Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Parting Ways with My Ancestors

Sometimes my ancestors and I part ways for a while.  That happened in September when there were too many real life experiences happening (my husband's foot surgery, a new 20-hour-per-week calling at church, a coming grandbaby who needs a quilt made by his gramma, etc.) requiring my time and attention.  I just couldn't fit family history into my life.  It was too full!  Usually my ancestors' lives are somehow connected to and a part my own, even if only thinking of where to search next or imagining theirs lives, but occasionally I have to let them rest while living my life takes precedence over searching for them and their lives.  I imagine them watching from afar, cheering me on while hoping I'll get back to them soon.

Before I left my ancestors in September I was searching for more information about my Doyle ancestors in England in the early to mid-1800s and in Pennsylvania in the mid-to late-1800s.  The paper copies of documents I'd printed and purchased looked like this, a nice stack several inches high, piled into a notebook.  Each paper has a name and a source and many have additional notes.  Sadly they are not organized other than by surname -- well, two surnames; or maybe three.  But they're all related, the Doyles, Laws, and Reays.

I can almost hear readers who prefer digital saying, "That stack of papers is exactly why I use digital images instead of paper."  To which I would respond, we all have our own preferences but I can assure you that my digital copies for these individuals don't look too much better than these paper ones.

Things got worse when I spread out the papers to sort and organize them.  I had printed the results of searches from the U.K.'s birth, marriage, and death indexes at FreeBMD, Find My Past, and FamilySearch.  I'd also printed indexed church transcriptions from U.K.'s FreeReg and FamilySearch.  And there are transcriptions for a number of families from the 1841 through 1881 U.K. censuses, not to mention 1870 through 1920 U.S. census records.  And, of course, there are the copies of records I received from U.K. GRO.  A treasure trove of Doyle records and notes!  Many of the records have been transcribed into my word processing program but few have been added to RootsMagic.

To make progress on these papers there are some things I need to do.
> Sort them by individual, where possible (not possible with census records)
> Sort them into families
> Note names, relationships, ages, locations, etc.
> Compare information
> Evaluate the information and relationships
> Transcribe (if not already done)
> Add to RootsMagic

The lesson I need to learn is to sort, organize, and file documents when I find them.  On the other hand, having found several documents does not confirm that they are the correct people to add to my family tree.  Sometimes it seems like a delicate balance.

For the sake of conversation and my curiosity, do you ever find yourself with a pile of papers (or digital images) that need sorting and organizing?  If so, what steps do you take?  And do you ever part ways with your ancestors?

I don't like parting ways with my ancestors and hope it doesn't happen again for a while and never for as long as a month!


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  1. All I do is reorganize piles of papers, LOL. I have 8 grandchildren, aged 8 and under, and I am trying to put together several applications for First Family of my county. The way I am resorting is to put the ancestor I am tracing back to on a post-it and have several stacks that I sort into. I made myself a spreadsheet of the names and information needed and as I sort, I mark the box of what I have. It would go much faster if I did not have to gather the stacks from my dining room table when they stop by!

    1. Your system sounds like a really good one, Miss Merry. It would be really hard (for me, at least) to work on a project like First Family with lots of little family members around. I think my attention would go to the living family because I know they will not always be little and will not always be around. Those ancestors will always be there!

  2. When the stack (or pile) gets to be more than 10-20 pieces, I say: Pre-sorting becomes a roadblock to getting started. Don't sort first. Just take the top 20 (or 2) pieces and process them (evaluate and label the piece, transcribe it, update the database for the persons involved). As you finish processing one item, file it. The filing step will take care of the sorting as you go along, and the stack will be shrinking.

  3. For a piece about a person who is possibly the same as my relative, I write on it: "Is this OURS?" (Someday I might be able to add "Yes, see document ___," or "Not my James Smith (1832-1901)--his nephew.") Then I create an unrelated person in my database and attach that source to the person; some day I might be able to merge the two.

    I would file the paper in with the other papers about that person who is your relative. Your notation on it prevents you from assuming anything when you see it in your paper files.

  4. For unprocessed electronic images, I create one folder called Intake and drag each image into it. It is the equivalent of a stack of papers and my to-do list in itself. When the Intake folder is empty, I know the job is finished. If I have just a little time to work on just one item, I know where to find it and what to do with it.

    For the first item in the Intake folder, I give it a meaningful name if it doesn't have one, like MunsterHerman1896marriage.pdf. You could use spaces or underscores between words. Obviously there will usually be more than one person on any document, because genealogy is about relationships, but I usually just choose one name for the image file. My database will link many people to it via one source definition. If you need to be more specific about the date (for a newspaper clipping, for example), enter the date with the year first, so it will sort nicely with other events, after you've collected lots of images about Herman Munster.

    In your database, create the person if he doesn't exist yet. Create a source for his name, using this image. Enter the source information and citation. Abstract the info from the document image into the notes part of the source definition. Move (drag?) the image file into the appropriate folder. Then link the source you've created to point to the image file in its appropriate folder (not Intake). Add other information from the image (like the marriage date and place) to the person, attaching the source for that event. There will often be information about several events about a groom in his marriage record, so add and "source" those, too.

    Then attach that same source to all the other people mentioned in the document, like the wife of Herman Munster and any witnesses or parents named in that 1896 marriage record.

    Does it sound like a long process? What do you get out of it?

    First, you get the peace of mind of knowing you don't have important images floating where they can't be found and might be deleted by accident. Second, you have that marriage thoroughly documented for yourself or anyone who reads one of your family group sheets or other reports; it will follow along in Gedcom, too. You have added documentation to all of the names in that marriage record. Third, whenever you want to recheck whether the date could have been written Jan instead of Jun, you can see that image with two clicks. Your database has become the index to all of your image files. It is so easy to email a document to a cousin!

    Sorry to go on so long. As you can tell, I've become a believer.

    1. What a great system, Marian. I like the idea of an "in box" for new images before being sorted. I'll have to give your system a try.

  5. The deeper you go, the more papers/images/documents of one kind or another pile up. When you are working on multiple lines ... well, it multiples! I haven't found a good way, but since I had over 4000 on ancestry when it became through through Family Search, I kept it and still pay for it - it isn't an easy transfer! I keep all my not-so-sure people there, and investigate. Only when I'm pretty sure do I add them to Family Search, but that is still getting out of hand. Sigh.

    1. I've noticed how papers and images begin to pile up, Susan. I was really organized for a while -- but so many ancestors began to clamor to be found and helped out! I think it's good to keep the no-so-sure people in a separate file until you're more certain they really are family.


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