Friday, January 31, 2020

Day 31: Organize Your Remaining Problem Areas

During the past month, you have been exposed each day to suggestions for organizing some aspect of your genealogical research, but that also usually applied to optimizing your physical and virtual workspaces for your regular job, your home/family management, and your other hobbies. Again, the idea was never that you would complete all aspects of organizing each day, but that instead you would use the day to think about a particular topic and make a long-term plan to organize in that area. This may take additional days, weeks, and months. (Yes, for a few areas of your life, it might even take years.)

But there are bound to be some areas that weren't touched on during the past 30 days. What other areas of your genealogy hobby or business do you feel need to be better organized? Share your questions in response to the blog posts (or to the Facebook comments area where the blog posts have been linked). Others may have ideas of how they deal with that problem area. And you'll be giving me ideas on topics to think about, research, and blog about in the coming months.

A few final points: First, don't beat yourself up about any of this. We all go through periods of disorganization in different areas of our lives. We can all do better, and if we put our mind to it, we'll be successful. Second, avoid the excuse that you lack the time to organize. Organizing is a way that you can invest your time in order to save much more time later. Third, don't be shy about asking for help and advice. One of the best things you can do for your fellow genealogists is to make them feel needed and useful by helping you with your organizational problems.

I have appreciated your comments and feedback throughout the month, and I hope that you have found at least one post in this series useful. Thanks for being part of this month!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Day 30: Organize Your Research Projects

On Day 15, we talked about your to-do list. On Day 28, we talked about your research goals. But there's one missing piece that goes in-between: your research projects.

Your goal defines where you want to end up. It is your destination. Your to-do list identifies the very specific actions that you need to do each day. But to get to your goal, you need a project. You need to make that long list of specific tasks, decide on which ones need to be done, in what order, and on what days. Some tasks can be done tomorrow. Others may have to wait weeks or months, depending upon how earlier tasks go, upon how much time you have on your calendar, and upon what other people (collaborators, repository staff, etc.) do and when they do it.

Beginner goals might involve simple projects and may take only a few months to accomplish. Goals created by experienced researchers might require elaborate projects that, if carried out correctly, might take a full year or more.

If your project is elaborate, you will need to take the big project and divide it into smaller sub-projects, and then keep on dividing until you get to those very specific tasks. You'll want to set due dates for each project piece, so that you can stay on track and not waste time. Yes, real life and unexpected issues can get in the way, so you'll need to prepare for extending the timeline if things interfere. But who knows? Perhaps things will go more quickly than you originally expected, and you can change the timeline to move the final due date earlier than you had planned.

Define your research goals. Create your research projects. And identify your research tasks. Get from start to finish.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Day 29: Organize Your Genealogy Expenses

Nearly all hobbies come with some sort of cost. Genealogy is no exception. While you can engage in genealogical research at a minimal cost, using an existing home computer, free software, free online databases, and how-to books checked out from your public library, you are more likely to want to spend a bit more in order to make more progress and get greater enjoyment.

Here are just some of the genealogical things that you may choose to spend money for: a newer computer with extra memory and with an extra large-screen display; a printer/scanner; office supplies; computer furniture; a good-quality office chair; filing storage furniture; computer software; database subscriptions; document requests; educational subscriptions; books; magazine subscriptions; local, state, and national society memberships; registration, travel, and hotel expenses for conferences and research trips; and professional research services. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it covers the most common genealogical expenses.

None of us has unlimited financial resources, and we are usually juggling all kinds of other demands on our income. This means that you will want to set up an overall budget for you and your household, and then decide what portion of that can be applied to your hobby of genealogy. Two of the most popular budgeting services are Mint and You Need a Budget (YNAB). These can be linked directly to your financial accounts and allow you to identify where your money is going.

By using budget apps, you can decide in advance how much you want to be spending on genealogy, and then you can stay within your allotted amounts without the worry that you may be overspending. This will free you up to know when you can afford that book or software that you want.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Day 28: Organize Your Research Goals

In episode #373 of The Genealogy Guys Podcast, Cyndi Ingle talked about thinking of your end goal. The point is that we often spend a lot of time working on things without considering what we are trying to accomplish. Our sense of what we are doing and why may be too vague. When we begin a new year or a new quarter, it's an ideal time to consider and reconsider what we are working toward.

If you're a new genealogist, you might have one very simple goal. You might be trying to identify all of your 8 great-grandparents, or you might be wanting to work on a particular surname line to take it back as far as you can go. If you're a more experienced genealogist, you might have a few brick walls that you want to focus your time and energy on. Choose a goal that is appropriate to your skill level, so that you won't be overwhelmed, but that is interesting enough to keep you motivated to complete it.

Yes, it's fine to have more than one goal, but be careful not to have too many. When you have too many goals, you'll be switching your focus between them so often that you won't make any real progress on any of them. I would suggest no more than 3 goals per quarter. At the end of the quarter, you can see if you're still interested in all 3 goals, and if not, swap one or more of them out with a new goal.

Research shows that we are more likely to reach our goals when we write them down. Put your written goals somewhere that you can see them every day, such as on a whiteboard or a piece of paper pinned to a corkboard. Or use it as your computer's desktop background. In this way, you'll have a little bit of extra motivation each time you sit down at your computer to do genealogical research. You'll be less likely to go off on tangents that won't help you achieve your goals.

Monday, January 27, 2020

MyHeritage Featured on CNN in Honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day

This communiqúe was just received from Daniel Horowitz of I hope you will take the time to read the article and to share this blog post with as many friends as possible.


Today marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, as a grandson of survivors myself, I'm proud to share a beautiful story featured today on CNN and made possible thanks to the dedicated efforts of the MyHeritage Research team.  
An iconic 1933 photo of Jewish shopkeeper Richard Stern standing defiantly outside his shop in Cologne, Germany, sparked the interest of our Research team, who noticed the Iron Cross on his lapel as a Nazi soldier stands guard a few feet away. Using MyHeritage family trees and SuperSearch™, our researchers traced Stern's incredible personal story from that day in Cologne and across the Atlantic Ocean. What they revealed was an inspiring story of hope and determination starring a real-life hero. 
I encourage you to read the article and as always, ask that you please share it on your social channels.
Best regards
Daniel Horowitz
Genealogy Expert


MyHeritage (USA) Inc.,
2975 Executive Parkway,
Lehi, Utah

Day 27: Organize Your Source Templates

One of the best parts of my day job as an academic librarian is that I get to help my library's interlibrary loan (ILL) staff as they try to fulfill requests from my university's faculty and graduate students for information that my library doesn't have but that other libraries might have. No library can own every book, journal, magazine, or newspaper, so we make up for it by giving speedy service to figure out what other library holds what we lack.

I enjoy this work because faculty and graduate students are not always very good in providing a complete citation. They might give an article name but no author, or an author's name but not the year of publication, or the journal title but not the volume and issue numbers. Something is often missing.

Now put yourself in the position of looking at your own genealogical research, especially research that you might have done 5, 10, or 20 years earlier. Have you been good about adequately citing your sources, so that you can determine immediately what source(s) you used to determine that date and location of birth, marriage, or death?  Or did you omit that information or only provide part of it, but still not quite enough to figure out exactly what it was that you used?

This is where good source templates come in. Genealogists use hundreds of different kinds of sources in many different formats. If you already have source templates set up either in your genealogy database software or in your note-taking software, then you can just fill in the blanks and voila, you've got your source cited sufficiently well so that others can evaluate your conclusions and you can go back to the source when needed.

If your genealogy software already doesn't provide these templates, or if you don't happen to like the ones provided, then set up your own. Use a note in Evernote for each type of source document, and put all of them into an Evernote notebook called "Genealogy source templates", labeling each piece that is needed to fully describe a document of that type. Then when you are ready to use the template, copy the template into a new note and fill it out, and then copy the completed citation into your genealogy database software.

You can tag each template with the event type (birth, marriage, death, military, etc.), with the format (print, microform, online) and with other kinds of information (book, magazine, newspaper, etc.) so that you can quickly find the specific template you need.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Day 26: Organize Your Notes

At the time I am writing this, I've noticed some discussions of research logs. I've done numerous presentations where I recommend that all genealogical researchers keep a research log, and a good tool for that is Evernote. (You might prefer Microsoft OneNote, which is fine.)

First, the case for research logs is that they allow you to track such things as your research goals, your specific research questions, your searches (with all of the variations you use), your results (both positive and negative), the information you find, the evidence you gain from that information, and your arguments leading to a conclusion. You can then copy this argument/conclusion into your genealogy database software.

It has been suggested that you can keep your research logs in your genealogy database software. My feeling about that is that your genealogy database software is well designed for recording your conclusions, but not very good for the other parts of a research log.

Second, by using Evernote or Microsoft OneNote for your research log, you can easily search across your entire collection of notes for anything you might have written for anyone you have been researching. This can be much more difficult in genealogy database software.

Of course, organizing your notes can be about much more than just keeping a research log. You can make notes about educational presentations you've attended or viewed, about ideas for books to buy and articles to read, and about things to communicate to your cousins and DNA matches.

By using a well-designed note-taking tool, you can preserve all those random thoughts that might come up during research and make them searchable for later usage. You don't have to try to find that sticky note where you recorded someone's phone number, or that pad you had with you at your most recent conference that has the answer to the question you asked the presenter.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Day 25: Organize Your Routines

The word "routine" sounds so...routine. Routines get a bad rap. We hear the word and think about drudgery or days that never change. But we've got routines all turned around backwards. Routines are our friends, and they can make our lives more interesting.

Keep in mind that genealogy is a mental exercise. It takes a lot of brainpower to focus on our research question, to construct effective research plans and search strategies, to locate relevant information, to evaluate evidence, and to compose conclusions. But if we do everything differently every day and in a haphazard manner, we waste time having to think about trivial things when we need to be using that time and mental energy on better things. Enter routines.

Do you have a morning routine? Do you have a bedtime routine? Do you have a routine for sitting down at your computer and beginning work? Do you have a routine for completing computer work and setting it aside for the day?

What you want to do is to establish routines for all of these things. You can start with a checklist of things that you want to do. Your goal is to make these things into habits and are then strung together into routines. Once you make something a habit, you begin doing it automatically with no need to think. This means things like getting up at the same time every day, engaging in physical and mental activities such as exercise and meditation, and enjoying that daily cup of coffee before you sit down at the computer. This means things like journaling every night before bed in order to get all those random thoughts out of your head so that they don't keep you up at night, followed by going to bed at the same time every night.

Once you build a lot of habits into your daily and weekly experiences, and string those together into routines, you can run on automatic for so much that you can then think about the fun part of genealogical research. Make checklists for your research processes so that they become a regular part of what you do, and discover how much less stress you face going through each step.

Embrace your routines.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Day 24: Organize Your Tutorials

In the past few years, the access that genealogists have to online education has mushroomed. From tutorials on subscription sites like Genealogy Guys Learn, DNA Central, or Legacy Family Tree Webinars, to offerings provided by national and state genealogy societies, there is no shortage of educational content. And if you subscribe to one or more of these sites, or are a member of one or more of these societies, you may find yourself with so many choices that it's hard to find the ones you need exactly when you need them.

This is where you're going to need to make use of your browser's bookmark feature and the ability to create folders. Create a highest-level menu choice in your bookmarks for education. Within that folder, create subfolders for topics (British, Irish, census, DNA, etc.). And within those, put links to the online offerings. Remember that you can rename the link anything you like, so change the title so that the most important word appears first, making it quick and easy to scan the list to see which one you want.

Ah, but I left out one major category of tutorials: the free ones on YouTube. If you haven't already done so, search YouTube for keywords of interest, and bookmark those tutorials in the same way.

Once you've done all this, you'll have a personalized educational library ready for you to enjoy whenever your research takes you into a particular ethnicity, technology, methodology, or record type.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Day 23: Organize Your Ebooks

On Day 11 I talked to you about organizing your physical bookshelves and using LibraryThing to keep track of your books. Increasingly, we are buying more ebooks and fewer physical books, allowing us to take a portion of our library wherever we go without the extra weight. And it's saving us space on our bookshelves.

The most popular system for ebooks has to be the Kindle suite of hardware and software, although it's not the only one. While I don't personally own an Amazon Kindle device, I do a lot of book shopping in the Amazon Kindle Store and I read my books using the Kindle app on my iPad.

But if you now own 500 ebooks or more (it could happen!), how can you keep them organized? Let's see what tools the Kindle app gives us.

First, you can switch between viewing all the Kindle books you own or just the ones you've got currently downloaded. Once you've read a Kindle book, you can archive it so that it's no longer taking up space on your device. You can always download it again if needed. The Kindle app also lets you filter your books by those you have finishing reading and those you haven't yet finished.

Another great option is to sort your books. The default is to see the most recent books at the top, which makes sense, as these are likely ones that you are currently reading or have just finished reading. You can also sort by Title or Author or Publication Date.

You can view your books as a "list", which gives you a cover page thumbnail, the title, and the author. It also gives you a set of dots to indicate how long the book is and how much of it you've already read. Or you can view your books as a "grid", meaning that you're seeing all your books as much larger book covers, as if you had them all propped up on a bookshelf.

But let's get more serious about organizing our ebooks. No, you don't have to act like a librarian and arrange your books by Dewey number or Library of Congress. Instead, you can create "Collections", and assign a book to a particular collection. You create a new collection by clicking the + sign at the top of the screen, giving it a name, and choosing Create. You can then see your list of all books and tap the ones to add to the collection, finishing by clicking DONE.

Once you have set up one or more collections, you can choose an existing collection, and then click the + sign to go back to your list of books to add. Even better, you can put the same book in more than one collection (perhaps you'll have one collection for Genealogy, another for DNA, and some books will be in both).

Now, when you're hoping to browse your entire ebook library to find something of interest, you can look at your list of collections and pick just one to narrow your focus to a particular topic.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Day 22: Organize Your Passwords

Password management is a lot like flossing. It's very important to do but it can seem like an awful lot of work. Until the day that our computers let us get into everything by just seeing our faces and listening to our voices (assuming that this can be done in such a way that it can't be hacked), we're stuck with the idea of creating passwords for every site we use.

Because we can't remember so many different passwords, we try to go the "easy" route and use the same password for everything, or we pick things that are too easy to guess. And that's a very bad idea. We already know that so many websites have experienced security breaches, some of which have resulted in IDs and passwords being loose in the wild, ready for hackers to exploit.

So what can you do? First, install a password manager on your computer. The most popular choices are 1Password and LastPass. Personally, I've gone with 1Password, but I'm not here to argue one over the other. Just go with one.

You'll need a master password to get the most out of these so that you can safely store your individual passwords in the software's vault. Here's a tip for you: While individual words make for lousy passwords (because hackers can quickly use a dictionary of a few hundred thousand words to figure out which one you've chosen), you can string together a series of words that won't appear in any dictionary and that you can still remember if you choose wisely.

How do you create that string of words? Think about some favorite song (not one that everyone knows is your favorite, but instead perhaps a guilty pleasure song from your early days) and use a set of words from the lyrics. Or pick an obscure poem that you're a fan of, and use part of a line from that. Or pick part of a favorite quote. In all cases, just put 4 or 5 words of those words together into one long string, and voila, you have a master password that is essentially impossible to guess but that you won't need to write down anywhere (although you may want to include it on a piece of paper in your safety deposit box in case your heirs need it after you are gone).

Now you can create far more obscure individual passwords for websites, and then store those in your password management software. If you still want some individual passwords that you might still be able to remember but that will be hard to crack, then you might do this: Choose a year from an ancestral event (maybe the birth year for a favorite great-great-grandparent), and add that to a word that changes depending on what website you are using. For instance, if you like flowers, and the website's name start with "r", then you might be able to use "rose1854" for that site, and for another site that starts with "m", use "marigold1854". In this way, you'll still be able to access websites even when you're not using your own computer and therefore don't have access to your password manager. You can probably come up with an even harder to guess system than the one I've outlined, and if so, fantastic! It's always a trade-off between using a tough-to-guess password but still a password that you yourself can remember.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Day 21: Organize Your Browser Extensions

Let's face it. On a typical desktop or laptop computer, we spend most of our time using one particular application: our web browser of choice. For probably two-thirds of us, that's Google Chrome, with the remainder of us split between Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, or Apple Safari. We may access our email through our browser, and we certainly spend a lot of time in online genealogy websites. 

When browsers were first developed, they could do the basic stuff well enough, but eventually the users demanded more features, and sometimes they asked for things that the browser developers themselves weren't ready to add. This is where browser extensions come in. By adding these mini-apps to our browsers, we give our browsers superpowers. 

It's very easy to add extensions (and there are thousands to choose from, just for Chrome), and that's part of the problem. We may have added so many that we don't even know anymore which ones we have. And there's even a small risk that an extension might do something with our data or computer security that we don't like. 

Do you know exactly which extensions you've added to your browser? (The ones you've enabled are probably displaying small icons at the top right of your browser.) Are you still using that extension's features, or is it just taking up a little bit of storage and memory, perhaps slowing your browser experience and frustrating you without your knowing the cause? At the very least, you should do a review of what you've added, and start thinking about whether or not it still seems as useful today as it did when you added it, and whether it's time to remove it if it's not really needed. 

Go to your browser's Preferences or Settings, and look for the Extensions menu choice. At the moment, I have 11, of which 3 are Chrome apps (Docs, Sheets, and Slides) for working with Google Drive files. Of the remaining 8, I have 2 disabled, as I'm not sure yet if I want to use those (I'll decide later). The remaining 6 are some of my favorites, and I will certainly recommend several of them to you:
  • Evernote Web Clipper, so that I can quickly copy just the web content I want to my Evernote system
  • Grammarly for Chrome, so that I can quickly catch typos and other awkward writing errors
  • 1Password, so that I can safely store my website passwords and have them automatically filled in as needed
  • Password Checkup, so that I can know if the ID and password I'm currently using for a particular site has ever been exposed in a data breach.
Once you've reviewed and cleaned out your extensions, you might want to visit the appropriate extension store (such as the Chrome Web Store) to see what else might be helpful. I recommend adding only 1 extension at a time, seeing if you actually use it, and waiting a while before adding more. There are even a few out there specifically for genealogy, although I have not used them myself. In this way, you can personalize your browser to have just the features you want.

Monday, January 20, 2020

New Nathan Dylan Goodwin Book is Published

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.

I'm very excited to tell you that my latest genealogical crime mystery story, The Sterling Affair, is out now! It is available in paperback, Kindle and on Kobo. After fourteen months in the writing, it is the longest and most complicated book in the series, which early readers and reviewers have described as 'the best in the series'. I hope you enjoy reading Morton Farrier's latest adventure!

Thank you for your continued support and I hope you enjoy the new book. Don't forget to share the news with your friends who might enjoy a genealogical crime mystery!

PS: The audiobook version of The Sterling Affair will be coming early next year...

The Sterling Affair
When an unannounced stranger comes calling at Morton Farrier’s front door, he finds himself faced with the most intriguing and confounding case of his career to-date as a forensic genealogist. He agrees to accept the contract to identify a man who had been secretly living under the name of his new client’s long-deceased brother. Morton must use his range of resources and research skills to help him deconstruct this mysterious man’s life, ultimately leading him back into the murky world of 1950s international affairs of state. Meanwhile, Morton is faced with his own alarmingly close DNA match which itself comes with far-reaching implications for the Farriers.

Day 20: Organize Your Correspondence

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

Day 19: Organize Your DNA Downloads

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

Day 18: Organize Your DNA Tests

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

Day 17: Organize Your Calendar

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

Day 16: Organize Your Photos

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

Launch of U.S.-Mexican War Soldier & Sailor Database

The following press release was received on January 14, 2019.

January 14, 2020 – Austin, TXand 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
Media Contacts:

Mike Mansfield      
Federation of Genealogical Societies
PO Box 200940
Austin, TX 78720-0940
phone: +1 (888) 347-1500
fax: +1 (866) 347-1350

Karen Weaver
Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park
600 E. Harrison St., Rm. 1006
Brownsville, TX  78520
phone: +1 (956) 541-2785

Day 15: Organize Your To-Do List

Keeping track of what needs to be done (for genealogical research or for anything else) can get complicated if you're not careful. Some folks use a long piece of paper. Some folks put sticky notes all over the sides of their monitors. And some folks, like me, use to-do apps. I recommend using the simplest system, near at hand, so that you always know where you want to focus your time.

Where can you go wrong with your to-do list? For starters, by having too many items on it. You'll be overwhelmed, and will be disappointed when you don't finish everything on the list. Solution: Make a to-do list just for the day, either the night before or first thing in the morning. Put no more than 3 critical things on it, with the most critical first. Don't fill the list with trivial things.

Make a separate list for "up next". These can be items that you can add to the next daily list once you've completed the 3 items for the day. If you finish your 3 items, and still have time and energy left to do more, then it's ok to look at the "up next" list for 1 or 2 more things you could do. But that's purely a bonus. You should feel happy by just doing the 3 (max) items on the daily list.

Also keep a "done" list, keeping track of what you've accomplished. This can help you feel accomplished. You might review it at the end of the week just to see how much you got done.

Finally, keep a "maybe/wish list". These are things that you haven't decided for sure about whether or not you want to do them. This list should have no more than 10 items, and you can review it every few weeks to remove anything that, well, seemed like a good idea at the time, but that now seems no longer very important.

If you want to do all of this using an online tool, I recommend Trello. Trello lets you create boards for the different areas of your life, such as Home, Work, and Genealogy. You can make a to-do list for each, and then look at only the board that is currently relevant to where you are and the time you have available. You can drag items from the "up next" list to the "today" list and then to the "done" list.

However you track your tasks, keep it simple.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Day 14: Organize Your Supply Closet

Back in the real world, we've dealt with desktops, inboxes, desk drawers, file drawers, and bookshelves. When any of these aren't very organized, we can see the disorganization (assuming that you open those drawers). There's still one physical area that can be quite the mess, and it's often hidden behind a door: the supply closet.

Whether you keep your office supplies in an actual closet, or in a cabinet, or in plastic tubs, you're probably already cringing at the idea that you need to do something about this. When was the last time that you went to get something you needed (a pen, a pad, some paper, some push pins, some extra staples, some hanging folders, etc.) and you simply couldn't find them? So you spent money buying them again, and later discovered where you were keeping that particular type of supply. Yes, we've all done this.

The solution: A supply closet purge and re-organization. You can begin by pulling everything out into the open where you can see everything you have. This lets you group together the things that somehow got separated or duplicated.

During this process, look for things that you no longer need, such as extra printer ink for a printer that you no longer own, or a charger for a device that you threw away ages ago. Look to see if you've got rolls of Scotch tape or boxes of rubber bands that are now fossilized and unusable. In some cases, you might have good things that you no longer feel are useful for yourself, but that could be donated to a school or other worthy organization.

Once you're down to the things you really want to keep, you may want to make a trip to the nearest office supply store (or these days, to an online office supply site), and find organizational boxes, bins, and baskets that you can use to keep like things together. If you don't already have one, get a label maker (I'm a big fan of the Brother P-Touch) so that you can label the fronts of the boxes and bins as to what's inside.

Put the things you use the most on the shelves at eye and arm level, and the things you use more rarely on the floor or on the top shelf. Make sure to leave some space for things that you might acquire in the future.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Day 13: Organize Your Online Trees

Some folks have their family trees only on their desktop/laptop computers. Some have them only online. Some have both. (I strongly recommend that you keep your primary family tree on your own computer, well backed up.) If you do have online trees, how many do you have, and where do you have them? Are you running into problems keeping track, and keeping them all updated?

Your online tree might be personal (only you can update it, but perhaps you give explicit edit permissions to one or a few other folks too). Your personal tree might be on Ancestry or MyHeritage or Findmypast (to name the best known). Or your online tree might be part of a larger, shared tree. Your shared tree might be on FamilySearch or Geni or WikiTree (again, to name the best known).

Your personal tree could be public or private. Public personal trees might attract comments by others, who can offer additions and corrections, but it will still be entirely up to you to make those corrections. Shared trees, which must automatically be public (at least for the deceased individuals) will result not only in comments but also in actual changes by others.

If you do keep your tree in more than one place, and make it public, you make it available to a wider audience, and may discover cousins you didn't know about. But if you keep it in more than one place, you also create the needed work to make updates to each one (in order to keep them synchronized). And if you also keep a shared tree, you now have taken on the additional work of monitoring any changes that may need to be added to your other trees or that may need to be undone.

Your first step, then, is to decide exactly where online you are going to keep your tree.  Make a checklist of locations.  Start small. You can add additional locations later, if you find that you are organized enough to update them all as needed.

How do you keep it all organized? Keep one very well-sourced and complete tree on your own computer, and then sync it (to Ancestry) or upload a GEDCOM of it (to MyHeritage or Findmypast). Then use the checklist going forward as you make any changes to one of the trees so that you'll remember to make the same changes elsewhere.

If you do decide to work with any of the shared trees, then you're also going to want to keep watch on your ancestral profiles so that you can be notified of changes. If your information is already well sourced, this will be less likely to result in changes made that you feel are incorrect. Even so, you may find that you'll need to schedule some time each week to undo any unsupported changes.

Unfortunately, the time has not yet come where your making a change in one tree results automatically in all your other trees being updated. For now, you'll have to decide for yourself how much time you have and how much benefit you think you might get from having your tree in as many locations as possible. This is clearly a personal decision, so don't feel pressured to do more than you want to do.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Day 12: Organize Your Computer's Family Trees

Are you familiar with the state tree of Utah? Since 2014, the quaking aspen has replaced the blue spruce. What makes the aspen an unusual tree is that a large forest of aspens may share the same root system, making the entire forest a single living organism. One tree with many trunks!

The family trees we maintain on our desktop or laptop computers may be similar. We may have created one tree, then copied (cloned) it for some reason, and after a while, we have more than one tree and we're unsure which one we should be updating.

Some folks either started their research by keeping their maternal and paternal side separated, or by splitting them later. When it came time to upload a copy of these trees to a DNA website, it caused a problem as to which tree to attach to the DNA test! While it's a common question in genealogy forums as to whether people should have one tree or two trees, I would answer that having a single tree will cause the fewest problems in the long run.

So where does this leave you? With multiple trees, in various states of being updated. Plus some unrelated trees that you might have done for friends long ago. Begin by moving all those unrelated trees into their own folder, leaving you in your main genealogy folder with only various versions of your personal trees.

Now use your genealogy software to compare these trees to each other, eventually merging them all together into one large, reliable tree. In the future, you can always export just the branches you need to send to relatives on one side of the family or another.

If you're nervous about getting rid of any of those older trees, this is where backing up your files comes into it again. If you practice good backup procedures, you can bring back anything that you think you might need again someday.

Oh, and we'll talk about those online trees tomorrow!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Day 11: Organize Your Books

Got books? Silly question. You're a genealogist. Of course you have books. Do you know exactly which books you have? Ever bought a copy of a book and discovered that you already owned it? (Did you ever do this more than once with the same book? Asking for a ... friend.) Clearly, you need a system for your books.

OK, you already know the drill for how to organize. Keep it simple, and keep things needed frequently close to hand. That means that the nearest bookshelf needs to have the books you use most often. And all the rest of your books need to have some sort of order. Now, as a librarian by profession, I suppose I could make some sort of recommendation relating to how to arrange your books. Dewey Decimal? Library of Congress? Let's go simpler than that.

How to proceed also depends on how many books you own. When I moved from South Carolina to Florida in 1990, I had about 40 boxes of books. When I moved 4.5 years later from an apartment to a house, I had 50 boxes. I've downsized since then, but I estimate that I might still have around 6000 books (a lot are genealogy books, but I do own books on lots of different topics). You may have more books than that, but perhaps you have less.

Today, we've all got a new option: Digitized books. Do we really need a print copy if a free digital version is available, let's say at FamilySearch? Probably not. Check your oldest books (those no longer under copyright, usually published before 1925) to see if someone has digitized them and made them available online, and take your unneeded items to a genealogy society meeting to give away. 

For the remaining books, you need to know exactly what you still have, and a way to organize them. Let's start with the cataloging process. I recommend that you use LibraryThing, a website. It's free for up to 200 books (so you can play with it to see if you like it), but it's only $25/lifetime for as many books as you like. Once you have all your books in LibraryThing, you can check it going forward before you buy any additional books.

How hard is it to put your books into LibraryThing? You can scan the bar code (if the book is recent enough to have one) in order to automatically add it to your personal catalog. Or you can type part of the title or the author's name and it will look it up in online catalogs and give you a one-button option to add it to your catalog with all the needed info.

You can tag your books in LibraryThing with such things as surnames, geographic locations, and type of content. But now let's get back to the physical organization. It might seem obvious, but yes, you'll want to organize primarily by geography (countries, states, counties) so that books about the same places are grouped together. Once you get to the appropriate geographic level, feel free to alphabetize by author.

No, you're probably not going to finish this task all in one day. But you could probably do one bookshelf a week. In a few months, you're done!

Friday, January 10, 2020

Day 10: Organize Your RSS Feeds

When the World Wide Web was first created, one of its advantages over the information sources that had come before was that a web page could be changed, adding new content, removing outdated content, and fixing errors. But this advantage was also a bit of a curse, because it meant that you might have to check a web page on a regular basis to see if it had changed, and of course, some web pages might not change for months or years, if ever. What if there was a tool that would keep track of online content, notifying "subscribers" if the content had changed in any way.

This became especially important when the first blogs were created, as people would want to follow a particular blog and be notified when there were new posts. In 1999, a solution was created: a special kind of web page in a particular format whose primary purpose was to keep track of changes to some other page or site. This new file format was called RSS, also referred to as a web feed or news feed. But even with the new file format, it was still necessary to have special software that could track the RSS feeds for dozens or even hundreds of different sites (again, especially blogs), so that one could be notified when there was new content to read. This special software was called a news aggregator or feed reader.

Google jumped into the arena with its own feed reader in 2005. Google Reader became perhaps the best known and most popular reader software, and it remained so until Google decided to withdraw it in 2013. The software that filled the gap and that became the most popular alternative is Feedly, and it's the one that I personally use to keep track of hundreds of blogs, many of which are about genealogy.

Genealogy blogs remain a great way to keep up with the latest genealogy news and to learn new tips and techniques. Feedly allows me to check all of those blogs in a matter of a few minutes, showing me only those with new content. I can scan the titles of each blog post in Feedly, seeing if it interests me enough to open the item and read it. Once I have passed through my entire Feedly list, I can mark all the items as read, so that I won't be shown them again. (I can always search through Feedly later if I want to go back to something I read earlier or that I might have skipped over.)

The free version of Feedly lets you follow up to 100 different sources and organize them in up to 3 different categories. 6.5 years ago I opted for a paid lifetime plan ($99.99) that gives me unlimited sources and categories, no advertising, faster updates of the feeds, and options to save blog postings directly into Evernote or OneNote. (If that amount seems steep, you can go for the $5/month plan, to see if Feedly is doing what you need.)

How do you organize your RSS feeds? You may be using your feed reader for more than just genealogy, although even with just genealogy, you could end up with a large number of different sources. In that case, you might want to group together those sources into feeds such as Companies (many have their own blogs), DNA, and Other. I also use Feedly for blogs that are about things other than genealogy, so I have feeds for Education, Libraries, Tech, Science, and Podcasting.

Once you've subscribed to your blogs of interest and grouped them into feeds, you're all set. You can start Feedly as often as you like. I'm usually in it myself a few times a day, just so that I don't get too overwhelmed, and I'm able to scan across all the blogs I follow in a 15-minute session. You can also use Feedly to see which blogs you're not really reading, and then unsubscribe from those.

Rather than my waiting for weekly or monthly email newsletters to see what's new in genealogy, I find that using Feedly keeps me on top of what's new. If you're not reading genealogy blogs, consider starting, and if you're trying to keep up with lots of them, try a tool like Feedly to save time.