If only I woulda…..

This notebook was used to hurriedly scribble down notes when interviewing my grandmother after reviewing old letters and photographs.

This notebook was used to hurriedly scribble down notes when interviewing my grandmother after reviewing old letters and photographs.

Spending the last few weeks working on a family history book has brought a few things to light. (Actually, it’s validated some of the mistakes I made along my genealogical journey.)  I hope my public confessions will help a newbie or two avoid some of my errors.  Here is my list of top things I wish I woulda done differently:

1.  Followed Russ Worthington’s system of digital file organization.

I fear my digital files are a lost cause.  Really.  I made the HUGE mistake of following the advise of a professional genealogist who’d suggested naming your photos PIC 001, the next one PIC 002; birth certificates BIRTH 001, 002,  etc., and index using her proprietary software.  That made perfect sense at the time.  I no longer use that software but the naming convention for my files continues.  It’s a horribly bad system but I’ve found a way to make it work by using RootsMagic as my index.  The bummer is that in order to locate a picture of great-great-great grandma Hannah I have to open RootsMagic to see what I’ve named it.  I’ve contemplated renaming my photos, censuses and other documents, but I have literally thousands, and do not have the time to rename and reconnect to RootsMagic.  So onward we go….

2.  Used the Free Form fields following Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained instead of using the Source Templates in my genealogy software.

I cheated.  I took the easy way, and I’m paying the price for it now.  While the citation templates in most genealogy software applications will give you enough details to backtrack to your original source, what I see in the finished product on export doesn’t mirror what Mills describes in her book.  Since I’m working on a short biography of my Stanwood family, I want the citations to be correct when the info is shared with others, and I’m having to go back and redo a bunch of my sources.  Shame on me.

3.  Thought twice before using Family Tree Maker to sync to my Ancestry.com Public Family Tree.

A couple years ago I had the not-so-brilliant idea of exporting my gedcom to FTM so I could upload all of my images to my Ancestry family tree.  What didn’t occur to me at the time is that some of those images were personal – photos of my mother, my grandmother, and other living relatives.  Some of them were things that were just plain special, and not photos I wanted to share with the whole world.  Also, while details of the living relatives were not visible, there was enough info to potentially cause family to be uncomfortable. (Luckily, no one complained.)  Lastly, I kinda polluted Ancestry.com with duplicates of censuses and other stuff that I had downloaded FROM their site and had linked in RootsMagic (and hence had exported to FTM).  Consequently, the other night I deleted my Ancestry.com family tree.  For now, I republished it with a gedcom freshly exported from RootsMagic(minus the images), but made my tree private.  Will have to decide how to proceed in the future.  My fear with a private tree is it will dissuade cousins from contacting me, and I do still want to freely share documents and files with others researching my lines.

4.  Adopted Dear Myrtle’s system of binder organization.

You can read my post about how I implemented Dear Myrtle’s system of paper file organization here.   I had originally used binders, but for a few years had gone all digital with my files. Hence, anything that was collected digitally was rarely printed out and kept – it was only archived using my c-r-a-p-p-y digital organization system.  In the interim, I have items that are now lost.  Not lost forever, but they may as well be because I can’t find the darned things right NOW when I need them.  I know I have them somewhere in a yet-to-be sorted box of pictures or other location that is on my long to-do list for organizing.  Had I not abandoned the binders for that interim period, I would have fewer unsorted boxes, and would not have had a near full-blown temper tantrum this past Sunday trying to locate the picture that great grandma Susie had marked showing her house in Floodwood, Minnesota.

5.  Talked to more old people and asked more questions.

Reading through some of my notes over the years, I did a generally good job of locating older, distant cousins of my grandmother’s to try and supplement the info she had provided to me.  I talked to her cousin Donald in Faribault, Phyllis in Indianapolis, deceased cousin Al’s wife Gayle in Pequot Lakes, wrote to cousin Richard in Washington, and serendipity allowed me to meet her cousin Clairmont’s wife in Minnesota while visiting the cemetery on a research trip in 1989.  We corresponded several times, but alas, now that I have done more research and have more questions, all of these wonderful old people have passed.  Reading their letters and correspondence is bittersweet – they were all so kind in sharing what information they had with me, and often enjoyed the process, which can be read loud and clear through their letters.  But it’s sad to think their generation – and all the knowledge they had of our family – is forever gone, taken to the grave.   This past Sunday I called cousin Marlys, whom I met in 2000, and had a good conversation.  It was great she was interested in talking to me, but over the last 14 years she has forgotten much and really couldn’t answer any of my questions.   (She is now 84.)  Unfortunately, Marlys is the oldest living relative in my branch of the Stanwoods, and so I lost my window of opportunity to obtain more info from her 14 years ago when we met.  Moral of the story – ask while you can!!


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