My To-Do List for 2008, by Juliana Smith

pen and journal.bmpWith 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 let’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 don’t like that term. Maybe it’s become too cliché or maybe I’ve just had too many years where resolutions ended up paving that infamous road. I prefer a “to-do list” 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:

Organize Files
My mom often employs her older grandchildren to transcribe notes she’s taken on research trips and snippets of information from the index cards she’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 I’m researching so that if I don’t have a chance to investigate and process these notes or records as they come into my e-mail, I’ll be able to easily find them when I get time.

Who sees the problem with this “solution?” 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 I’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 won’t even talk about the stuff that hasn’t made it into electronic form.) It’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 I’m going through those folders and as I empty them, I’m deleting them, thus also helping to unclutter my inbox and keep Outlook from bogging everything down.

While I’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 I’ve collected on those late night genealogy surf sessions, I have a lot of items that I haven’t quite fit into our family tree. Most of them are items I’ve saved because the individuals have names that are the same or similar to those in my family tree, although I haven’t proven a connection. When these accumulate, they can clutter files and make it cumbersome to research. Go through those “may be related” 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 “not-related file.”

If you still can’t make a determination, there’s no harm keeping it in the “maybe file.” As you go through and get rid of others, you’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 “I know I just saw the other day.” With my growing collection spilling from my office, to my office closet, and out onto the living room book shelves, it’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 I’ve been investigating–online and off–that would also do the job and may have some added benefits. Here are a few I’ve looked at:

While I haven’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 comments 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 I’ve chosen with the push of a button. And because I’ve already fallen victim to an external drive failure, I also signed on with Mozy’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, they’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 haven’t taken steps to secure your data, please do it now. I was one of those who said, “It won’t happen to me.” But it did. There are many options available to you, and it doesn’t take nearly as long to create a backup as it does to recreate all you’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, I’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, you’re encouraged to keep going. So what are we waiting for? Let’s start checking off these items and any others you have planned. This is the year our goals won’t end alongside those failed resolutions paving that road.

What are your goals for this year? Share them in the comments section below.

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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, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.

11 thoughts on “My To-Do List for 2008, by Juliana Smith

  1. I purchased the “Readerware” program several years ago, and find that it’s a great way to keep track of my ever-growing book collection. (It will also do the same for DVDs and CDs.)
    One ‘bad’ thing: the software came with a ‘CueCat’–do NOT use it until you ‘neuter’ it, or get a different bar code scanner. The CueCat is full of spyware, and I swear it’s what messed up my previous computer.

    If you want to use the CueCat, do a Google search for CueCat, and you’ll find a page that will tell you how to disable the spyware without damaging its scanning ability. Aside from the CueCat, I enjoy the ability to scan in many books at once and have them automatically added to my database.

  2. Thanks for the suggestions and reminders we all sometimes need. I would like to add another software suggestion to the library catalog options. I’ve been using Bookpedia (and DVDpedia) for a couple of years now and I’m very pleased with them both.

  3. My father-in-law had taken a lot of slides through out his life. Most places do not use the 2×2 slides anymore. We have a container that holds 40 boxes. Each box contains 36 slides! My husband has been working on getting these slides scanned and placed on the computer. I will help as much as I can! Once the pictures are copied from slides to computer – we are planning on using them for various purposes. 1) To make slides shows saved on DVD’s for the family (especially my mother-in-law)and 2) to place individuals on the family tree.

  4. When you get an incoming genealogy-related email that you cannot work on at the moment, you should be able to copy the whole email and open up a to-do item in your family tree software and paste the email in. When you search your to-do items in your software, it will show up as something you haven’t dealt with yet. I think in FTM it is called Research Journal.

    I also wanted to mention that Readers should be aware that Mozy allows you to back-up 2GB of your data for free! This should cover most files, so there really is no excuse to not do this. Today. If you have dial-up, however, it is unfortunately not considered an option.

  5. Thanks for the tips on Mozy!

    I realized early on in my project that I was going to need VERY regular backups. For each research trip I take, I make CDs of the pictures, and every 2-3 months or so I back up the entire project to CD. With my book up to 800 pages, this is 2 entire Framemaker book files with about 13 chapters, plus hundreds and hundreds of photographs.

    I can use Mozy as a stopgap until I can get my very latest pictures and updates copied to CD.

  6. Hello: I found your article very, very helpful..Now, to get busy and try to incorporate it into my very confusing (to some) information, I have collected since…1970. My son is doing a book on what he and I have collected over the years. Your suggestions are welcomed in our busy, busy lives. I will check on Mozy..thanks for the suggestion. My files and bookcases are spilling over with bits of info that I intend, someday, to get all together….will I EVER accomplish all of it??? Thanks again….J. Callahan

  7. I use Library Thing and it is exactly what I needed. I can sort my lists any number of ways and I have listed them with a Dewey Decimal Number and the Numbers used at the FHC. I also ordered plastic label covers from the Library Store and placed the numbers on the side of the books. When I joined, I believe a lifetime membership was $25.00. They do allow you to catalogue some books free, I think 200. You can enter the books by ISBN or LOC. I use the cue-cat and haven’t had any problem with spyware. It does take some getting used to in order to make it work.

    This is a project that I have wanted to do for a while and LibraryThing provided the impetus for doing so. However, it is a time consuming project, that I will be glad to have finally completed.

  8. Thanks for the tips. I, too, had a computer crash and thought I lost everything. I had send one side of the family to a cousin and he just emailed it back. The other side (more complete and going farther back) I had backed up so didn’t lose it. (I had forgotten that I had backed it up.) I also bought a small cabinet w/10 drawers and labeled each drawer with a surname. I pop in my email and research until I can review it and I just finished going through each drawer! Feels good to think I may be on top of it. Mozy is an excellent idea!

  9. My husband and I recently took photos of many of the places where we had lived thru the years. The photos will be added to our genealogy programs and add yet another dimention to the story.

  10. I save internet snippets by copying them into an E-mail with a copy of the website information as the first line of the body of the E-mail. The subject of the E-mail is named in the subject along with a year. I then E-mail this to my self and after I receive the E-mail I then use the command file save as and proceed to save the file in a directory for the family name in my genealogy program’s file folder.

    I backup my file about twice a year by burning a CD and shipping it off to my sister, I also backup my computer with a USB hard drive of large capacity, and further more have been backing up files by putting them on a high capacity flash card and keeping the flash card at a location away from home. Some of these high capacity flash cards will hold 5000 pictures at at the image density that I use.

  11. I bought the Collectorz software several years ago in a package deal that included Book Collector, Movie Collector and Music Collector. (They have others but these are all I need). I find it quite useful and you can enter as much or as little information as you wish, and it will also help you track the lending of books. I recently purchased the first paid upgrade, but there have been many free upgrades and I would expect that would continue.
    I also began using LibraryThing recently, which is a bit like wearing a belt and suspenders except that LibraryThing is on the Web, whereas Collectorz is on your own hard drive; I confess I mostly wanted to use it because I could put book covers on my blog! I’ve begun using CueCat, which I bought from LibraryThing, and have had no trouble so far; however I do use a spyware cleaner regularly as everyone should. (SpyBot Search and Destroy is what I use.) I should point out that CueCat will also work with Collectorz; they sell a more portable barcode reader but at $135 it’s a little pricey for me.

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