Friday, January 1, 2010


I spent some time today wondering what to do with all of my "stuff." You see, the Genealogy Cave is pretty much "full" - to the point where a major earthquake in San Diego might damage more than the dust bunnies or spill paper on the floor. Worse yet - a fire in the right place could heat and entertain Chula Vista for weeks, I fear!

I added up all of the linear feet of paper hiding in plain sight in the Cave and came up with about 50 feet, give or take 10 feet, which doesn't include what's hiding in the closet and the "throwaway" box on the floor. What is there, you ask?

* The magazine collection - stacks of NEHGR, NewEnglandAncestors, NGSQ, NGS Magazine, TAG, Ancestry, Family Tree Magazine, Everton's Genealogical Helper, assorted other magazines, SDGS Newsletter, CGSSD newsletter, CVGS Newsletter, assorted other newsletters), all stacked on the top shelves of three bookcases up to the window sill.

* The book and syllabus collection - on top of some of the magazine stacks, or in a wall-hung book holder, and in my tall bookcase.

* The "collected papers" collection - in notebooks on four bookcases, sorted by surnames or locality-based surnames. There are also two stacks of unfiled papers waiting to go into the notebooks. Frankly, I haven't looked in many of these notebooks for over five years.

* Six boxes of copied papers which hold printed conference or journal papers, my presentation and teaching handouts, the ProGen/TG study group printouts, the CVGS files (queries, programs, newsletters, board minutes) that I've kept, etc.

* Three large boxes of old photographs, most of which I've scanned (but I don't have a log of what is or isn't).

* Two file cabinets with old presentations, Christmas letters, the family journal archives, and family artifacts (old Bibles, photo albums, etc.). Who knows what treasures that these hold - I haven't been in some of the drawers for over five years.

* A bookcase with family photograph albums, most of which have not been scanned, and a box of Aunt Gerry's albums, all of which I've scanned but not sorted out.

Now, be assured that I know exactly where every piece of paper is. LOL - right! The challenge is moving the stuff that's usually in front of it.

What value are the magazines from years ago? All of the NEHGR are online at - it's probably easier to search there than look through 20 years of printed issues. Not all of the NGSQ issues I have are online, but they are since 2002. The Chula Vista, and other local libraries, have complete runs of Everton's, NEGHR, NGSQ, NewEnglandAncestors, NGS News Magazine, and Family Tree Magazine - why should I keep any of them longer than one year? I probably should donate them to CVGS and see them sold at the book auction to interested members (if there are any!).

The "collected papers" in notebooks include many printouts from years ago - LDS Ancestral File group sheets, copies of journal and book pages for my ancestral families, and emails from correspondents long forgotten, etc. Many of those book pages are online at Google Books or on However, not all of the information on the collected papers are in my genealogy database, so that means that before I have to sort through them and enter the information and the source (a major flaw in my database!) before I can think of dumping them. The key here will be to go through the notebooks one time, enter the important data, reference the online book or journal, and save only what is not online.

I have a system of (bulging) manila folders for genealogy research subjects - you know, like census, military, immigration, land, probate, directories, English, Canadian, etc. The loose papers have more articles and printouts that need to be added to them. But some (or perhaps many!) of the printed pages are from online articles. I probably need to create a list of articles I have, try to find them online, dump the duplicates, scan the rest, and keep the archive in digital format.

The photographs in boxes or albums really need to be organized somehow into collections, scanned to a common standard (some are small JPGs, others are large TIFs), and the digitized photo collection organized around families and localities.

I started today with the loose papers sitting on top of the boxes since those are the messiest looking and the closest to my reach. I sorted them out, and put quite a few papers into folders which went back on top of the boxes (lacking any other open area in the Genealogy Cave). I managed to throw out (well, they're in the box under my desk reserved for non-private recycling) about five inches of the ten inches of paper I sorted through. Hey, it's a start!

Is anybody else in this predicament? Are your piles as high or long as mine? I like to think that I am well organized - and the public perception is that I am because I meet commitments and deadlines - but my description of the collection of "stuff" kind of belies that impression, doesn't it? I blame it all on over-commitment, blogging and having a fine New England ancestry!

I must be a descendant of the "Packrat" family... I can't even imagine throwing stuff out without agonizing over it!

Ah - I just realized that I need a bigger Genealogy Cave, more bookcases, etc. Problem solved! I wonder if Linda would mind moving our bedroom into the present Cave? Um, bad idea... not enough closet space and no cable TV outlet here. One solution is that we don't use our living room at all - the furniture sits there catching dust and housing the inherited artifacts that my daughters don't have room for at their homes. If we added some nice bookcases to the living room, we could make it a reading library... with the books, notebooks, photograph albums, etc.


Caroline said...

I'm a pack rat, too. I drive my anal husband crazy. He has learned to put up with the temperamental genealogy artist. Oh well, I know where everything is, so I don't see what the problem is...LOL. I have a dream office in mind with tons of storage, but I don't think I'm going to get that any time soon!

Family Stories

Cyndi Beane Henry said...

I have stacks of papers waiting to be filed, in boxes on the floor. Floor to ceiling bookcases that are spilling over onto the floor. And then there are the ever present books and journals stacked everywhere on the floor, where I long ago ran out of bookcase space! I have been so tempted to move the guest bedroom into the office, and vice versa. But, as my hubby pointed out, I'd soon have it overflowing as well!

Martin said...

Watch out for the NEHGR. Not all the authors gave consent to their copyright and you will hit an article online that is blank with the message that the copyright was withheld. I have all mine in a plastic tub in the basement, just in case! TAG will join it eventually. I actually donated many books at one point to purge myself. Fortunately the two four drawer file cabinets are still OK. For now.

Patti Hobbs said...

I think that's a great idea, Randy. Then you, too, could have a "Genea-Castle."

I couldn't handle getting rid of the magazines because even if I found them online, I'd still rather read the article (once I found the reference to where it is located) in paper.

M. Diane Rogers said...

See, Randy, we probably are related, if we could only get back far enough in that elusive PACKRAT family line. (You'd think that particular family's documents would have been saved all along the generations!)

I am lucky as last year my daughter & son helped fit out my Library with new bookcases and new shelves in the closet. I still have a bit of shelf room and quite a bit of floor!

But, I still have another filing cabinet in another room, and 3? boxes of old papers in the 'guest' closet. Those are on my list to deal with this year.

I'm hanging on to lots of genealogy/history magazines and journals still, unless they are readily available locally, but I'm keeping only the genealogy and history books I use (or love) the most. I've donated others to the BC Genealogical Society Library or to other local libraries.

And I'm not paperless - far from it. But I am getting that under control (I think!). I've steadily been going through older material, and giving away or recycling old articles I don't feel I need. Most of the things I've used for teaching, for instance, are digitized and I file one paper copy only, (just in case) and I'm making an effort to print out much less than I once did.

The trouble with going through old filing cabinets, boxes, etc. though is finding neat things and realizing there is more info there. That's when I go off on one of my famous research tangents! I think this is inevitable though...I might as well have some fun with it.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

Two houses ago I saved every magazine, printed out every email and saved every scrap of paper I found. In 2002 we moved to a smaller home and having less space I passed on the magazine collection. When we moved here in 2004 I had to do some serious sorting, scanning and trashing. I still have some paper files, mostly inaccessible in a box in the back of a closest and my family notebooks in a bookcase. As hard as it was to part with everything there isn't anything I've missed or wished I hadn't gotten rid of.

Debi Sargent said...

Looks as if I am joining the club, you pin pointed me to a "T". Pack Rat, a very Fat Rat, no me, the rat. Seem to have lost some of the piles with several moves the last few year. Spare room and the across town storage room has loads of stuff I need to go through and reorganize. But all in all, I enjoy the passion I have where family is concern.

Eileen said...

My suggestions: get rid of any magazine that you haven't read or looked at in 3 to 5 years ( I use 3). Switch to digital copies of those magazines or journals that provide this option.

Anything that you have not looked at in 3 to 5 years or can not get to in your office, store offsite in a commercial storage facility suitable for document storage. You are no worse off and you do have visiting privileges at the storage facility (and better access).

Then work on organizing what is left. I keep a copy of every document that I use for a source or proof even if I digitized it. But for learning articles. presentations, etc. I store my own copy of the digital versions just in case the web sites disappear. I keep everything digital as much as possible and use an online backup site as insurance against loss.

I haven't made up my mind about photos yet. I don't know whether to get rid of prints once I scan them so keep them. I'll be working on this area more this year.

By the way, it is agonizing and its okay to grieve but then move on. Good luck with your stuff!

wendy said...

If you are in the Packrat family - then we must be related! Right now I have a file cabinet - not quite full of information, censuses, family reports, etc., 3-4 boxes of stuff in my bedroom because the room where the file cabinet is located is where my son is now "living" and I can't get to it! I also have a pile of stuff on the floor by the computer that I must put away! I haven't scanned as much as I want either! Good luck!

Hellenic Genealogy Geek said...

Somehow reading this just made me feel better. I only wish I had one room that I could dedicate to all my genealogy research, website and blog. Instead, I have piles and boxes scattered around - nothing like your piles though, I must admit.

Georgia Keilman nee Stryker (Stratigakos)

Linda McCauley said...

I thought having large stacks of papers and books scattered all over the office was a requirement if you want to be considered a serious genealogist. (Appears you are so successful at research that you just can't keep up the filing.) That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Barry said...

This post is like a dagger in my heart! Most of what you describe sounds all too familiar. I have LOTS of work to do!!!! Aghhhhhh...

Ann Martin said...

We must be related since I seem to have accumulated the same piles of "stuff" complicated by the fact that we move twice a year-Spring and Fall. Whatever I am looking for is usually at the other home. Hope you remember helping me break my Eunice Seaver brick wall a few years ago. I'm grateful you did not discard her but did find her in your files. Thanks for giving me a whole bunch of new ancestors.
Ann Martin

VacaGrammy said...

Eileen's idea of an off site commercial storage may be fine for some; however, it can get expensive. One must decide just how much their "stuff" is worth, to warrant the added cost of storage. Personally, my hubby & I have "stuff in a storage site which we probably really should get rid of, as the annual cost of keeping it is more than it is really worth!OUCH!!!!

Jasia said...

I have fewer piles and shorter piles than you have, Randy, but they are no less annoying. I look around at them with disgust but never feel motivated to do anything about them. I keep waiting for the fairies to come and take care of them for me but so far they haven't shown up... lazy fairies ;-)