I have been researching my family tree for almost 30 years. A typewritten family history by one of my grandmother’s cousins was the initial spark when I was about 10 years old. It wasn’t until my grandfather’s death and hearing the names of his parents for the first time, that I had decided to take the plunge into genealogy. Back then, I lurked on genealogy forums on Prodigy and CompuServe, trying to learn HOW you even started to find out more about your ancestors. I remember my first visit to a local Family History Library, feeling nervous and like a complete n00b. And I remember the thrill of finding my first record on microfilm: the marriage record of my great grandparents in Philadelphia.
I have been feeling that my research tactics have been a little flat for the past year or so. I felt like I was researching without any structure. Often I’d come home from work, look at my family tree look at one ancestor, decide 5 minutes later I wasn’t getting anywhere, then choose and entirely different ancestor and repeat the same process, until I thought I had a piece of information I didn’t have before. And it seemed I would look over and over again at the same things. I had been aware of research plans, but never actually put one in motion.
I had only heard about Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Do-Over last weekend while attending the Wisconsin Genealogical Society’s Gene-A-Rama, held in Madison, WI. I decided that this might be the perfect forum to revitalize my tactics. The timing also worked out since Cycle 2 was just beginning this weekend.
So, I will blog about my experience here, so it will help me think things through. Also, it’s better than doing a big, long post on Facebook.
Setting Previous Research Aside
Oh wow, this will be a big one for me. But, also necessary. I have two trees: my family and my husband’s family. I am just going to focus on my family tree this time around, since that is the one I spend the most time on and have the most information. So I will be doing the following steps:
- Backing up my Family Tree Maker tree and putting it aside. It’s somewhat of a mess anyway, since it had started in PAF
yearsdecades ago, then transferred to another software program and now FTM. Some of my citations that I entered in PAF, never transferred well. So, some citations were lost, or I have duplicates.
- Ancestry Tree. I will keep this one up for now, in case of any DNA connections or other potential cousin connections. I will not refer to it during this time and I will not add to it. I may end up deleting this one and replacing it with my better organized FTM tree later on. I haven’t decided yet. I had used the tree linking feature between my FTM tree and Ancestry, but more than once the trees became unlinked somehow, and caused several issues. I do intend to NOT link the trees anymore.
- Digital files. I had just did a re-organization of these within the past year. However, I will be doing a back-up of these and moving them onto the server space my husband had set up for me.
- Binders. I had just reorganized most of these last year. But, I did not get through all of them. So for now, the re-organized binders will sit on the shelves. I have a big pile of unorganized documents, so this weekend I will sort through those and decide what to keep and what to toss. What I keep will go in a box until we reach the later steps in the do-over.
Preparing to Research
I have much to do in this step!
- Research plans. I have never used these, and I know that I need to! No more starting research without starting one of these first. I had learned more about these in a presentation at Gene-A-Rama. So, I will be checking out some examples and templates online this week, and building a template for myself in Evernote.
- Research logs and correspondence logs. Again, tools that I had never used. Except I did start off keeping track of correspondence when I started, but slacked off. I still have some of my old, handwritten correspondence logs. I will create some in Evernote and perhaps start transferring these older logs into this format as practice.
- Resource Checklists. I will be putting together a checklist of records I should look for as well as links to good resources to start checking first, so that it’s handy when I fill out my research plan.
- Timelines. My FTM actually creates these. I need to start looking at these more closely for gaps in my research.
- Historical and Genealogical societies. I have been greatly underutilizing these! It is my goal to start looking at what societies and archives in in my area of research, see what holdings they have and then decide on some and get a membership, so that I can benefit even more from their holding.
Establishing Base Practices and Guidelines
- Track and cite EVERYTHING. Even if I do not find information in a particular roll of microfilm, I still need to record that it was searched, so I do not re-order it later. Think of tracking research as notes to yourself in the future. WHY did I look at this file. WHO was I looking for?
- Establish a question first. Before I dive into research and start attaching files to a digital tree, THINK about what I’m specifically looking for and what sources are out there that will help me answer my question and prove the answer.
- Only add people to my tree ONLY after I have researched them. This is particularly important on my digital tree.
- Become more familiar with the Genealogical Proof Standard. I plan to watch some youtube videos on the topic. I will also purchase
- Interact more with other genealogists. Even if they are not potential cousins! I feel that this is a big step that I have been lacking. They may know about resources that I do not know, or can help brainstorm a brick wall with fresh eyes. Find local events I can go to to network and learn more. Start looking for societies to join.