Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Making Sense of Genealogical Clutter

At the recent Jewish genealogy conference, I rather sheepishly found myself attending Rhoda Miller's session entitled Organize It. Sheepishly because I am often thought of as quite organized, but I knew that my organizational system had deteriorated over time and required some fresh energy. Piles of genealogical papers now line my office, falling outside of the files neatly labeled by family name. Paper has always been my Waterloo, especially those difficult to classify scraps that still feel too important to pitch. While originally quite organized electronically, even that has begun to breakdown.

Showing up at Rhoda's door meant I was acknowledging a problem and hoping for fresh ideas. She did not disappoint.

The system she proposed made use of color coding. Each family name was assigned a color, after a marriage when a name changed, the color also changed. Thus a woman pre-marriage would reside with her family's color, moving to her husband's color post marriage, not unlike the Polish Books of Residents that cross her off and move her to her husband's page.

Rhoda's paper system uses binders with a clear plastic pocket with the tree. Binders and files are about people, places and documents. She then transposes her paper system into electronic by making use of a free site, Foldermarker.com. This site allows you to color code files. Because she groups and color codes by family name, once organized the color coding was less relevant as whole groupings were of one color. Despite this she found that the act of organizing by color forced a new organizational focus that was helpful.

Perhaps my main take-away was to organize by name. I have folders by type, for example 1940 census records, 1930 census records etc. Rhoda would instead have the family name and under it the following categories: Documents, Pictures, Oral Histories, Places, Correspondence and Yad Vashem. Document files start with the year as they begin to tell a story once in chronological order.

Digital resources that she makes use of include theorganizedgenealogist.net, the previously mentioned Foldermarker.com and of course Evernote and Dropbox. I have been finding Dropbox very useful to share information with clients for whom I do genealogy research. At the conference resource room, I also found it helpful in accessing their material to do research as my research files were available on any computer.

She talked about efforts to organize a research segment, much of what I did prior to trips to the Family History Library. She began by asking what do you want to know, then what you already know. She then thought about what and where were the resources, including who can give expert advice. Finally the act of tapping those resources began with social history, a source of insight along the way.

When doing research offsite she offered some practical hints. Keep a packed supply bag and dress in layers with pockets. Use a conference badge holder, great place for glasses and copy cards. Bring a flash drive and here I shall interject one of my own tips, take a name and address label and mark it. Invariably you will forget one in a public computer. I try not to use an extremely large one as it is just more data to possibly lose and make sure you don't have personal or financial info on it. Charge your camera for photos and bring a magnifier with a light. Weigh the value of a laptop as it can be a headache to carry or store when you take a break. I used to bring a small one with a lock, a password, and little on it to worry about were it to disappear. Finally bring an iPad with your GEDCOM file. She recommended an app called GedView which I will need to compare to the one from Ancestry which I currently use.

Rhoda spent some time on evidence analysis and noting sources as original, derivative or authored (synthesis). She discussed the Genealogy Proof Standard which requires a reasonably exhaustive search, complete and accurate citation of sources, analysis and correlation of data and an attempt to resolve conflicts. She recommended writing it up because it makes you think. I chuckled at that as many of my insights have come when writing for this blog.

Finally she turned her attention to my nemesis; challenges to organization. Within that fell the categories of possibilities, correspondence, research sub tasks, scraps of paper,odd sized paper and miscellaneous items. Some of her recommendations were to make a scrapbook of your scraps. For me those include those notes jotted on an envelope from early conversations with my parents on family history, precious because my father was still alive and memories were still intact. For odd sized papers such as maps she uses artist portfolios and for other things such as parents' address books she used archival boxes.

Now to set aside some time and tackle that office!

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