Saturday, August 27, 2011

Organizing Genealogy - But Why?

Recently I walked out the door and met myself coming in. That's how I felt two weeks ago when I realized I'd just looked through the same books at the library for the same information that I had already looked for last year. Uh-oh. Time to get organized.

I found a binder, bought some slide-in protectors, and filed what I had about Thomas Maness and that family line. Then I started plugging information into Reunion on my desktop computer — still a work in progress. I not only need to figure out what I've done to keep from doing it again, but putting the pieces of the puzzle I have together will help me figure out where to look next.

This past week, several genealogy bloggers have written about organization. One blogger mentioned a rented storage unit, environmentally controlled, full of ancestral research! (And my friends think I'm a genealogy nut.) These folks are ambitious. One is trying to scan every piece of paper he owns and has put hours and hours toward that goal. Another has rooms full of boxes and wants to organize everything in them, possibly including digitization, and has figured that it would take the rest of her life. Indeed. I say, if that's the goal, do it.

As for me, organization is not the prize, it's a stepping stone towards what I want. I'm on a mission to find my Maness ancestor, the mystery we've been trying to figure out for four generations. That's my goal. And I really want to find him while my uncle is still around, because he got me started on this search. So I only need to get the Maness family information organized and entered into the computer. For now. If I looked at all my genealogy research for the past 20 years and tried to do something with it, that would distract me from my mission and take valuable time. My other current genealogical project is my book about the English family, and I switch back and forth between the two.

Instead of looking at that mountain of everything you can possibly do with your research and getting overwhelmed, let me suggest some ways to sharpen your focus.

1. Do something for somebody. Last year my goal was to scan large-format negatives of the Lassiter family and make a photo book for my uncle's 80th birthday. He loved it! And real deadlines, like milestone birthdays and family reunions, push me to get things accomplished.

2. Do something for yourself. If there's a pile of research on the floor by your desk and you're tired of tripping over it, just organize that pile. Set a timer and file (or scan, if you wish) papers until the timer goes off. The next day, repeat.

3. Do something for the future. Why are these people "organizing" everything? Is it so somebody won't throw it away when they're gone? Maybe it's for the fun of it, especially if those files were inherited (we genealogists love to play with new information), but these folks just don't sound like they're having fun. Perhaps a better goal would be to label all the boxes and write up instructions for when we're gone (Yes, I need to listen to my own preachin' here). I've been thinking about that lately, since I work in the Friends Historical Collection and we inherit other people's research. I have several family members that wouldn't mind having my research - they're mildly interested in it - but they would never do anything with it. Like spread it around or publish it. And then what would happen after they are gone?

My computer is a backup, a tool, but it's volatile. I don't expect any successor to come along and dig through old hard drives to pick out the information. Whether I give someone a photo book that makes him feel special, (finally) publish my genealogical novel that tells about the hopes and trials my ancestors went through, or leave published (or at least documented) family tree information for the next addict that comes along, I want to leave something tangible behind to make all this research worthwhile.

Why do we do genealogy? Yes, it's addictive, and fun! But my current reasons are that I want to tell the stories that need to be told and connect with family members who are still alive.

What's your raison d'ĂȘtre? Where are you going with this genealogy obsession?

No comments: