Topic 3: Establishing Base Practices and Guidelines
I needed to do something a little different with regard to adding media and information to my genealogy software since I decided to do a separate “research” database (in Family Tree Maker) and a “sourced” database (in Roots Magic). And I still need to get a grip on the somewhat willy-nilly approach I’ve been using since finding so much information available online.
I still want to use OneNote in tandem with my genealogy software. I know some of the things I am doing in OneNote can be done in my software but the software has its drawbacks. One, I can’t spread everything out to view at once, I have to open each document separately. When I put screen clippings into OneNote, it helps to be able to “view” it all at once. Two, I don’t like either Roots Magic or Family Tree Maker’s timelines. They don’t suit my purposes as I like to make notes of conflicting or missing information right on the timeline. It then becomes the pre-research plan. Later, I can copy and paste research notes from OneNote into my software if I decide I want that information in my genealogy database. The trick is to remember to date everything so I know whether or not the software has the latest notes.
I was playing around in Scapple (mind mapping software from the creators of Scrivener) and made myself a chart back in July 2014 to illustrate (for my own purposes) how I should be working with the documents I already have. They need to be scanned, the information extracted and added to my genealogy databases. New source documents are coming in as well so they need to be dealt with.
Obviously all the steps aren’t necessary for every document but I wanted a checklist of sorts to be sure that things get added to OneNote and timelines. You’ll notice that the last steps include putting the information in genealogy software. All of this is subject to change because I tweak things as I go.
Some things I still need to decide on:
1. I want to set aside 2 days per week to work on family history. I need to pick 2 days and stick to my plan otherwise I get wrapped up in quilting for days and weeks on end and don’t get back to family history research. (Case in point is this post. I had to drag myself away from my quilting software where I have spent the last 3 days drawing an applique quilt border.) I am thinking Tuesday and Wednesday because those are the 2 days the local family history center is opened. I can only get there every other week but at least I know it would be open if I decided to go and do some research on my designated genealogy days.
2. The To-Do List… One long list or many little lists? I’m leaning towards one list because I like the way everything shows up in a prioritized list when I open Family Tree Maker. But the question is where to put the one list? Maybe one list for each of my 4 surname notebooks? Yes, I think I will play around with that idea. Now my OneNote Surname Notebook looks like this when I open it.
The very first section is an Inbox. Anything I clip from the web ends up in the Quick Notes section of my personal ON notebook. I then sort through those web clips and add them to the appropriate Surname Notebook Inbox unless I know exactly which Family Group Section it belongs to — then it goes there. The next section is for my new To-Do List. It’s just a tickler list of things that need to be done. More elaborate plans and information are listed on my Research Plan and Research Record in each Family Group Section.
Cite This Page:
Erin Williamson Klein, “My Work Flow.” My Family History Files, 14 January 2015 (: [access date]).
Please do not copy without attribution and link back to this page.
Genealogy Do-Over Week 1 – 2-8 January 2015
Topic 2: Preparing to Research
There is a note in FTM for my grandfather that says, “The Ray C. Williamson in the 1930 Yates New York census is not my grandfather.” In the past my research has been all over the place. Following rabbit trails here and there. Searching through whatever records strike my fancy at the moment. I haven’t approached my research in a methodical way, I haven’t kept records of previous research and I haven’t written up my conclusions. I have been trying to track down my grandfather in the 1930 Federal Census. Do I have a record of where I have already searched? No. Do I know why I came to the conclusion that the Ray C. Williamson in Yates wasn’t my grandfather? No. Is my note helpful to me or someone coming along behind me? No. Part of the reason for setting up my research in surname notebooks in OneNote was to help me keep track of what I have done and where I need to go next. Starting over with a sourced tree should help me erase some of the mistakes I’ve made in past research.
What follows is the draft of a post I wrote in July 2014 but never posted to my blog. I wrote this after I decided to start with a brand-new, properly-sourced tree in Roots Magic.
At some point in our family history research, it is time to take a step back and report on our findings. Very few of us take this critical step however. We tend to think, as researchers of family history, that that is all it takes—a bit of research that gets entered into software and then our job is done. But is it? Do we follow a few “shaky leaf” hints and attach some source documents in our genealogy software and call it good? I know I am guilty of this.
Is that how we applied ourselves to term papers in school? Probably not, if you were expecting a passing grade. Is that how you want your news to be delivered? Based on evidence from a third party? With little or no explanation as to how the third party arrived at their conclusions? Is this how an award-winning journalist worked to become one? Through half-hearted research that is never reported? Not likely.
Okay, that was a lot of questions but I hope they have you thinking about what we do as family history researchers. Maybe it’s time to start thinking of ourselves as “family history investigative reporters” instead. It’s time to start reporting on our findings. Maybe you all do that already and it’s just me who is slacking? No? Here is the main point to all this rambling: If you make an inference or come to a conclusion during your research, you should write it down. Why, you ask? (Do you really need to ask?) How many times have you come across Point Z in your research and thought, “Z? Where did that come from?” or “How did I come up with that?” We all know both of those questions mean taking the time to revisit our research to see if we can figure out where or how. What if you had taken the time to write up a short statement such as, “In my research, I found documents showing this and that and I concluded Point Z.”
See? It doesn’t have to be hard. It can be a simple statement or two, a short paragraph or a bulleted list with a concluding comment. Something that will help you make sense of the inference or conclusion you came to if you question yourself at a later date. Something that someone coming along behind you could see where you were going and how you got there. Am I setting myself up here as some sort of “proof argument” know-it-all? Heck, no. Mine might make it into the “passable” category—that’s about it. But I am trying! I think learning to write good proof arguments is a learn-as-you-go process. If we never write anything down though, we will never learn how to write effective proof arguments, will we? I just want to encourage you to give it a try. It gets easier the more you do. Really.
After you have done some simple written conclusions and are comfortable with the process, then step it up a notch. Learn to add some important details to the proof argument: “In the search for Q [some unknown], I examined documents A [a primary source], B [a derivative of a primary source] and found C [secondhand information] in my search. I came to the conclusion that X + Y equals Point Z because of L [evidence on source A], M [evidence on source B], and N [lack of other evidence to the contrary].” Yes, this will take a bit more thought, but worth it in the end. As it stands right now, I have to go back and figure out why I concluded the Ray C. Williamson in the 1930 Yates, New York Federal Census is not my Ray C. Williamson because I don’t remember why and I didn’t write it down!
So, the proof argument written report… It’s got you quaking in your boots. It’s got you burying your head in the sand. It’s got you backing away with your arms out to ward off danger while shaking your head no. It’s got you running for the hills shouting, “No, no, no!” (Sorry, quirky sense of humor escaping.) Remember, it doesn’t have to be complex. Yes, for the NGS Quarterly there are standards that must be adhered to. If you are reporting to clients, you want to present something professional to your client at the end of your work so you’ll want to apply some standards there as well. But that is not what I am proposing here. For right now, just relax and take a stab at writing proof arguments for your own peace of mind. Keep them with your Research Plans and Records in OneNote. Add them to your notes in your genealogy software so you can find them if you need them. Become a family history investigative reporter. You will hug yourself later.