with your own list. When creating your list, you may want to divide it into sub-groups such as:

  • Required
  • Important
  • Optional

Would you be willing to share them with others who are doing the Genealogy Do-Over in 2015? One option is to post them at your own genealogy blog or post them at the Genealogy Do-Over Group on Facebook.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.