The other day I was browsing through some of the genealogy blogs on the Web, and I ran across a post on the Carnival of Genealogy. â€œBlog carnivalsâ€ collect posts on a related topic and link to them in one place–kind of like one-stop-shopping for bloggers. The current topic they have posted is â€œChristmas Wish Lists for Genealogists.â€ As I scanned through the various posts, I found myself nodding in agreement with some and took solace in posts by folks like me who wish to get caught up with their filing, database entering, and other little tasks that tend to pile up.
That is my one genealogical holiday wish, and it comes at a critical time. With an upcoming birthday in the family and holiday get-togethers on the calendar, this is a dangerous time of year for my family history. To top it off, Iâ€™m working on another project with my mom–a project that has had me pulling out documents for various branches of my family tree and just about every reference book I own. All of this clutter and the nice stack of records I pillaged from the recently added U.S. passports database have conspired to turn my office into a war zone.
The danger lies in the temptation to just box up the clutter and stash it in a closet until after the holidays–out of sight from holiday guests and out of mind for me. But that just makes things worse. Plus I need my closet space to stash presents.
The good news is that my fate is in my own hands. I can do the annual â€œstash it now/regret it laterâ€ thing, or I can take a little time and come out of this holiday season a little more organized than I went in. Today I choose the latter!
Identify Problem Areas
Identifying the problem area in my case is easy. Itâ€™s that space between the four walls of my office. And the closet is no picnic either!
Seriously though, Iâ€™ve identified several problems and have set about remedying them. Sometimes things from real life tend to migrate into â€œthe genealogy zone.â€ Right now my desk is covered with dog-eared holiday catalogs with gifts that need to be ordered, the usual bills to be paid, items for my project that I am still working with, etc. A couple baskets have been employed to house the holiday catalogs and bills and keep them from ending up mingled with my ancestors.
The project Iâ€™m working on is a bit more problematic, but Iâ€™ve cleared off the little table behind my desk and that is now reserved exclusively for those materials. Iâ€™ve gone through and put away the reference materials I donâ€™t need at the moment, and now thereâ€™s actually a space to work.
That leaves the filing and database entering. As I mentioned in last weekâ€™s column, a find in the passport database led me to explore a bit more of my Grandpa Pyburnâ€™s family and sadly, those pages are now interfiled with examples I used in the article and finds from other family lines. These are all piled up waiting for that free moment to follow through on them.
I do have a system in place to absorb these records on a temporary basis until I have the time to go through and analyze them. I bought a small plastic bin that holds hanging file folders, and I have created folders for my surnames. (It’s the one pictured above and I found it at Staples.) I can quickly sort papers by surname and that way when I get a free minute, I can just grab a folder and process the records a bit at a time.
For those times where Iâ€™m plundering a database and have pages with multiple surnames, I have a miscellaneous file too.
This file is also great for to-do notes or a record of places Iâ€™ve searched but came out empty-handed. Itâ€™s my go-to place when I get some time to myself to work on my family.
Books Iâ€™ve Started
As I cleared out some of the more obvious things cluttering my office, I found seven books that Iâ€™m currently in some stage of reading. Iâ€™m terrible that way. I start a book and a new one catches my eye, so the first one gets dropped while Iâ€™m checking out the new one, and then suddenly another book appears on my radar that â€œI just have to read.â€ The rest is history. This week we hung a cabinet in the kitchen for all my spices that had formerly been kept in wire baskets. One of the wire baskets has been re-purposed to hold my reading collection. With them all in one place taunting me to come read for a while, I have a feeling Iâ€™ll get a lot more reading done.
Those Articles Youâ€™ve Been Meaning to Read
With the holidays, itâ€™s sometimes hard to get our normal dose of genealogy reading in, like newsletter or magazine articles. For those in e-mail format, itâ€™s easy to copy and paste them into documents and save them as text files. I have a folder on my hard drive for â€œReading Materialsâ€ so that when an article of interest comes in that I donâ€™t have time to read, I can file it away and avoid cluttering up my inbox. Magazines have taken up residence in another former spice-jar-holding wire basket.
Schedule a Task a Day
If your office or workspace is small like mine is, itâ€™s easy for clutter to take over. When it does it seems even harder to tackle the project and all to easy to just close the door on it. If you approach it in small pieces, doing a task each day, or working on just one corner at a time, youâ€™ll find that itâ€™s not as bad as you think.
This month Iâ€™ll be taking off a few days before and after Christmas. Instead of having nightmares about the piles of stashed papers in the closet, I can sit in my office with peace of mind and spend some enjoyable time with my ancestors.
Share Your Organizational Challenge or Tip
With the amount of data we accumulate searching for our ancestors, organizing can be one of the biggest challenges. Please let us know what challenges you face, or any tips you have in the comments section below.
Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for more than nine years and is author of The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book. She has written for Ancestry Magazine and wrote the
Computers and Technology chapter in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, rev. 3rd edition. 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.