Genealogy Cleaning Hints

Since returning home from vacation, I have been on a genealogy cleaning spree.  Although I hadn’t planned for this, I discovered a few days before I left that I really had to make it my priority when I returned.  While packing, I was frantically looking for items in the closet when I got hit in the head by falling journals. Ouch!  If that wasn’t a wake up call I don’t what would be.

Cleaning is not fun but the results are wonderful!  I have also been fortunate that the heat index has been in the extreme and when the temperature drops, it’s pouring.  With both of those curtailing my outside activities, I hit the office closet first for a redo.  Because I live in an area prone to hurricanes, I keep records in either plastic tubs that I can quickly transport to the car when we evacuate, or in binders high up on a shelf.  The binders contain vitals by surname and though they would be a loss, the original exists safely elsewhere with a scanned copy I placed online, on my computer and backed up on a portable device. I’ve tried various organizational methods but found this one works best for me.

Recently, I switched my journal and magazine preferences to online only; no point in killing trees when I can access and read the articles anywhere.  I decided to donate my saved hard copies to my library.  That helped clear the shelf and gave me more space to acquire more vitals!  (Family eye rolls here). 

I also keep office supplies in this closet so it was a great time to take an inventory.  I made a list of items I’m getting low on, such as labels, that I can acquire at sale prices hits.

Once the closet was done, I tackled a file cabinet I use for business projects.  I updated my portfolio of work samples to include recent projects and replenished forms.  I don’t keep many copies of forms but I like to have a few available in case the printer is down or electricity out.  (In my area, the electricity goes out frequently – 3 times in the last 5 days due to severe electrical storms.)

I then tackled the electronics which was the least favorite part and took the longest of this process.  I started with thumb drives.  I have a lot of them and I decided I really needed to go through and make sure that I had saved to the appropriate place.  After checking that I had, I deleted the files from the thumb drive so I have a clean one to use on my next research trip. 

Actually, looking through the drives was a wonderful walk down memory lane.  I discovered several drives that held a probate record from colonial New Jersey that is the only record that shows two generations of Duers connected.  The reason I had the document on different drives was because of unusual events at the time I discovered the document’s existence.  I had been researching at a local library a different ancestor when I struck up a conversation with another researcher who was working on DAR lineage paperwork.  I mentioned my desire to prove the Duers and she brought up the document – she had remembered the name as she was working on a different New Jersey family from the same area.  It was the first time I had known of this document’s existence and I copied her copy to a thumb drive but she did not have the complete document.  I then began my search for the original which wasn’t on FamilySearch.org but was available at LDS sites.  Of course, the nearest LDS Family History Center to where I was would close in a few minutes so there was no way I would get there in time.  The next day, I grabbed a different thumb drive and drove to the site, found the record and thought I had saved it all but when I returned home discovered one page was missing and oddly, it was the page she had missed.  That meant I had to return and save again.  A few days later I was back and again resaved.  I was so paranoid I brought the page up twice from the thumb drive before I left to make sure it was saved correctly. Even though it appeared at the LDS library, it disappeared by the time I got home.  This happened before clouds so thumb drives were the best option for saving. Hubby suggested that maybe something was wrong with the thumb drive so I grabbed two others and we headed out, in a violent thunderstorm, to another LDS site much further from our home as that was the only one open.  The volunteer said he was about to close as he didn’t think anyone would have ventured out in the inclement weather.  I again located the document and this time, saved it to two different drives.  For whatever reason, it saved correctly and I was able to open it when I returned home.  Now on this cleaning spree, I deleted them off four different drives.

Next, I cleaned my download file on my computers, then cleaned the desktop.  Next, I went on my three clouds and placed documents I had saved over the past year into folders.  I then logged on to various organization to which I belong and downloaded and saved syllabuses for workshops that interested me but I hadn’t had time to attend.  I plan to review them and watch the saved webinars if I needed more information.

This was followed by cleaning up my email account.  I sent some follow up emails regarding projects that I haven’t gotten responses from in the past month and put mail I was done with in the appropriate folder.

I was feeling quite proud of myself so I went on to perform updates, which I hate doing because I’m inpatient of the time spent and the possible problems that result; for some reason, updates to our printer sometimes freezes the computer.  While doing the updates, I realized I had neglected updating several of my tree software programs as new versions were available.  All was well until I remembered that Roots Magic was linked to Ancestry and I hadn’t bothered to update changes I made to Ancestry in the past year.  I almost had a heart attack when I clicked “Only show changed people” on Roots Magic.  On a positive note, I was able to see how much progress I’ve made in my family tree but on a negative note, my goodness did I have a lot of work ahead of me to get the files saved to my personal computer.  I seriously considered just redownloading my entire Ancestry tree but I knew with all the media I had, it would take at least a week as it had the first time I did it.  I worried that the program would crash, especially with the electrical outages so I opted to painstakingly go through every individual and update.  The majority of my cleaning time was completing this project. but I think it was worth it as I’d be crushed if something happened to my online tree at Ancestry.  Having a backup, with all the media, is vitally important to me.  Having it saved in numerous places is also worth the effort.

I am happy to report that I am ready to return to researching, my true love.  I can’t wait!

Simple Tips to Maximize Your Genealogy Research

Recently, I volunteered to provide free genealogy assistance through a local genealogy society to which I belong.  I try to help twice a year – fall and spring – which is advertised throughout our county.  Every time I attend, I learn something new about genealogy practices.  Here’s my latest revelations:

1.  Keep your email accounts current – My first “client” had gotten everyone in her family to test.  That included her siblings, children and herself.  She had a DNA question for me but she couldn’t readily access any of her accounts because she had used an old email address she no longer had. I recommended she contact the DNA test companies to update her records.  But that led to the next problem:

2.  Know where you did your DNA test and when – She recalled she had last tested with 23andMe but when we clicked “Forgot your password?”, it was sent to her current email  The problem was that kit  was for her daughter.  She then recalled she had purchased the kit two Christmas’ ago intending to use it but gave it to her daughter instead.  We tried FTDNA, but couldn’t get in because that was the older email account.  She thought she had used Ancestry.com for her sister but it turned out those were her results.  Clicking around used up a good deal of time we could have spent analyzing the results.  I shared how I save my info; I use Excel to keep a list of the Kit numbers, date the test was ordered, who the test was for and the company that was used.  On a second tab, I record contact information from others after the results are returned.  This way, I avoid duplication of effort.

3.  Try, Try Again – Last fall I assisted a woman trying to find an obituary from the mid-1950’s.  Her grandmother had been active in the community where she resided but she couldn’t find the obit in the nearest big city newspaper.  I had recommended she contact a research librarian to find out the names of newspapers that were publishing at the time in that location and where the microfilm of those papers were held.  She said, “I called and someone said they’d get back with me but nobody did.”  Here’s a lesson we all need to heed, don’t think that call is going to happen now, months later.  Call again.  Ask to be connected with the Reference Desk.  If a few days pass with no results, email.  I love the Ask-A-Librarian online contact.  Not only do you have a record that you made the request, it saves you a phone call and having to spell out the surname while the librarian is trying to take notes.  

4.  Two Heads Are Better Than One  – I love paper but I don’t love having to sort through a ream and a half of every item ever discovered on a brick wall ancestor.  In other words, be organized.  If the information had been presented in time line order, we could have gotten through it much more expeditiously.  The woman used the method of last found information was placed on top.  I recommended she sort the information on a table by the year that the record was created.  Sure, the immigration paperwork completed when the ancestor was in their mid 30’s had the date and place of birth but keeping the documents in created age order helps to determine the accuracy of the information found.  She told me her method drove her uncle nuts but she was so into the hunt for records she didn’t like to take the time to organize them.  I recommended she  get with her genealogy buddy, the uncle, and see if he was more adept at organization.  Then, they could put their heads together and make a timeline on paper (she hates software programs) to find holes.  This approach also helps in finding information that was out there that you initially glossed over because you focused on something else.  For example, she had the ship manifest so she knew where the ship sailed from.  She also had a birth location from the immigration record.  She had scant information between the birth and the immigration.  I recommended reading the history of the area at the time the ancestor was born to determine if the family had relocated soon after (hint, it was probably the potato famine).  If she wasn’t interested in that type of research, her partner could do it and then they could discuss where she could research further.

5.  Know What You Want to Know – Your research question is imperative.  “I want to know everything about my great grandfather” is not a question.  You might be able to eventually get to the point where you know a lot about your great grandfather but to do so, you’ve got to start with a name or a place and a time from which to build.  If you start small, you don’t get overwhelmed and quit.  INMHO, that’s why people give up on genealogy.  It is a practice in patience, analysis, and sometimes, dumb luck.  You can control two of the three components.  My recommendation for this individual was to focus on one area of a person’s life, like their career, and see what you can find.  Then move to why that individual held that job.  Perhaps there was indentured or apprenticed paperwork.  Maybe the great grandfather or another relative was in the same line of work.  Here’s an example I shared; my husband comes from a long line of carpenters.  The original carpenter, however, didn’t build homes.  He was a ship’s carpenter.  That would have been a modern job when ships provided the largest means of transportation.  His son was a ship’s carpenter early on in his career but switched as he aged to building homes.  That man’s son moved farther inland and continued with the trade.  That original research question could disclose a wealth of family information over generations.  It pays to be specific about what you’re looking for.

Happy Hunting!

Musing About Life Lessons Learned That Apply to Genealogy


It’s been a slow week genealogywise for me as I’ve been consumed with the house renovations and an increased workload at my educator job. I thought I’d have difficulty coming up with a blog but instead I’m bursting with lessons learned from those situations that apply to genealogy.

With renovations, there is a lot of moving of “stuff” around as we empty one area of the house with the goal of making it an improved place. It’s a total pain to have to physically move items. I also realized I have a lot of things that I no longer use so I’m donating or pitching as I go (or pawning off on my children). This got me thinking about genealogy practices…

I used to have alot of stuff I took with me when I researched; I carried my clunky laptop, notebook, charts, lots of pencils, a camera, phone, stickees, and thumbdrives. It was a workout just getting into an archive. I’ve streamlined considerably and find I can simply take my Kindle, phone, a mechanical pencil and stickees. Instead of many thumbdrives that contained my surname info and individual thumbdrives for my clients, I now just take one for microfilms in case I can’t email it to myself and use the ap on my phone, Office Lens, to take a picture and immediately send it to One Note, for everything else I used to save to a thumbdrive. I can view that from my phone and Kindle to make sure it looked the way I want before I leave so I never get home and realize I needed to get a better view. Also on the Kindle is Evernote, which has my research log template. I still carry the stickees to flag book pages I’m interested in. These changes have made my research life much saner and safer. I don’t have to worry about someone walking off with the laptop if I have to go back to the stacks for another look. I have more flexibility in where I park myself down to research and I lost weight without having to diet. Very cool! Have no idea why it took me so long to figure out I needed to do this room by room in my house.

After a room is finished I find that I might be better off moving items around for increased efficiency. For example, my drinking glasses used to be in a cabinet closest to the sink. I realized it’s a better idea to move them in the cabinet next to the refrigerator as that’s where we go to get cold, purified water, ice and lemon. This practice definitely applies to genealogy. Just because you used to do something doesn’t mean you should continue to do so. Back in the day, I organized my genealogy files by lines. As the data grew I found that it was too complex so I took the time to reorganize by surname. A binder system works well for me today but may not in the future and that’s ok! Change is good although I must admit, as a creature of habit, I do tend to go back to the old cabinet to seek out a glass when I’m exhausted. Habits may be difficult to break but can be done. Investing time to make a task better is time well spent. You may be in for a happy surprise, which gets me to my next lesson learned.

Ironically, last Wednesday I blogged about my recent Dropbox experience. At my educator job, a decision was made right after I wrote the article that our team was going to only use One Note. I spent all day Thursday and part of Friday dropping and dragging files from Dropbox to One Note. Although I wasn’t thrilled to have to readjust my work priorities during a busy time, the situation did give me a big Ahaa! In Dropbox, I saved by event but in One Note, the decision was to save by date. Same situation as moving my drinking glasses and reorganizing my genealogy files! The data is the same but where and how it’s stored is different. So here’s where I learned another lesson – looking at the older files was quite enlightening. I was able to identify some holes in our program which we’ll be discussing this week. Try this with your brickwalls. If your found records are in timeline order, shuffle them up and place them by type of record or location where they were made. You might identify where your gap is and be off and running to locate overlooked events or places where they occurred. It sure is the same stuff but my looking through a different lens you might make a new discovery.

In other words, you’ve got to change your practices up to move forward, even if it’s painful. Happy Hunting!