Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Some Personal Musings ...

I am still working on the office mess. With help from my tech-savvy daughter I was able to reduce the number of wires and cables behind the desk, and put the remaining cords on a single power strip. That way I can turn all the equipment off with a single switch if I am to be away for more than a day or two. (I have solar panels, so don’t worry too much about wasting electricity, but a power surge could wipe out equipment and data.)

Thinking about my oft-discussed research problems, I got some of the documentation rearranged and tucked into new folders. Just that act can give new insight into old puzzles. I started out with a statement about the individual in question (each issue usually does concern one single person, so far); I try to state, as concisely as possible, what it is I want to know. Then, I write down what I already know, also in brief form. That is followed by a list of searches already done, and ideas for future exploration. (As time goes by, this list gets longer.) A separate sheet has specific sources to look into, in log form. Also useful is a map of the area, if known, appropriate to the time.

The trick is to avoid getting sidetracked at this point. Thinking “oh, I’ll just take a look at the 1870 census right now and see if she is there” can lead you away from the point ot this exercise. Instead, make a note in your log to “look for _____ in Illinois, 1870 census indexes.”

I call wandering off the path this way “grazing.” Although tempting and sometimes even serendipitous, it is mostly a means of using up time. Wandering around in census indexes, or looking up resources on USGenWeb for a particular county, with no specific goal in mind, no idea of the county’s historic boundaries, and no list of previous searches, just ends up being light entertainment -- not a serious means to a stated end. (That is not say I haven’t spent many an hour doing this very thing.)

If there isn’t time to jump in with both feet, try selecting a single item to work on. Look up a census record, or look for a book title on Worldcat. (You know about WorldCat, don’t you?) And ALWAYS make a note of the resources you searched and the results, even if they are negative. That way you won’t inadvertently go over the same ground another time.


David Pogue had a column on the fragility of our supposedly robust data storage systems in the March 23 issue of The New York Times. Every genealogist should read it!


From Kinfolks: Falling Off the Family Tree, by Lisa Alther (2007):

“ ..... unlike Greatgrandma Peale, I can’t link my father’s ancestors to Europe. Most lines vanish in the mid-1700s, like creeks in desert sand ... “

That's all for now.


Gini said...

Great post, thank you for sharing about organizing, it really helps me too, I feel that it is very important to be an organized Genealogist. I too am working diligently on getting my research together and organized.

Greta Koehl said...

I wouldn't feel too guilty about "grazing" - I've made a couple of my biggest discoveries doing just that. But I'm with you on the need to log negative and positive results of research - now if I can just make myself do that!