From Genealogy Event to Weather Event

This past weekend I had a blast volunteering at The Genealogy Event in Manhattan. Along with other members of the APG Metro-New York City chapter, I was at the Living Library Lounge helping event attendees with research questions.

Then I went home to deal with the reality of an impending Weather Event called Sandy. Talk about a change of pace.

Although … I did notice that storm-preparation advice has two principles in common with effective-research advice.

1. Have the right equipment in your toolbox.

2. Stay organized and try not to get overwhelmed by all the details.

It’s always fascinating talking to other people about their genealogy triumphs and setbacks. Every family has its own puzzle pieces that just refuse to come together. There also seems to be a pattern in people’s research experience (to me, anyway) that occurs as one leaves the brand-new beginner phase and segues into the intermediate level. You wake up and realize that you don’t just have a couple of sheets of information; you’ve got a couple of binders full. Everything looks interesting and everything is worthy of following up. What do you do next, and why?

As I found myself saying to a number of people the other day, the more you discover, the more important it is that you develop visual and organizational systems for keeping track of what you have already done and prioritizing what you will do next.

Family tree charts, whether in the cloud or on your hard drive, are the foundation of Keeping Track, naturally. But like the binders or file boxes, they can also be overwhelming when you’re trying to home in upon a specific person or problem. In those cases, you need other tools that can narrow your focus more effectively.

For instance: Don’t just collect census images; keep a census log for each family group with notes about what you’ve found and what it tells you about what you need to ask next.

Or, for ancestors who insist on dropping in and out of sight, consider compiling a timeline of what you know so far about the events of each life. (Timelines have the most amazing way of highlighting inconsistencies and faulty assumptions.)

How you do these things is really a personal choice. Some people love spreadsheets. I myself am fond of simple tabular charts in Word, because for me they are quick and easy to assemble.

But however you perform them, organizational cues are invaluable for those times when life happens and you drop your research on a certain person or line for a while. If you’ve laid the groundwork properly, you’ll be able to come back to your files and know where you left off instantly, rather than spend a afternoon looking at images you’ve already looked at, and figuring out why you thought they were important in the first place. This is just a waste of time. Almost as much a waste of time as trying to find D-cell batteries the day before a major storm is supposed to hit.

Speaking of which, to all in the path of Hurricane Sandy, good luck and stay safe.

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