Monday, January 20, 2020
If you're a fan of author Nathan Dylan Goodwin's forensic genealogist mystery books, you'll be thrilled to know that his new book, Th Sterling Affair, has just been published. The following is quoted from his newsletter received today.
On Day 4 you looked into your email inbox (if you had the courage) and saw a lot of things that could be immediately deleted (spam, irrelevant items), and many other things that could be saved for future reference (newsletters can fall into this category, as well as information about upcoming genealogy meetings and conferences that you plan to attend). You also may have created a !Waiting tag or folder to put notices of things that you're expecting in the future, such as books or genealogical records that you've ordered.
But let's focus this day on thinking about correspondence in general. The concept of correspondence has been with us in the English language since at least the 1600s, but of course in pre-email days it referred to letters. Today, it's likely that physical letters are a very tiny percentage of your genealogy-related correspondence, and are limited to those folks who don't own computers and have never bothered to obtain an email account. Even so, you'll need to keep track of any letters that come your way, so that they don't disappear in stacks of other papers.
In terms of physical letters, you'll want a folder for "To be answered" filed prominently near your main desk, such as in a stand-up folder organizer. If no answer is expected or appropriate, you can file the letter instead in a folder that goes with the surname or individual of interest. You'll also want to update your contact file with the mailing address of anyone you are communicating with, so that you can find it easily. (Be sure to tag the contact entry with the surnames you were communicating about, so that you can find the name and address even when you don't remember the contact's name.)
In the same way, organize your incoming and outgoing email. Create surname tags/folders for copies of the email, tag email that deserves a response as "!To be answered", and put copies of your sent messages in "!Waiting" if you are expecting a response.
You should already have at least one block of time per day to process email (include processing physical mail in the same block, so you may want to schedule this block right after your daily mail delivery). Then create additional time blocks several times a week to work on the items in your "!To be answered". If you think that it may be a while before you can respond to an email, respond to the email just with a statement saying that you got their email and you'll write them a response by some future date. Then they won't guess as to whether or not you got their email.
Sunday, January 19, 2020
Before we leave the topic of DNA, there is one more kind of DNA-related information that we need to organize: the files that we download from the DNA testing sites. The major DNA testing sites allow us to make copies of our DNA data so that we can then upload them to other DNA websites.
But I've often seen people who get odd results when they upload their data, and it frequently turns out that they got confused and uploaded the wrong relative's data to the site. One way for you to minimize the chance of confusing the downloaded files is to rename the files after they are originally downloaded, and then place them in a DNA folder, with each tester having their own subfolder. This method provides another way to help keep track of who has tested and received their results.
When you rename the file, use a system that will make it clear whose DNA it is and which company the test was with. As with other genealogy files, start with the surname, then the first name. For these DNA files, then add the company name (or an abbreviation for it). Always keep the file extension unchanged.
By renaming all your download files and keeping them together, you'll not only be able to find the file you want quickly, but also you'll avoid having to download the file all over again.
Saturday, January 18, 2020
DNA testing has become an important part of genealogical research, and just as with traditional research, it can be difficult to keep track of what you've already done and what still needs to be done. Let's think about all the kinds of information related to DNA testing that needs to be organized.
Do you have a list of research questions that could be helped by DNA testing? For each question, do you know what kind of test would need to be taken, and by whom? (Yes, you may want to go ahead and test some of your oldest relatives just because you may not have the opportunity later, even if you don't know just yet how you'll use that data.)
If you test relatives other than yourself, you need to track additional information. Have you contacted them to find out if they are willing? Have they responded? Have you sent them documentation as to what might result from their testing? Have they given written permission to do the testing and to use their results (with or without limitations)? Do you have those signed documents and have you filed those where you can easily find them again in case there are any future questions from them or their heirs?
Have you sent them a test? Have they taken it? Have they sent it to the testing company? Has the testing company received it? Has the testing company completed processing and provided you with results? Have you shared those results with the test taker? Have you reviewed the results?
Whether you use a spreadsheet or note-taking software to keep track of all of this information, it's important that you organize it. It can be frustrating to lose track and wonder if you remembered to order a test for someone. Save yourself some headaches and you can spend less time worrying about these details and spend more time enjoying analyzing the results and breaking through brick walls.
Friday, January 17, 2020
To be organized, whether for genealogy or for other purposes, there are several important categories of tools that you need. You've got email for communication and a to-do list for task management. Later in the month we'll talk about taking and managing notes. Today, we focus on ... well, today! And tomorrow, and next week, and next month. In other words, your calendar.
No matter how many items you have on your to-do list, none of them may get done unless you find a home for them on your calendar. Unless they are so trivial that you can get them down in a few minutes, you'll need to find a block of time in which to focus on that task. It could be 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, or even 2 hours.
There are three types of things that you can do wrong with calendars. You can forget to schedule things, which means that you might forget meetings or opportunities to do research. It can also mean that you accidentally double-book a block of time, which can be embarrassing. So all of your time-dependent events need to be on your calendar.
The second thing you can do wrong is to put too much on your calendar. If you book every minute of every hour, you have no breathing space, no time for a break, no opportunity to let a task run a little bit longer than expected.
The third thing that can cause you problems is if you try to do too many different things in the same day (we talked a little about this 2 days ago). If you are trying to work on too many different research projects in the same day, you may not have more than a few minutes for each one. And our brains take some time to switch between tasks. So if you can reduce the number of important different things to do to a small, manageable number, you can give each task sufficient time to get into it, establish focus, and then finish it up (or leave it at a very good stopping point).
So what do you do if you find yourself having leftover time in a time block on your calendar, after you have completed a primary task? You can take a longer break. You can get up and move around and drink water (or coffee) and call a friend and...well, just so long as your break doesn't turn into something where you lose track of time.
You can also scan your to-do list for future tasks that look like they can be done in just a few minutes. Booking an appointment. Replying quickly to an email. Reading a genealogy blog post.
Use your calendar as your road map. At the end of each day, set it up for the next day, and then put it out of your mind. It'll be ready for you the next morning.
Thursday, January 16, 2020
It's one thing to worry about organizing genealogical documents, each of which may have a date on when it was produced, information about what the document is about, and the names of your ancestors to suggest where to file the document.
But what about photographs? Did you inherit boxes of photos? Photos with nothing written on them. Photos that display images of people you can't identify. Photos that have faded or changed color since they were originally printed. Is it a lost cause to organize family photos?
Start by digitizing all of the printed photos. Use a flatbed scanner and a setting of 600 dpi, and save them as digital files in TIFF format. Use a soft pencil and write on the back corner of each photo a sequence number (001, 002, etc.) that you can keep track of using a spreadsheet or some other software so that you can use that as part of the digital file name. Then take the physical photos and store them in archival safe storage materials, and then store them in the place in your home that is cool, dry, and dark.
You are also going to use that same spreadsheet or note-taking software to write down as much as you can learn about the photo, either from what you yourself might know about the image (who is in it, when it was taken, where it was taken, what the event was, etc.) or from what other family members might know. Because you've digitized the photos, you can save them as JPG files (which are smaller than TIFF files) and email the JPG copies to everyone you think might have any info that can help you.
If the photos are faded or their color has changed, run the digital images through something like Vivid-Pix RESTORE. This can help bring out additional details that can help you or other family members figure out more information about each photo.
As you remember or learn anything about the photo, add that to your spreadsheet or other tracking software so that you'll have a more permanent record of what the photo is about. Finally, back up all of the digital images as well as the tracking file, using a cloud-based solution (Backblaze is a good choice). You don't want to run the risk of something happening to your home (natural disaster, burglary, etc.) and losing not only the physical copies but also the digital copies.
You can also add some of the discovered information to the digital file name, such as the name of a key person, location, and/or year. For instance, if I find a World War II photo of my father, I might call it 015_Smith_George_England_1943. Don't worry if the photo has more than one person in it. Remember that you can add any additional names and other details to your spreadsheet or note-taking software, which you can then search as needed.
Finally, get copies of books and read blogs by genealogists with a lot of experience organizing and preserving photos, such as my friends Maureen Taylor (the Photo Detective) and Denise Levenick (the Family Curator). And look for the new book by Margot Note just published by the Society of American Archivists, Creating Family Archives: A Step-by-Step Guide to Saving Your Memories for Future Generations.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
The following press release was received on January 14, 2019.
FEDERATION OF GENEALOGICAL SOCIETIES AND NATIONAL PARK SERVICE ANNOUNCE LAUNCH OF U.S.-MEXICAN WAR SOLDIER & SAILOR DATABASE
January 14, 2020 – Austin, TX. and Brownsville, TX.
The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and the National Park Service’s Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park (NPS) announce the launch of the U.S.-Mexican War Soldier & Sailor database.
This online, searchable database contains information for over 85,000 U.S. and Mexican veterans who served in this war. Many records include personal details, such as hair color and occupation.
The database allows descendants of these soldiers and sailors to connect to their personal history and helps Palo Alto commemorate and tell the stories of those who served. This invaluable research tool benefits genealogists, historians, as well as people who may have never known they are related to a U.S.-Mexican War veteran.
This project started in 2007. Progress was extremely slow until 2015, when FGS joined forces with the NPS. FGS offered their expertise and numerous volunteers.
Patricia Rand, the FGS contact, recruited and trained volunteers who spent over 17,000 hours doing the tedious task of inputting data. Their dedication makes it possible for future generations to learn about those who served in the U.S.-Mexican War.
Join us for the virtual launch of the U.S.-Mexican War Soldier & Sailor Database on Monday, January 27 at 3 pm Central. You can join us in-person at the Palo Alto Visitor Center or live from your computer. Check the Palo Alto website or Facebook for details about the livestream connection.
About the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS)
The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) was founded in 1976 and empowers the genealogical and family history community, especially its societies and organizations, by advocating for the preservation and access of records and providing resources that enable genealogical organizations to succeed in pursuing their missions. FGS helps genealogical societies and family history enthusiasts alike to strengthen and grow through online resources, FGS FORUM magazine, and through its annual national conference which provides four days of excellent learning opportunities for both societies and family history enthusiasts. FGS launched the Preserve the Pensions project in 2010 to raise more than $3 million to digitize and make freely available the pension files from the War of 1812. Fundraising was completed for that project in 2016 and the digitization continues. FGS was also the driving force behind the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors project alongside the National Parks Service. To learn more visit fgs.org.
Federation of Genealogical Societies
PO Box 200940
Austin, TX 78720-0940
phone: +1 (888) 347-1500
fax: +1 (866) 347-1350
Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park
600 E. Harrison St., Rm. 1006
Brownsville, TX 78520
phone: +1 (956) 541-2785