As in many of your homes Iâ€™m sure, spring cleaning is well underway in my house (much to my daughterâ€™s chagrin!). Closets, cabinets, drawers, and shelves are being reorganized and we are making regular trips to the Goodwill store with drop-offs. Iâ€™m also doing a gradual spring cleaning in my office. I had to move some things around to accommodate the new all-in-one printer/scanner I got for my birthday and decided it was time to go through some of the storage boxes I had stashed under the printer stand.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about being a gatherer and the positive side of that practice.Â The downside to it is that it can lead to an overabundance of papers that can quickly become overwhelming. Every so often we need to go back and take stock of what weâ€™ve gathered and clear some things out. In some cases it may mean letting go of things we donâ€™t need. Yes, I mean actually throwing things out. (Gasp!) I know, it goes against the grain. After all, weâ€™re the preservers of our family history. We should be preserving everything, right?
Well, maybe not. I read a post a while back on Sally Jacobsâ€™s â€œPractical Archivistâ€ blog that stuck with me. The article was talking about photographs, but is totally relevant to other family history materials as well. Accompanying the article was this warning sign:
â€œCaution: Keeping everything means that someone else decides what gets tossed later.â€
Scary stuff! It made me really think about not only what I kept, but where I kept it. So this week, letâ€™s take a look at some ways we can dispose of some of our excesses, so that someone doesnâ€™t overdo it for us down the line.
Storing the Maybes
I typically keep a separate section in the back of my family binders for those folks that may be related–â€œthe maybes.â€ Keeping them there is convenient, but in cases where they are starting to take over, I am moving them to a different binder. Iâ€™m also going through them and actually getting rid of some that I know I donâ€™t need anymore. For example, once upon a time we found a record that gave one ancestorâ€™s maiden name as Nesen. For year we collected every scrap we could find on Nesen, Nessen, Nesson, etc. Turned out that was a typo. Her maiden name was Nelson. Do I really need to keep all the Nessens now? No. The Nesens are off to the recycle bin.
You may also be holding on to the records of individuals with the same or similar name as your ancestor, despite having proven that they are not the same person or even related. Because I may run across records of this person again and will want to be reminded why theyâ€™re not related, I really donâ€™t want to toss these. But rather than keep the paper copies of the records, why not save them electronically into a â€œnot relatedâ€ file, with a typed up report of how you ruled them out. It will be easier to access, regardless of where you are researching, and youâ€™ll free up filing space for ancestors that are really yours.
As Iâ€™m going through papers, I occasionally run across duplicate copies Iâ€™ve made of records for my ancestors. Perhaps I printed out a census copy again, not realizing that another copy was sitting in my bin waiting to be filed. Instead of just throwing the copy away, sometimes Iâ€™ll sendÂ it to another family member, with a quick note explaining the find. Itâ€™s a great way to get other family members interested, and you may find that it opens up some dialogue that will reveal other clues.
Magazines and Periodicals
I donâ€™t know about you, but part of my office problem is an overabundance of magazines. I also keep and print out articles that I find helpful online and they help add to the clutter. I love having the reference materials, but it never failsâ€”-whenever I want to reference an article I read a while back, I canâ€™t find it in the pile.
This year, Iâ€™m going through that mountain of magazines and Iâ€™m pulling out only the articles I really need. This way I can file them in a way so that I can actually find them when I need them. I keep a locality file for each place in which my ancestors lived. It gives me a place to stash odds and ends I find for each location (e.g., vital records availability, Family History Library Catalog print-outs for records they hold, articles about research in that area, etc.).
Iâ€™ve also started a new file in one of those plastic file boxes with articles that donâ€™t relate to a particular place, but that I think may help me jumpstart my research or overcome a problem down the road. Manila folders help me to organize the articles by topic making it easier to locate those items when Iâ€™m wondering, â€œNow where did I read that?â€ Plus it saves space because I donâ€™t have to save the whole magazine.
Also, keep in mind that many magazines now have an online presence. Ancestry Magazine has an archive online in the new Learning Center with articles posted as recently as May 2007. Relying on online searchable archives is often more practical than retaining paper copies.
Clearly Indicate Whatâ€™s Important
While we gaze lovingly at the collection of records we have amassed filling out our family tree, other family members may just see files or piles of papers. Have you organized the documents you have collected so that it is evident what is part of your family history? A well-organized binder, especially one that is well-labeled and that chronicles your ancestorâ€™s life in an interesting way, is more likely to survive than papers stuffed into a manila folder. Decorate the binder with ancestral images so that it attracts attention.
Or perhaps itâ€™s time to take that step and start working on publishing your finds. If you havenâ€™t tried AncestryPress, take it for a test drive. Theyâ€™ve added new backgrounds and embellishments, and now you can invite family members to view your book online and order copies for themselves. Itâ€™s a great way to help ensure that all of your hard work wonâ€™t be tossed and forgotten. You can find an article I wrote about AncestryPress on the blogÂ and you can keep up with the latest features on the AncestryPress blog.Â And if you can wrap up your AncestryPress project in the next week, theyâ€™re offering a discount for Motherâ€™s Day.
Take fifteen minutes today to begin your family history spring cleaning. Taken in bite-sized pieces each day, youâ€™ll find that you can really make strides, even in the space of just one week. Not only will you be helping to secure all of your hard word for the future, youâ€™ll find that by clearing out some of the clutter, you can be more productive.
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.