As I write this, it is the first day of spring, but here in the Midwest, it feels like winter isnâ€™t quite through with us. Normally at the first sign of spring, I would be cleaning out my garden. Mother Nature isnâ€™t going to let me do that (at least not comfortably!), so Iâ€™m focusing my initial spring cleaning efforts on my office. Since I often hear from readers looking to organize their family history materials, I thought in the spirit of the season, weâ€™d focus this newsletter on spring cleaning. Today I thought I’d share some ideas to get you started.
Addressing the Piles
First, address the pile. “Hello Pile.” (Sorry, I couldnâ€™t resist! I still crack up picturing Art Carney addressing the golf ball similarly in that Honeymooners episode.)
Okay, back to the piles. The hardest part is getting started. When you get a good-sized stack of papers in front of you, it can be a pain to file them one at a time. I do a pre-sort. I have manila folders for each surname and location (with a couple extras for unexpected stuff thatâ€™s mixed in) and sort the papers into the folders. Then, you can work on each family individually, rather than bouncing back and forth. Since my family history data is stored in binders, it also means I donâ€™t have to have all my binders spread out across the office, and focusing on the one family is more efficient. I can spend time analyzing what I have, inputting the information into my database, rejoicing over finds, etc.
Can’t Find That Book?
Another area of my office that tends to get disorganized is my library. Iâ€™m constantly acquiring new books and as I go along, Iâ€™m not always good about where I put them on the shelves. Plus, most of my shelves are nearing capacity. This is a good time to reorganize them. I have a shelf over my desk where my most-used books go, but as I look up at it, I see quite a few that I havenâ€™t used in a long time. While Maps of the Civil War is a neat book, it would certainly be more convenient to have it on one of the back shelves in my office and my thesaurus up there where I can reach it. On the larger bookshelves, I have shelves with different â€œthemes” (e.g., the Brooklyn shelf, where I keep all my books that pertain to Brooklyn; the immigration shelf where I can find all my books on immigration, etc.).
I also have quite a few books that Iâ€™ve been meaning to read, but havenâ€™t had time. A few years ago, my niece was raising money for charity by selling colorful homemade bookmarks. As I go through and see books that Iâ€™d like to read, Iâ€™m flagging them by inserting the bookmark with the tassel hanging over the front. Now when it warms up and I want to grab a book to read on the patio, I can see at a glance, whatâ€™s available.
My biggest battle seems to be with the dust bunnies. With two dogs and two cats, they multiply with astonishing speed. Before doing any electronic housekeeping, whether it be rearranging electronic files or vanquishing dust bunnies from the back or inside of your computer, create a backup of all your important files and test it to make sure it works.
If youâ€™re having trouble finding documents on your hard drive, maybe itâ€™s time to reorganize. Do you have duplicate or similar folders for the same thing? Try combining them or giving them more specific names. To learn more about electronic organization, just do a search with your favorite search engine for organizing electronic files. This search turned up quite a few articles when I tried it, with a variety of filing structures. Some people prefer filing by document or file type. Explore several and see which one works best for you.
Housekeeping on the Internet
Iâ€™ve heard from several people in the past couple of days who have responded to queries posted on message boards, only to have the message bounce. Donâ€™t overlook housekeeping chores when it comes to your queries. To update your email on the Ancestry.com/RootsWeb.com message boards, go to http://www.ancestry.com/community and in the top box titled Message Boards click on My Board Profile. Then just update your Post E-mail. If a particular forum doesnâ€™t allow you to update the request or email, try posting a response to that query with your new email. Presumably, if an individual is interested in the post, theyâ€™ll look through the string and find your new address within the string.
Be Proactive for Next Spring
If you notice a particular problem area for your office, look for a specialized solution. Are you simply out of space? Maybe some shelves or a closet organizer can help. If your problem is getting papers filed (guilty here!), perhaps a temporary filing system with folders for each surname can be used to temporarily house research papers when life interrupts your research session before you get a chance to complete the process of assessing and entering the data. Take a stroll through your local office supply store and see if they donâ€™t have something that will help you stay organized so that next spring, your genealogical cleaning chores will be a breeze.Â
Juliana Smith has been the editor of Ancestry.com newsletters for more than seven years and is author of The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book. She has written for Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. Juliana can be reached by e-mail at: Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.
Copyright 2006, MyFamily.com.