Thursday, December 8, 2011

Memo to Self

Memo to Self: Brick Walls Can Be Scaled

Sometimes I feel as if I can't research my way out of a paper bag, I mean over a brick wall. Surely after all these years I can deal with a knotty genealogy problem, can't I? The Web has a thousand times more genealogy information than when I started out in 1996. I have ten libraries and archives within an hour's drive. (I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to make you cry.) I ought to be able to solve mysteries, even if my own remain unsolved.

Yesterday I sent my cousin our family brick wall to give to her cousin on her father's side in hope of finding my grandfather's great-grandfather, who is Cousin Suzi's mother's grandfather's great-grandfather. See, I'm her deceased mom's first cousin even though I'm thirty years younger and—

What was I saying? Oh yes, brick walls. One reason I can't break through them is that I forget to find out where the client got their family tradition, I mean their information. The case comes to me in a package, and I run with it. Only after I've struggled a while do I look in the file and facepalm.  

Memo to self: Question everything. Get the answers.

The journey is often a meander through a family's history rather than a progression. I have attention deficit disorder—a slight problem for a genealogist. The company I freelance for,, gives researchers a records checklist and a research log to help us stay on the path. What did I do? I ignored the records checklist because it didn't look right. It's in the wrong order, it has continuity problems, I said. Because of the ADD, a lot of lists and forms are hard for me to follow, but I can adjust either my perception or the form. I did both with the checklist. I have a whole notebook of lists and forms that will help me if I let them.

Memo to self: Use the system, don’t fight it.

I’m beginning to learn that in genealogy research, content is process. I’ve railed against the encroachment of how we do things, the process, into why we do them, the content, especially on the Internet. Family history research is an exception. Organizing the data is a way to bring out the clues and sometimes the answers. I arrange the data to keep me focused and aware of the details. 

I make a grid with columns name, born, married, died, notes. The labels are names of the husband, wife, child, child's wife, child2, etc. The data is just dates and places; the squares are big, the typeface small, to add notes. I print it and use it as a road map to the family.

I create a messy, cluttered Excel spreadsheet that shows possible family members by their adult ages and where they lived, to tell who was with whom when. It gives spouses, notes and data sources. It mostly confirms hunches or shows me where I’m off base. 

I’m coming up with standard document names and subfolders to separate out client data, source notes, collateral family and other types of information in my Word files. Designing this system is proving difficult, but I know it's important.  

Memo to self: Organization is a tool, not a chore.

Today I’m going to tackle my brick walls using these three guidelines. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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