27 August 2017

Are You Overlooking Your Family Tree Discoveries?

What if the you from several years ago could talk genealogy with the you of today? Do you think the two of you could help each other out?

You're probably thinking that you've got so much more experience in family history now. You could teach so much to the past you. You could set her on the right course. You could tell her everywhere she's making genealogical mistakes.

But guess what? Past you has a lot to offer today's you, too. Past you holds some keys to your family tree that today's you has completely forgotten.

Today, past me and present me had a surprising collaboration. Here's what happened.

it's important to digitize your notes as well as your family tree documents
Digitizing death and marriage records is one thing. But notes are just as important.
When I went to Italy in 2005, I brought a notebook. It contained useful Italian phrases and facts I'd gathered about my closest ancestors.

My family tree was very small at that time, and I didn't have many documented facts. My plan was to use the few facts I had to explain who I was to the cousins I was about to meet.

In the same notebook, I jotted down details from three cemeteries I visited in my ancestral hometowns. My husband took photos of graves, and I wrote the facts in my notebook. When I was able to visit with cousins, I wrote down a few details they were able to share.

How I wish I'd taken better notes! But I was afraid of looking rude by paying more attention to my notebook than to my cousins.

Take Time to Collaborate With Yourself

This morning I read that old travel notebook and compared it to my family tree and the cemetery photos.

Past me, who'd scribbled all those notes, wound up providing present me with clues I didn't know I had! For example, my cousin Gennaro said his sister Maria had moved to New York City with her husband and four sons. I'd written down phone numbers for two of the sons, but I never called them.

Using the names of Maria and her sons, I found documentation for them on Ancestry.com. Maria and at least two of her sons became U.S. citizens. I knew I had the right people because they all had the same address between 1967 and 1971.

I learned that Maria and two of her sons died not long ago. And I had never contacted them because past me forgot to tell present me that their phone numbers were in that notebook. I missed my chance.

your scribbled notes should be typed and stored on your computer so you can use them in your genealogy research
My Italian cheatsheet alongside cemetery notes.
This is a strong argument for digitizing everything you gather in your family tree research. Scan your official documents. Enter their facts into your family tree.

This is true for notebooks, loose notes, and recorded conversations, too. Preserve the information and make it searchable by typing it into your word processing software.

I don't want to throw out my 2005 travel notebook, even though my dog chewed it as a puppy. But it would be a terrible mistake to leave it in paper form only.

What Should You Re-read Today?

Next, past me is going to share old immigration notes with present me. When I took those notes, I didn't know if the people were related to me or not. I only knew that they had the right last names, so I wrote their facts down in a notebook.

We'll see if present me can make a breakthrough with that old, forgotten information.

To paraphase a TV ad campaign, "What's in your closet"?


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