With the dawn of the New Year, possibilities sparkle like the fresh snow and all seems possible with the first of the year. What, are we already sick of the white stuff? I guess some of us have already had our fill. OK, scrap that simile and letâ€™s move on.
At the start of the New Year, I envision myself taking the steps I need to improve in all areas of my life. When it comes to family history, I am eager to get started. Many of us have made our annual resolutions, but I donâ€™t like that term. Maybe itâ€™s become too clichÃ© or maybe Iâ€™ve just had too many years where resolutions ended up paving that infamous road. I prefer a â€œto-do listâ€ where I can check off items as they are accomplished. Are you game? Here are some items you might want to include on your list:
My mom often employs her older grandchildren to transcribe notes sheâ€™s taken on research trips and snippets of information from the index cards sheâ€™s been creating since the 1970s.
Many of us collaborate with family members via e-mail sharing information on the families we are researching. In my case, things keep getting lost in my e-mail inbox, so I started folders for each surname Iâ€™m researching so that if I donâ€™t have a chance to investigate and process these notes or records as they come into my e-mail, Iâ€™ll be able to easily find them when I get time.
Who sees the problem with this â€œsolution?â€ If you guessed that the e-mails would sit in e-mail purgatory for too long, go to the head of the class. Eventually the e-mails get archived, emptying that folder and now doubling the places Iâ€™d have to look for it. Plus, I have my electronic computer files set up with the same filing system, and I have to look there too. (We wonâ€™t even talk about the stuff that hasnâ€™t made it into electronic form.) Itâ€™s just as easy to take that item as it comes in and save it as a document, text or HTML file and put it in the proper place. Then I only have one folder to go to when it comes time to work on a family line. And Iâ€™m going through those folders and as I empty them, Iâ€™m deleting them, thus also helping to unclutter my inbox and keep Outlook from bogging everything down.
While Iâ€™m at it, I need to dust off my scanner and get some of the paper records I have into electronic format too.
Investigate Those Snippets
Between the aforementioned snippets that Mom sends me, and miscellaneous records that Iâ€™ve collected on those late night genealogy surf sessions, I have a lot of items that I havenâ€™t quite fit into our family tree. Most of them are items Iâ€™ve saved because the individuals have names that are the same or similar to those in my family tree, although I havenâ€™t proven a connection. When these accumulate, they can clutter files and make it cumbersome to research. Go through those â€œmay be relatedâ€ snippets and investigate them more thoroughly. Try to follow the individuals through census records and other records that are easily accessible online. You may find that with a little digging, you can easily prove or disprove the relationship. Make notes of your findings on the snippet and put them in an alphabetical file by surname–separate from your family files. By keeping track of these folks that are not related, you may find that you can use this information again should you happen across another record for the same family and quickly move that record too to the â€œnot-related file.â€
If you still canâ€™t make a determination, thereâ€™s no harm keeping it in the â€œmaybe file.â€ As you go through and get rid of others, youâ€™ll still find that file getting smaller and easier to manage.
Catalog Your Library
This one has been high on my list for a while, but it keeps slipping down in priority when pitted against the fun of chasing ancestors. The time has come though. I have spent way too much time looking for that book that â€œI know I just saw the other day.â€ With my growing collection spilling from my office, to my office closet, and out onto the living room book shelves, itâ€™s easy to lose track. Plus, my mother and I are duplicating too many titles in our collections. While there are some titles that I want on hand at all times, others we could easily share and save that money for other publications and fun stuff.
There are a number of options out there for cataloging your library. The low-budget way would be to just use a spreadsheet, but there are some interesting programs Iâ€™ve been investigating–online and off–that would also do the job and may have some added benefits. Here are a few Iâ€™ve looked at:
- LibraryThing (catalog/social networking site)
- Collectorz (software)
- Readerware (software)
- Finderware (software/has sharing capabilities)
While I havenâ€™t researched them in-depth yet, I do like the sharing capabilities that I saw on Finderware, and the social networking focus on LibraryThing opens some unique possibilities for sharing with other genealogists with similar collections.
I know some of you are more organized than I am and have already taken this step. I would love to hear reviews and opinions about the products that are available from those who have already taken the plunge. Please add your commentsÂ below so that we can all benefit from your expertise.
Make Sure Backups are in Place
This one I can already check off my list. Due to an unfortunate external drive failure, I lost some data and photographs this past year, and it was a big wake-up call. I put in place, not just one, but two backups. I now use an external drive that comes with a one-touch feature that will back up the files Iâ€™ve chosen with the push of a button. And because Iâ€™ve already fallen victim to an external drive failure, I also signed on with Mozyâ€™s online backup service. Mozy encrypts my files and backs them up in a secure datacenter, giving me the added security of knowing that if a disaster struck my home, theyâ€™d still be safe. I can schedule how often I want to back up and it will automatically back up my files for me at the scheduled times. You can easily sign up for Mozy through the Ancestry Store.
If you havenâ€™t taken steps to secure your data, please do it now. I was one of those who said, â€œIt wonâ€™t happen to me.â€ But it did. There are many options available to you, and it doesnâ€™t take nearly as long to create a backup as it does to recreate all youâ€™ve lost. Take it from someone who learned this lesson the hard way!
Lists and Other Stuff
Of course, I also hope to finish up the unending filing chores I have, update all my databases–auditing what I have in my databases vs. my timelines vs. my notebooks to make sure all is in sync, and attack some of those neglected lines and brick walls. As with everything I do, Iâ€™ve found it helpful to make a detailed list and check off items as I go along. Make each item easily doable. Then as you start to see all those checkmarks fill in, youâ€™re encouraged to keep going. So what are we waiting for? Letâ€™s start checking off these items and any others you have planned. This is the year our goals wonâ€™t end alongside those failed resolutions paving that road.
What are your goals for this year? Share them 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.