Lazy Days Organizing Tips for the Family Historian
By Paula Stuart Warren, CG 16 October 2003
As I write this I am thinking about you. I have a vision of you checking the Ancestry Daily News on your computer that is in the midst of your genealogy work area. Look around and take in the room. Do you have piles of paper on the floor? Do you have a stack of genealogy periodicals that you intend to read? Do you have some notes sitting on your workspace that are reminders of a website to check or an obituary to look for on your next library trip? Is there any semblance of order?
I promise I will not visit you with digital camera in hand and snap a picture to share on the great World Wide Web. However, I do promise to share some "Lazy Day Organizing Tips . . ." that help keep me on track.
I don't know of any of us with unlimited time and budget, nor with someone to do all our cooking, cleaning, bill paying, and other chores. So, how can we all keep on top of our family history materials?
First of all, quit browbeating yourself about those piles, notes, and periodicals to read. You don't even have to read one of the popular "how to get organized" books. Here are some tips that work for me.
- Keep paper handy. Keep a pad of paper and pen anywhere you do your thinking. (Yes, even in that room too!) You can jot down notes as those brilliant ideas pop into your head. Today when you come up with an idea to help solve the whereabouts of Great Uncle Benjamin, make that note right away before the other parts of your life flood it out of your mind. The best notes are made right away when the idea is fresh. - The size of the paper is important. I do use some odd size pieces of paper and those popular "sticky" notes--but the notes I don't lose are written on full 8 ½ by 11 inch sheets of paper and on one side only.- Be a List Maker: Those of you who are first-borns will appreciate this. My Grandma Gert was a champion list maker and a first-born. I used to giggle at all the lists, but she lived to be 97. Could the fact that she was very organized and kept track of things have some bearing on her longevity? Her apartment had lists everywhere. I am not suggesting that you become quite so obsessive. Keep lists of your research goals and what you need to check at the library or courthouse. You might even categorize the lists by library or family. - Are you going to attend a class or seminar? Check the descriptions of the presentations and jot down notes on what you hope to learn or questions you might have the opportunity to ask.
- What should you do with all these lists and notes? My daughter used to work for a company that had lots of empty boxes that had housed 500 business-size envelopes. I use these boxes for my "lazy days" filing. (I do admit that I have not been perfect with my filing.) I label a box for each family or group of families, for upcoming classes I will be teaching or attending, for a specific library such as the Family History Library, the National Archives, or the Minnesota Historical Society, and for items to give a friend at a seminar or class. You can also use boxes that gifts like shirts come in or empty file folder boxes. I purchased a lightweight metal shelving unit at a discount store and the boxes sit on this unit. Into the boxes I put notes, copies, articles, things to look up, things to file for my Hanley or Slaker family, and other categories. I know I may not get them all right into the filing cabinet, but at least I have narrowed the search to a labeled box rather than a towering stack of paper when I need to find something.- Go to the office supply store. Several years ago at a meeting of professional genealogists a woman asked if others had a problem with office supply stores. That is, did they love to go to them, browse, and sometimes not even buy! Not surprisingly, most people in the room raised their hands affirmatively. Your assignment is to visit the store. Buy a supply of file folders; some should be the plain old manila variety and others should be in several colors. - What to do with these folders? Label one right now for "Organizing Tips" and print out this column and place it in the folder. Put some folders in your car, some in your briefcase, and others in places where you might do your genealogical work and thinking. With these handy, you can immediately put a piece of paper in a file folder and label it. You are halfway to being able to locate the information quickly. Each time you attend a class or seminar, take along folders in which you can place the day's handouts or other items you pick up. - Buy a full-size clipboard or two. First, add a label with contact details so that it will hopefully be returned if you lose it. Then, use it in libraries and around the house to hold paper you are working on, notes on telephone calls, your "to do" list, and other important items. These are less likely to get lost if they are on the clipboard.- What do vitamins and teeth brushing have in common with organizing your genealogical materials? That is simple: do it every day. Five or ten minutes spent every day can save you hours in the future.I hope these simple hints have helped you. Now I am going to take one of those labeled boxes and actually put the material into the proper file cabinets.
Paula Stuart Warren, CGRS, is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer. She has lectured across the U.S. and is a coordinator of the Intermediate Course, American Records & Research at the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She is co-author of Your Guide to the Family History Library: How to Access the World's Largest Genealogy Resource and a contributor to genealogical periodicals including Ancestry Magazine. She is a resident of St. Paul, Minnesota, and spends many weeks each year at the Family History Library and at the U.S. National Archives. Her roots include ancestors from seven different countries and researching them has given her broad experience.
16 Oct 2003