Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My top 3 "genealogical regrets"

Recently on the APG mailing list, Mark Fearer posed this question -

"I'm teaching a beginner genealogy class, and I'd like to help people avoid the mistakes we made when we started out. I have my own list, but I'd like to get an unscientific poll from this prestigious group of the three things you regret the most, when you started (i.e. not citing sources, etc.)."

He got many responses and, hopefully, will provide a summary on the APG list at some time - it will be useful to many teachers and lecturers!

My own top three genealogical regrets are pretty similar to some of the responses --

1) That I waited so long to start doing genealogy research. I have always been interested in family history, and was thinking about doing genealogy research in 1982 when I interviewed my uncle, Ed Seaver, in Massachusetts. My father was still alive (he died in May 1983), but I never interviewed him. I talked to my mother many times about family stories and received all of the family papers from her, and I interviewed my father's living siblings in person and on tape several times. I so wish that I had interviewed my maternal grandparents - they died in 1976/1977, and experienced so much by living through the 20th century. Both of them had many family memories of living in San Diego and seeing history being made, etc. I started genealogy research, finally, in 1988.

2) That I have done such a poor job of documenting my sources in my genealogy databases. I started off using PAF in 1992 (?) and have used FamilyTreeMaker since 1998. I chose to put my sources in the Notes section of these programs rather than add them in the Sources section. I have not used the Facts section to any great extent either. Now I'm faced with the monumental task of going through all of paper in stacks and notebooks and adding sources for births, marriages, deaths, obituaries, census, military, probate, deed and other records in the right place in my databases - over 40,000 individuals. Frankly, I would rather do other things in my genealogy life than that! You can see my "method" in the family summaries that I post with regularity. Then there is the issue of the format of my sources - I am gradually trying to fix those, in the Notes, when I encounter them.

3) That I stopped using Research Logs and putting collected paper in notebooks. I used Research Logs for about five years, put them in the notebooks at the head of the collected papers for each surname, and put the notebooks in the book cases. Over time, I added book cases as the collection expanded, until in about 1993 I was out of space in the genealogy cave. I have about 40 lineal feet of paper in the bookcases. Now I put my "new paper" in a stack that is about 16 inches tall - but I know where everything is, honest! I don't open my notebooks very often now because I have entered much of the information in the collected papers into my database. Then the Internet came along, and ... well, you know what happens! I haven't been rigorous in writing down where I find things on the Internet, although I often put source information in my Notes when I find it. The solution here is probably to scan everything of importance into the computer system, organize the computer directories into locality and surname, or even individual family, file folders, and pitch much of the secondary information that populates my notebooks. This is also a major project - essentially to re-organize all of my files, and again it is not a high priority item on my to-do list.

Do you have any suggestions for me, other than making the genealogy cave larger by moving it to another room or a bigger house? One solution would be to hire a team to go through my papers, scan them, put them in family folders in file cabinets and computer files, and totally re-organize my file system. I wonder how long that would take - I'm guessing about four person-years - 8,000 work hours. I doubt that my children or grandchildren will want to do this task, and they will likely throw them out or pass them off to someone who obtains paper collections and indexes them (in my dreams - I know Arlene Eakle does this - I'm not sure I want my stuff dumped on someone!). Maybe this is a job to do when I'm done blogging? That'll be the day.

What are your top three genealogical regrets? How are you overcoming them?


footnoteMaven said...

Alas, regrets - I too wrote about them.


Colleen said...

Randy, thanks for passing along this question. I hope my post stirs some young person(people) to take some action about getting stories from their own grandparents before the chance passes them by.