Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Clean Start Toward Doing Better

A clean desk makes everything look better.
After being away from family history research for nearly a month and without too much time to think about my ancestors, I needed to take stock of the situation.  Which individuals and families was I focused on?  What did I last do?  What did I plan to do next?  A genealogy do-better is a good aid just now.

A clean desk makes everything look better, but organization makes everything run more smoothly.  These are my efforts and my thoughts this week.

1)  Set previous research aside
Because I'm doing a do-better and not a do-over, I didn't set aside research except in the physical sense of cleaning up those stacks of papers and files you see to the right and putting them in their places in the file box.

The files and loose papers were easy enough to sort, organize, neaten and put away.  Before I moved each one I noted which file it was and what I should be my next action when I begin working on that individual/family again.

But that stack of smaller papers (which I didn't photograph) took far too long.  As I research, I make notes.  Often I use odd pieces of paper, especially if the note relates to a different ancestor or a different family than I'm working on.  After dealing with a several-inch tall stack today I resolve not to do that again.  (If I don't have time to do it right, where will I find time to do it over?)  I moved the information on some of them to the appropriate person's notes in my RootsMagic file.  The ones that weren't person-specific I put on a page in my genealogy notebook.  I'm of an age where I need notes, but I also need organization.

2)  Prepare to research
Knowing what's in the files I put away is part of my preparation.  Knowing the next step for each file is also preparation for research when I return to the file.  In addition, I had some loose papers that I filed.  I noted what needed to be done next with those, too.

Also in preparation for further research I'll decide one line to work on, what I need to find about the individual and family, then make a list of the documents I hope to find and where I can look for them.

3)  Establish base practices and guidelines (subdivided into several categories)
Notes.  I need to find a better way to take/make notes (which is not using small pieces of paper).  Options include my genealogy notebook; notes on the individual's file in RootsMagic; and experimenting with Evernote or One Note.  Research logs could play a part in my notes.

Research Log.  I typically use a research log if I write letters to request documents.  I note the date, the item I requested, the name and address of the person I wrote to, and, when a response comes, I note the date it came and what I received.  I could do better about keeping track of where I've searched online and what I've found, though.

Ground Rules / Golden Rules / My Expected Standards / Etc.  I'm still formulating these in my mind.  I'll share them later.

Sources and Documentation.  It seems like much of the research I've done in the past year has been trying to identify relationships to be sure the individual or family is related to my ancestors and me.  I wait to add those people until I have enough information to be fairly certain they're my line.  That being said, I'm generally good about recording the sources of documents.  I want to be able to go back to the source if I need to.

Image Files.  My naming system could be better.  I didn't know what I was doing when I began so file names are inconsistent.  Some start with the date, some with the item name, others with the ancestor's name.  I don't plan to make changes all in one sitting.  When I choose a system, I can make the changes either as I use the files or as I have a few spare moments. 

You can read what others are doing at the Genealogy Do-Over resource page.  Participants have written some great blog spots to share their ideas and progress. 


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. My office do-over is getting in the way of any sort of Do-Over or Do-Better. I have thoughts about what I need to do but all that has to be later. I am getting lots of inspiration though, so keep posting what you're up to.

    1. An office do-over is just wonderful! You'll really have a fresh start when you get everything resettled again. Sometimes, for me, improving the environment (and taking a break from what I usually do in that environment) can be enough to rejuvenate my energy. You'll share photos when the do-over is done?

  2. Nancy:

    I felt as though you had sneaked a peek at my desk when you described research notes on lots of small, odd pieces of paper. I tend to do the same thing and periodically have to gather them up and deal with them to make sure my notes are not lost and I have to re-do my prior efforts. I have more recently taken to leaving a marbled Mead composition notebook by my computer so research notes are entered into the notebook and kept in one place. It is harder to lose a hardbound notebook than it is small, random slips of paper and the notebooks themselves become a hardcopy of what is entered onto the computer in digital form and so is a kind of old-style back-up. I'm not fully converted yet, but I'm doing better. ;-)

    1. It makes me laugh to think someone else has (had!) a stack of papers, too. It's going to be a hard habit to break. I think of those notes as reminders, not references/resources/sources/etc. I guess I have to change the way I think about the notes. I have a Cambridge spiral notebook with pale quad rules which is just perfect -- IF I can get in the habit of using it all the time. Best wishes to you, John, in your continued conversion to a notebook. And thanks for leaving a comment and sharing our similarities.

  3. Nancy,

    For some reason, I don’t know why, I can’t comment on your blog any more. So I send you my comment via email today.

    You have found the right words for what we both are doing – it is in fact a Do-Better! Obviously we both work quite similar. We’ve learned from our experiences and our research and way of work deserve an improvement. Thank you very much for this post!

    Many greetings,


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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