14 February 2020

How Many Genealogy Gems Are You Sitting On?

Are you guilty of ignoring the tips and leads you stashed away? I am.

Years ago I put a folder on my computer desktop called "gen docs". It was a handy place to stash anything that:
  • I hadn't added to my family tree yet, or
  • belonged to someone who wasn't in my tree yet.
I even took the time to organize this stash with sub-folders for the different document types.

Then I moved the folder to another folder that's automatically backed up to cloud storage. That's keeping it safe. (See "How to Back Up Your Family Tree Files Automatically".) But since it's not staring me in the face anymore, it's been out-of-sight, out-of-mind for a long time.

I'm sure there are a ton of genealogy gems in that folder. Things like:
  • photos of relatives I found online
  • draft cards for men who weren't connected to me, but may be connected now
  • vital records I photographed from microfilm (badly)
  • the flight record for my Uncle Johnny who crashed and died in World War II
There's so much in that folder that past-me thought would be important to future-me. And I'm sure she was right.

This is what happens when you have a "deal with it later" folder.
This is what happens when you have a "deal with it later" folder.

Aside from this jam-packed folder (I'll bet that phrase doesn't translate well), I also have my earliest genealogy research. It's a school notebook I filled with facts taken from ship manifests I saw on the Ellis Island website 16 years ago. It's hard to believe I ever did something so non-digital. I wish now it was a Notepad file. And I have the college paper my brother wrote about our family history in the 1970s. That paper has some stories that came straight from our grandparents. I need to capture all those gems!

What about you? What gems have you been tucking away to deal with later? Do you have death certificates you never scanned? An audio interview you never transcribed? (Guilty!) Photos you meant to digitize?

I know we like to forge ahead in our genealogy hobby. We're eager to search through the newest database. We want to try another software package that shows a lot of promise. We want to focus our energy on that brick wall.

But past-you has already laid the foundation of your family tree. What if the clue you need to break through your brick wall has been sitting in your collection all this time?

I challenge you today to a project I'm beginning right now. Go through your old notes, files, and collections. You know more about your family now than you did back then. Take a close look at each scrap of information past-you set aside and make a decision.

These documents should have gone straight into my family tree. No more procrastinating.
These documents should have gone straight into my family tree. No more procrastinating.

Does it belong in your family tree?
  • If yes, scan it, crop it, type it, and get it in your family tree. Now.
  • If no, put it in another folder and make note of why you kept it and why it isn't in your family tree.
I'm starting this project by dealing with one sub-folder at a time. The "legal docs" folder has things like the sale of my grandfather's house in 1990. The "funeral cards" folder has pictures of these mementos I need to enhance in Photoshop. The "Missing Flight" folder has Uncle Johnny's flight record that I keep forgetting to put into my family tree.

There's no telling what I'll find in my stash that may:
  • answer age-old questions
  • establish unknown connections, or
  • add a missing piece to one relative's life story.
So, yes, I challenge you and me both. Stop forging ahead for a couple of days and clean up the trail of evidence past-you created. Then tell me what genealogy gems you've discovered.


  1. I found a second (and third) birth record on the same page where I'd found and recorded the birth of an ancestor. The additional records were for others (not direct-line) born the same year, in the same town/city. I suggest studying records that are indexed for an area or a time period to be certain there isn't more than one ancestor on the list.

    1. I spend all my time exploring the entire town my ancestor came from. Small town -- everyone intermarried.

  2. Of all your blogs, this one has been the most useful to me in validating my 'non-system'. I've always felt I move at snail pace and that I should have made tenfold progress in 30 years; that I've always spent too much time focusing on the past, saving, preserving and dwelling on those things I've found and saved. Cleaning out my parents' home, who lived in my paternal grandfather's home since their 1938 marriage until 2010, I realized that after moving them out, I had to return and retrieve all the photos and papers left behind. That wasn't an easy feat, since I held an executive position in a healthcare company, lived in California and my family home is in Puerto Rico. But within a month I returned - to a locked house with electricity left on in only 3 rooms out of 13 (my grandparent's bedroom at my request, bathroom and kitchen). In one month it had turned into a spooky house with bats and pigeons trying to take it over, but fortunately the large windows and doors let enough light in to move around even at night, and having grown up there, I knew every corner, nook and cranny well. I found a treasure trove of documents, letters, notes, poems, diaries, births and deaths, purchases, debts and receipts. All went into a suitcase I carted back to California, stored in plastic boxes and put away for several years. Although I've worked on my tree continuously, it was only this year that I was able to start sorting through those boxes. I actually started with one small box my husband had, fondly nicknamed "MawMaw's shirt box" (a Sears Roebuck shirt box where she saved notes, photos & letters), & a plastic filing box with letters and documents from his family, most of them his aunt Dottie recounting events and the final illness of his uncle Frank.In January this year I tackled my own photos, starting with the low lying fruits, smaller photo albums. Each took a month since most were black porous paper and my aunt must have been very fond of glue, so they were stuck and brittle. My husband soaked them in warm water (not recommended unless you're a photographer and know how to handle old film), removed most of the backing (and with it of course, some of the ink writing too), dried them flat and I now have the photos scanned and safely stored. After finishing most of the memory cards, I'm moving along a bit faster with more photos. As I scan they're stored in acid proof photo boxes, hopefully all by decades as that's the way I'm storing the scans. Having 3 scanners is an advantage, although only 1 is at arm's reach. The most convenient scanner, Epson FF-680W scans front and back at one time, one Cannon flatbed is for slides and negatives (husband's job), and the other Cannon is for smaller photos or those too thick to go through a feeder as well as any memory cards with ribbons or that fold over. Although I have no idea when I'll finish, I'm sure I will. In the meantime, I've halted all forward research and every day as I scan I've been thinking too much time is being spent on this, and I should continue to research. Now I can relax and keep enjoying all the memories and questions going through my mind while scanning. My one mistake and regret is I haven't kept a log, but since the scans are labeled by me I can always figure out a way to make a log out of them later. And that, DiAnn, is the reason I read your blogs; you lead us on and help justify, or decide to change our methods.

    1. Oh my gosh, you made me tear up at the end. I find what you're doing very inspiring. An hour ago I went to find my 2003 honeymoon photos of Italy so I could scan them. I thought I did so years ago, but where are those files? No idea. So much to do!

  3. Saw your post on Genealogy Resources on Facebook! Great post! Ithought I was the only one!
    Cleaning all of mine since the new year. Too many files saved in numerous files across all machines & drives. The files I've named 'to file later', 'misc' & 'to research' are nothing but digital junk drawers for me. Photos found & present are scattered. Then I, too, have numerous scrap paper, spiral notebooks of all sizes to deal with. But I'm slowly making headway in cleaning it up & finding things that are helping that I forgot I saved. Thank you for making me not feel alone!
    One of my correspondence files led me to reread an Ancestry message that stated one of my brickwalls was a half brother. How did I miss that 5 yrs ago & wasting time since finding nothing on him! Ugh!
    Next To Do after getting files into one is to get on all the tree sites & Legacy & RootsMagic & update those also as I've saved things there & not in my own files.
    It's never ending but I do feel I'm accomplishing things when research has hit a dead end.

    1. It's very time-consuming, but worthwhile. Today I started with census forms I'd saved for people who should be related to me. I was working on one who turns out to be my 4th cousin 3x removed. He's one of 10 children, though half died in infancy. I now have a ton of documentation to this previously disconnected family. I'm so happy!

  4. I have been digitizing my research for the past 6 years. I had 30 years worth of research in family notebooks. There were 2 large 6 shelf wooden bookcases filled with 2 inch white 3 ring notebooks and I knew that had to change.
    The information and documents had to be preserved and shared. I'm happy to report I'm down to the last 2 notebooks. I scan the entire notebook (Fujitsu scan snap) through my self feed scanner and then name all the files and file them in my family folders (I use a family name by generation family group file system) but we all know we have to use a system that fits out style.
    This process has generated lots of additional research avenues and added my primary documents and research to each person in my family file on Ancestry. I have also cleaned up my files and put 26,726 photos/images and 1500 stories/pdfs and attached 56,385 records to Ancestry.
    Now all my research is digital and backed up in multiple places (important!)and my family tree members have my documentation attached to them on Ancestry showing other researchers how I came to my conclusions. I can't sit on the floor cross-legged and look through my notebooks anymore but I can still peruse through my digital files looking for clues.

    1. That is positively amazing. Well done! Yesterday I re-scanned my 2003 honeymoon photos because I don't know what happened to the first scans. I also chose 2 documents from my miscellaneous "gen docs" folder, and each one turned into a full day of research. I fleshed out each man's family and gathered all his documents. I'd saved the files way back when simply because these men had last names from my tree and lived in the Bronx. It turns out I was right to save them!