Showing posts with label task list. Show all posts
Showing posts with label task list. Show all posts

Friday, February 1, 2019

One Simple Strategy to Avoid Genealogy Burnout

Does your family tree ever weigh you down? Here's an easy way to push ahead without getting burned out.

I've been off to the races on my 2019 Genealogy Goals. I completed my 1st goal by mid-January. Now I'm making a serious push on my 2nd goal.

I've finished my 1st genealogy goal of the year, but the 2nd one can get tedious.
I've finished my 1st genealogy goal of the year,
but the 2nd one can get tedious.
I'm excited about how many census forms I've added to my family tree in a short time. Fifty-five in 2 weeks!

But sometimes I get bored. I'll find a census for a big family and think, "Now I've got to add all these facts to all these people." I don't want to stop working on my tree. But it can feel like a grind sometimes.

What's a bored genealogist to do?

Try a New Strategy

I've been using an anti-boredom strategy since I was a girl. I still use it when I'm cleaning the house, shoveling snow, or working at my day job.

The secret is this: Jump from small task to small task and trick your brain into thinking you're on to something new.

For example, when I mow the lawn, I tend to shift directions. Carve out a smaller section to cut. I'm purposely not committing myself to an enormous job. I'm committing to one piece of the job at a time. I'm telling myself I can stop whenever I want to. Then I realize I want to do another section. I go on to complete the larger task, one piece at a time.

Why not apply this strategy to genealogy?

I still encourage you to keep a list of genealogy goals—even if you won't complete them this year. But, to battle any boredom, keep a separate, smaller task list. These tasks are the things you can jump to when your bigger goal is bogging you down.

Last night I was getting discouraged with one family because I couldn't find them in 1910 or 1930. I tried all kinds of search tricks, but they kept hiding from me.

That's when I noticed a problem with some of the images in my family tree. They were missing a date or category, or weren't named in my usual style. I'd detached a few unwanted images, but I'd forgotten to delete them.

I overcame my boredom and frustration by fixing the problems with these 30-something images. It was a mental break. A short, easy task. And I'm so happy they're fixed.

I pressed on and edited the captions for all my photos of grave markers. I wanted them to be consistent, and I could never decide if they were tombstones, gravestones, headstones, or what. So I chose "grave marker" and labelled each photo in the same way. I put the cemetery name in the description. If I had the original URL for the image, I made sure each one said "From the Find-a-Grave website" followed by the URL.

Cleaning up a certain file type in my family tree was a quick break to get me back on track.
Cleaning up a certain file type in my family tree was a quick break to get me back on track.


I keep a list of smaller genealogy tasks I want to finish. They're not lofty enough to be on my annual goals list, so I called them my "Rainy-Day Genealogy List". I could call them my "I'm Bored List":
  • Transcribe my Oct 2018 interview of Mom and Dad (should take an hour or so)
  • Sort out my photo collection, scan the non-digitized ones, and add more to my tree (a weekend job)
  • Capture all entries from my old notebook of Ellis Island immigrants (I don't have to do it all at once)
  • Revisit my brother's old genealogy paper for more facts from Grandpa (a couple of hours, tops)
  • File away everything in my catch-all "gen docs" folder (a bigger task, but easy to break into pieces)
It's Time to Start Your List

You must have similar tasks you'd like to complete. Start your list of boredom busters. Choose one as a mental break when you feel frustrated by a brick wall.

Don't avoid genealogy because one family is driving you crazy. Move on to something simpler for a while. Something you can finish with no obstacles.

Break through that boredom while making your end-product better and better. Your family tree is going to be the tidiest family tree in the neighborhood!

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Friday, January 11, 2019

10-Minute Genealogy Tasks You Can Do

With these options, you can get a lot of genealogy research done in 10-minute blocks here and there.

Some more sleep would be nice. But I've been getting up really early each morning with one goal in mind: Do something productive.

Two mornings a week, posting this blog is the only thing I do. On the other mornings I try to see how many genealogy tasks I can complete before it's time to get dressed for work. It turns out, there are a lot of genealogy tasks you can do when you have only 10 minutes or so. Here are my top 5.

1. Search for a Missing Document
No commitments! See how much you can get done in only 10 minutes.
No commitments! See how much you can get done in
only 10 minutes.

First, pick a common type of document, like a ship manifest or a census.

Next, choose a particular family from your tree that's missing that document. Even if you've searched and failed to find it before, try again. Use the different search tricks (see 3 Tricks for Better Genealogy Search Results), like searching for the family by their first names only.

Even if you gave up on finding this missing document long ago, indexing systems can change. The document may become easier to find. Last month when searching for something else, I found my grandparents' 1925 New York State census sheet. Somehow, it had never come up in all my years of doing family tree research.

2. Scan Paper Documents and Photos

You may have some paper birth, marriage and death records in folders or binders. If you don't have a digital copy too, you can't add the document to your family tree software.

Gather a bunch of these paper documents and scan them as high-resolution images. No scanner? Your phone or digital camera will do.

No matter which device you use, take the document out of its shiny sleeve or glass frame. If you're not scanning, take the picture straight on and avoid shadows. There's a handy app called CamScanner that straightens out your image and makes it the best it can be.

3. Fill in Missing Sources

Some of the earlier facts in my family tree came from family members. That's really not reliable.

Revisit the branches someone else told you about or helped you with. Search online for documentation and reliable sources for as many of these facts as you can. Then add those new sources to your tree. (See 6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations and Trust But Verify Your Relative's Family Tree.)

4. Annotate Your Images

Have you ever tried to re-find a census sheet online because you need to see the next page? It isn't always easy to find a document again. A misspelling may have made it tough to find the first time. Imagine having to go through that again.

Save yourself the aggravation and ensure the long-term provability of your facts. Add enough information to the document images in your family tree to allow you, or anyone, to find the original file again. Include the collection it's from, the microfilm reel number, the page number, the image number, the URL. The more facts you include, the more traceable the document will be.

For instance, I added the following note to the image properties of a ship manifest. When you attach notes to the image file, you'll import the notes into your family tree along with the image.

1957 travel record for Silvio Tagliamonte and Lillian Iamarino
lines 4-5; New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957; Roll — T715, 1897-1957 — 8001-8892 — Roll 8854; image 716 of 1197
https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7488/NYT715_8854-0716


5. Put Odds and Ends into Your Tree

Ancestry.com has a feature called a Shoebox. It's a place to save items you may need, but right now you're not sure you need. I have a similar way of saving things I gather. I have a folder on my computer called "gen docs". It has sub-folders for photos, census forms, ship manifests, and much more.

If you have a catch-all system too, your 10-minute task is to start digging into it. Annotate the image files and add them where they belong in your family tree.

Are you a morning person? Clear-headed and ambitious. Or are you a night owl? Ready to conquer the world while everyone else is in bed.

Whatever time of day your brain is locked in and ready to go, choose one of these tasks. How far will you get in 10 minutes?

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

How to Make Your Genealogy Research More Complete

"What? I never downloaded the 1940 census for my great uncle? Which other families haven't I gathered documents for?"

A Crisis With a Silver Lining

An 1899 birth record for my ancestor.
An 1899 birth record for my ancestor.
I've written several times about my "document tracker" spreadsheet (see links at the bottom of this article). I use it to keep an inventory of every document image I've attached to someone in my tree. It's alphabetical by last name and has a column for each major type of document or fact. Birth, immigration, marriage, census, draft card, death, etc.

One of my 2018 Genealogy Goals is to "Fill in the 'Need to find' column" on my spreadsheet. That involves looking at which documents I've gathered for someone and listing what is still missing. For example, if I have the 1910, 1930 and 1940 census for a person, the 1920 census belongs in my "Need to find" column.

I hadn't spent much time on that, even though we're well into July. And then something went wrong. I noticed when I tried to re-sort the spreadsheet by the Person's Name column, a group of lines were being selected. It looked as if Excel was going to sort only those lines.

I use Excel every day on the job. I've never seen this happen before. I avoided sorting that day, but I guess I made a bad sort another day. This weekend I discovered the error. When I looked to see if I'd added the 1871 marriage record to my 2nd great grandfather's line, I saw all the wrong information!

It seems as if a lot of lines are off by one, containing dates for the person above them. The spreadsheet has 1,685 lines. I need to check them all!

Polishing that Silver Lining

Since I noticed this terrible problem while looking at my Saviano family, I decided to start there on line 1,464. I checked each line against Family Tree Maker to see which data belonged to whom.

To do this I clicked the Person tab, and then the Media tab in FTM. As a rule, I label all media items beginning with their date so they sort chronologically.

I label each person's media files beginning with the date. Now they display in chronological order.
I label each person's media files beginning with the date. Now they display in chronological order.
I've recently gotten into the habit of adding "cert." to my spreadsheet when I have an actual certificate image. For example, in the Birth column it may say "1846 (cert.)". So I thought, why not add the person's birth year when I'm sure of it but have no document? I'll know there's no image because it doesn't say "cert." Those birth years are really helpful for telling my five Antonio Sarracino's apart!

And while I was checking each person's documents, I completed their "Need to find" column. As I finished each line, I gave the row a light green color. Now it's plain to see which lines I've checked.

I'm fixing any alphabetical-order errors manually to avoid future problems. When I add a new person, I'll have to insert a new line where their name belongs.

My document tracker spreadsheet holds my inventory and provides my task list.
My document tracker spreadsheet holds my inventory and provides my task list.

Two Birds with One Stone

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is, but there's a big payoff. As I'm working through the lines of the spreadsheet, certain things tempt me. I discovered I was missing an immigration record for my cousin's great grandparents. I noted that in the "Need to find" column, but then I decided to go get it. I found it on Ancestry.com. I put the date in the immigration column for both the husband and the wife, and took it out of the "Need to find" column.

Then I found people from Avellino, Italy, who were missing their birth records. The Avellino records became available last week! So I downloaded and added their birth records.

If not for this exercise, I wouldn't have realized I had Avellino people in need of documents.

The ultimate goal is to have all the lines verified and shaded green, and the "Need to find" column empty. That'll mean I've tracked down every major document I can for each person.

And if I can't find that 1940 census for my great uncle, at least I've got the ultimate short-list of what I need to find.

We all get side-tracked by lots of things. We're working with a new cousin to firm up our information. We're using new document collections to find lots more ancestors. We're trying to create trees to share with our family.

This exercise can get you focused on what you've left unfinished. I'm more motivated than ever to work on my document tracker spreadsheet. If you give it a try, I think you'll be happy you did.

Note: Be sure to read the follow-up article about using free Family Tree Analyzer for some of these tasks. Use This Tool to Discover Family Tree Insights.


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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Resolution You'll Want to Keep

On Christmas evening I followed my own advice. I created a list of 7 genealogy goals for 2018. (See What Are Your Genealogy Goals for 2018?.)

They're a little rough and fuzzy to start. But my plan is to fine-tune and prioritize them before January 1st.
Make 2018 the year your family tree blossoms.
Make 2018 the year your family tree blossoms.
  1. Create a weekly backup plan for my computer
  2. Find my parents' common ancestors
  3. Log my downloaded Antenati documents into spreadsheet
  4. Fill out the "Still to find" column on my document tracker
  5. Verify the upstate New York railyard story and the Agostino fight stories
  6. Find out my great grandfather's position in his local Italian-American society
  7. Figure out the Muollo family's connection to my Sarracino family
If you haven't yet created your 2018 list of genealogy goals, let me explain my thought process for my list. Reading this should help you find your most important goals.

Backup Plan

I transitioned to a new computer this month, so having a perfect backup plan is top-of-mind. (see Prepare Your Family Tree for Your Computer's Demise.) I'm thinking about writing a little Java program to identify which files are new as of a particular date. Then I can copy only those files. If I can write a handy program, I'll be happy to share it with you.

Connect My Parents

I've gotten DNA tests for myself and my parents. One test tells me my parents are distant cousins! (See Free DNA Analysis Finds Kissing Cousins.) AncestryDNA backs this up because mom and dad are in each other's match list. I need to find the set of great grandparents that connects them.

Log Italian Vital Records

Everyone researching Italian ancestors needs to know about the Antenati website. (See Collect the Whole Set!) I've downloaded all available documents from my four ancestral hometowns. If I log the critical facts from each vital record, I can piece together extended families.

Document Tracker

Sometimes I'll use my document tracker to complete the set of documents for a family. For instance, my spreadsheet shows me at a glance which documents I've found for each person. If it's obvious that I'm missing a couple of census years, I can focus on finding them. It will help my research if I fill in my "Still to find" column. If I do that, I can spend a day finding every missing 1940 census for my tree.

Family Lore

I have a couple of unproven family stories that will take a lot of research to prove or disprove. I have so little to go on. Maybe you have some family legends you can research in 2018. They may involve newspaper research or some other research that you can't do from home.

Personal History

They buried my great grandfather wearing a ribbon from an Italian-American society. (See 1925 Death Photo Holds a Clue to My Ancestor's Life.) I want to find out more. It seems to me he may have held an esteemed position in the society. The Bronx Historical Society has told me they can't help. I need to find more resources.

Tie Up Loose Ends

I have a family named Muollo in my family tree with no connection to me. I suspect they're related, but I have to find the proof. My great grandfather Giovanni Sarracino's mother was a Muollo. My great uncle, Giuseppe Sarracino, settled in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, at the same time as Gennaro Muollo from his hometown. This year, I want to find the connection between Gennaro Muollo and me.

I have never made a New Year's resolution. Since childhood I'd heard that New Year's resolutions were always broken. Quickly. So I never bothered.

But a New Year's Genealogy resolution is an entirely different thing. This resolution—this genealogy goal list—will keep me focused. I expect to have a very productive year of family tree research in 2018.

How about you?

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

How to Plan an Efficient Genealogy Research Trip

An online genealogy friend recently asked if I needed any New York City vital records. He was heading to the city and offering to do some lookups for me.

Luckily I use the Task planner in Family Tree Maker to keep a list of items I need to find. I categorize this list by the location of the record, if it's found in a specific repository.

use a detailed task list to simplify your genealogy research
Family Tree Maker includes a Plan tab and this Task list.
So in scanning my list of items categorized as "Archives", I was able to pick out the one document I wanted the most. A few minutes later, my friend emailed me the birth certificate I wanted!

My Task list sure came in handy, but I haven't been keeping it up to date. Let's all prepare ourselves to make the most of any genealogy research trip.

The first step is to fill in your Document Tracker with what you have and what you're missing. For a detailed look at how to use a spreadsheet as your document tracker, see Haven't I Seen You Before? and Case Study On 'Haven't I Seen You Before?'.

For documents you can't access online, make note of where you need to go to access them. That location may be in another state or at a particular library.

For example, most of my family lived in New York City in the past. I need to go to the New York City Municipal Archives for their vital records. Or I may be able to access them at a Family History Center.

When planning to visit a particular library or archive, do your homework first! Your research trip will be much more productive.

For example, last year I vacationed in an area close to where my grandmother Lucy was born. I carved out time for a side-trip to her town and set three goals:
  1. See the house where Lucy lived as a baby and was probably born.
  2. See the railroad yard where her father Pasquale worked.
  3. Visit the town library to see old city directories.
I stood where my great grandparents once lived
Once my great grandparents' house.
Before my trip, I visited the library's website and corresponded with a librarian. I confirmed that the library had city directories for the years around my grandmother's birth.

My first stop on this side trip was the library's cabinet of city directories. I combed through those books for up to an hour without finding a single listing for my great grandfather Pasquale, no matter which variation of his name I used.

What I failed to do was work with the librarian to see if any other documents from the early 1900s might be useful to me. Was there an old map or photographs showing Pasquale's house at the time of his marriage? That address is a baseball field now. Did they have books about the local railroad station from the time Pasquale worked there?

After the library, I drove to the house where my grandmother Lucy and her parents had lived. I got out of the car and walked up and down the sidewalk to get a good look at the house and the yard. I could picture Pasquale there, tending to his garden.

Pasquale's train station is a museum now.
Next I drove to the train station where Pasquale worked. The station is no longer active, and the depot is now a museum. That was great news! The only problem was it was closed that day.

If I'd done more homework, I could have timed my visit so I could tour that museum. Now I need to make another trip there.

On the way to the train station I passed the Catholic church, St. Ann's. I knew that one of my great grandmother's brothers was married in that church.

Somehow it didn't occur to me that my great grandparents were probably married there, too! I should have gone inside! Months later I learned that the church graveyard contains many people named Caruso—all my cousins.

I enjoyed that side trip tremendously. Standing in front of my ancestors' house, and walking along the tracks where Pasquale worked—that was a wonderful feeling!

But I didn't learn very much, and I didn't do enough to strengthen my family tree.

Here's what I'll do before my next research trip. I hope you'll learn from my mistakes, too.
  • Start with the list of items you need to find for your family tree.
  • Expand that list to include the basic facts you know about the ancestor in question. For example, on a recent visit to a Family History Center to view several rolls of microfilm, I brought a list of what I hoped to find on each different roll. The list includes when I expected to find my great great grandparents' marriage. It includes when I believe they were born. And it includes other names I want to confirm.
  • Get familiar with what's available at the archives, library, or museum you're planning to visit. You don't want to miss out on a collection because you were focused only on another collection.
  • Think beyond the dates and names you're seeking. If you're visiting an ancestor's hometown, where did they work? Where did they worship? Where were they buried?
My father has a saying that we kids are tired of hearing, but we know he's right. He calls it the 5 P's: "Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance".

Before I go off on another family history adventure 5 hours from home, I will do my homework and remember my 5 P's.

Now it's time to start my Prior Planning for my next visit to my ancestral hometowns in Italy. I don't want to waste a second of that trip!


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