Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Genealogical Education

One of my favorite genealogical educators is Crista Cowan, known as The Barefoot Genealogist. As she rightly notes, we were all beginners once in genealogy research, so there is no need to feel bad about mistakes. I appreciate it when another researcher shares their mistakes with us, as they help save us from making them! I want to share three of her videos that have been very helpful to me. While I am not a beginner genealogist, these videos indeed were good reviews. I wish I had been able to watch these kinds of videos back when I first started!

Like the title implies, Back to the Basics: Genealogy 101 is a very basic but substantial introduction to the field. If you are, indeed, new to genealogical research, this is the place to start. Another video you will be sure to watch is Common Mistakes in Genealogy, as you will save yourself so much time and heartache if you avoid these mistakes. Some of the biggest mistakes? Assuming your family name is spelled only one way, failing to document sources, and relying on the family trees submitted by others. There will undoubtedly be a future post about the spelling variations of surnames, as that is a fascinating topic! In regards to undocumented family trees, it can be a real shame. I have read horror stories where some poor researcher spent years on the wrong family all because they accepted, uncritically, names submitted by someone else that turned out to be wrong!

The third video by Crista I enjoyed was Approach Your Family History Research Like A Pro. In this video, she stresses the importance of formulating a research plan and outline the necessary steps. She has new videos as well, some on more advanced research techniques, and some on how to search Ancestry.com more effectively. Fortunately, most videos are around 30 minutes long, so you can listen more than once, which is something I suggest unless you can take notes.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Correcting Past Genealogical Mistakes

In addition to citation issues, basic organization can be a problem. When I first started my family history search, the Internet was still very new and fluid. Most critically, I was still very new at researching and could not often correctly evaluate the information I found. Therefore, I tended to keep everything and add people to my tree without proper documentation. One very positive result that will come from completing a genealogy do-over is that it will require me to verify each person with a very high level of certainty. I want my family tree to be historically accurate as possible. I need to be prepared to remove people from my tree until I have more proof.

One of the earliest mistakes I made was not investing in a good genealogy software program. I was very paper-focused in the early days, and, for a long time, this was not a problem. However, after I got back about three generations, I realized I needed one. Fortunately for us, most genealogy programs have a free version or, at least, a free trial version. Free versions allowed me to get a good idea of how each program worked. I ultimately decided on Legacy Family Tree Software. For several years I used the free version, and I think I could probably continue to do so for most tasks as the free version is that good. Recently, I upgraded to the paid version, and it has really been an excellent investment. It is so easy to use! I love being able to search the other major sites (like Ancestry, or GenealogyBank, or Find-a-Grave, for example) from within the software and directly incorporate the results, which helps keep the number of tabs I have open to a minimum. I have seen pictures of other genealogists who have an extra monitor so they can be looking at a database while typing on their primary computer. To me, that is intense. I don’t like having too many tabs open!

Another fundamental error I made early on was dividing my family history files into four separate sections….one for each grandparents’ line. As it turns out, this didn’t seem to help make the organization of the records better. Keeping track of four smaller files is more complicated than keeping track of just one big file. Who knew?  This mistake, however, has much more significant ramifications than just contributing to poor file organization. I would have missed out on seeing valuable patterns, similarities, and connections between the two branches of my family tree. Interestingly, the two branches of my family lived relatively close together for almost 100 years before my parents met. This pattern might not have been as apparent if the files were separate. One large file also streamlines research time because, with separate ones, I would often return to the same databases as with an earlier file. If I had known I would need that database for this file too, I would have search all the names at once and saved time. In theory, anyway!

I have been thinking about past research practices and ways to improve. I have addressed some of the mistakes I have made, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are entirely fixable. There is one genealogy mistake that I cannot fix and, therefore, is the one I regret the most. I did not interview many of my elderly relatives when I had the chance. How many family stories did they take with them? I hate to think about it too much. I am going to correct this in 2020 for sure! In preparing to conduct my family history interviews, I found Family Tree Magazine’s 13 Tips for Oral History Interviewing very helpful, and I plan on incorporating their good advice. I feel a great urgency to do this. Census records will still be there tomorrow. Grandma won’t.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Genealogical Crossroads

I enjoy learning about other people's resolutions.  As it turns out, quite a few people have had the "I'll start a new blog" resolution!  Quite a few are fellow genealogists, very exciting! I hope they will share their genealogical discoveries. Indeed, the demand for genealogical research is high.  Ancestry.com, for example, has over two million paid subscribers.  Wow!  I knew genealogy was popular, but this number is incredible.  I have been researching my family history for almost twenty years now, so I know how much contentment it can and will bring.  The amount of genealogical education available today is impressive, and much of it is free.  In future posts, I will share some of the better resources I have come across.

I have arrived at a genealogical crossroads of sorts.  My Gedcom file has over 2000 people in it.  However, I have reached that point where the alphabetical filing system I have been using is getting awkward and less efficient.    I have been doing some research on better genealogical organization.  There are some genealogists out there who have over 25,000 people in their Gedcom and yet manage to keep it all neatly organized.  And don't even get me started with photograph organization!  There is so much work to do.

With the realization that I need to come up with a new filing system is added to the fact that I have finally admitted that many of my past research practices were not up to par, I get a tad down.  In the past, I came across a lot of excellent information that I did not correctly cite.  I cannot find that information now and, therefore, cannot verify it.  On the bright side, I have learned I am hardly alone.  Many beginning genealogists do not correctly cite their sources and, like me, take too many years to develop the habit.  If there were one piece of advice I would give to the new family historian, it would be about source citation.  I admit that this was a hard habit to develop and was due, in large part, to my ignorance of proper citation standards for online materials.  I knew the traditional book and article format, but how do you cite a YouTube video? a Facebook comment? This blog posting?  Thankfully, I found an incredible reference for this very problem!  Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian by Elizabeth Shown Mills.  She provides examples of over 300 citation formats!  This book is a slender volume, a hardcover of just 134 pages, which makes it easy to take with you on research trips.

So, what can I do in 2020 to get my research back on track?  I can do some weeding of all the paper files I have accumulated over the years.  Back in the late 1990s, I printed EVERYTHING.  Even with the instances when I remembered to have the web address printed along with the data, many times, the webpages no longer exist today, or the email is no longer valid.  When I was sorting earlier today, I had to laugh at some of it.  There was a time when I thought "user-submitted tree" was a reliable source if the amount of paper I wasted is any indication.  I think about all the new genealogists out there today and hope they don't spend time making the mistakes I made.  These mistakes will be addressed in future posts, and I hope they will be helpful.

My files are frustrating me so much that I almost feel like starting over from scratch.  As it turns out, many people have been inspired to do just that by Thomas MacEntee and his "genealogy do-over."   I appreciate his insistence on establishing good research practices first, before rushing into the records.  I am going to give this do-over a try.  This year I will improve my research skills, and that will be fun.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A New Blog for a New Year

Like with most New Year's resolutions, this blog is beginning with the best of intentions. I intend to share my love of writing, books, history, nature, and genealogy. Unlike most other resolutions, however, I intend to keep this one! I had attempted writing projects before, such as family history stories, for my files, and even tried a blog once. Things did not work out, for one reason (i.e., excuse) or another. I spent quite a bit of time at it and found the entire writing process very frustrating. This frustration kept me from attempting serious writing projects until now. What has motivated me to want to give this another shot? There are just so many research discoveries to share! I have spent the last fifteen years researching American history in-depth, and my own family's history in particular. In the process, I have come across a large amount of primary source material (deeds, wills, diaries, letters, photographs) that I find incredible, and I know others will as well.

While I have some incredible reasons for beginning this blog, what has motivated me to think it won't end in frustration yet again? Of all the writing advice I have read since deciding to blog, the most useful was the bluntest and came from Jeff Goins:
People ask me all the time what advice I have for them in regards to their writing. Honestly, most of what I say to them boils down to this: Just sit down and write. I wish it were more complicated or mystical than that, but it's not. Writing is an art, but it's also a craft. That means that almost anyone can do it if they put in the practice.
In addition to Mr. Goins, I have found Judy Reeves to be an incredible inspiration to my inner writer. In particular, I enjoyed the talk she gave on How to Be a Writer Who Writes. Like Mr. Goins, she emphasizes that the best thing to do is get writing! She takes a holistic approach to creativity that is very meaningful and seems to have me in mind when she says that for the beginning writer the next step is the tricky one and the one where most would-be writers trip up: keep writing.

Ultimately, to keep writing is my resolution! I do worry that some of the technology of blogging will trip me up. Don't expect a lot of fancy widgets on this blog! As with those who share their love and gift for writing with others, I am very impressed and grateful for all the tips other bloggers have given to others on even the smallest, most mundane technical questions. I want to share with you the recent discovery of a writing tool that has been incredibly helpful, both in reducing writing anxiety in general, but also with maintaining concentration and focus. It is an app called The OmmWriter. For a small donation, this software creates a distraction-free writing environment. The genius of the program is its simplicity. Unlike other word processing programs, cluttered with distracting icons, OmmWriter is very simple. Almost deceptively simple. At first, I saw its lack of extra features as a drawback, but now that I have used it a few times, I see the wisdom of the design. I put on the headphones, choose the sound effect and font, and go! The lack of extra features or options is liberating, and you can begin typing at once! I can worry about editing and formatting later when I cut and paste what I have written into my usual word processing program. With OmmWriter, I can focus on the writing itself. I first heard of Omm Writer from reading Free Tools for Writers, Bloggers, and Solopreneurs by Karen Banes. This book is an incredible source of free tools and great ideas.

Another writing tool I have just started using is the Grammarly editing tool. This writing enhancement tool proofreads your writing by checking it against hundreds of grammar rules! Currently, I am using the free one but seriously considering upgrading to the paid version. The free version has been incredible, but the paid version has some fantastic features. My writing anxiety is linked to a fear of spelling and grammar errors. Grammarly is a tool that will help a lot with this problem.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Happy New Year! May you experience a multitude of blessings in 2020!