Thursday, April 9, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over Cycle 2 - Week 1 - Best Practices and Guidelines Pt 2

Honors College-Wesleyan University-photo by Stephen D Matthews, my dad, ca. 1952

My earlier post was mostly advice for beginners or newcomers to genealogical research.  So presumptuous of me, really, but I hope it helps someone.  I'm a beginner myself in so many ways and this do-over is a blessing!

Anything we do in life that is important to us we should do with intention; it is a word I think of again and again when I think about all kinds of goals that I have for myself.  Live with intention, work with intention, research with intention.

So, here are the best practices and guidelines that I intend to bring to my genealogical research from this point forward. I should probably frame them and hang them over my desk so that they don't go out the window the next time I sit down to work on my tree!

1. Slow down, don't get ahead of yourself. - This should be my mantra, chanted over and over as I search through records, cross-legged on my desk chair.  Seriously!  So going forward if I'm researching with a plan and spot a bright shiny object I will STOP, bookmark it, write it down and put it in the plan for next time.

2. Education, education, education. - I have been watching DearMYRTLE's Google hangouts (You can find them on YouTube and watch them live on Google+) for the past two months. I wish I could participate or at least watch them live but my 9 to 5 prevents that.  These hangouts have really inspired me to step-up my genealogy game. I'm reading Dr. Jones' Mastering Genealogical Proof, just bought Evidence Explained and have been following along with DearMYRTLE's Beginning Genealogy series.  Like anything else in life, it is easier and more fun when you keep yourself educated. I plan to make this a habit.

3. Don't beat yourself up about old habits. - I love this one from Elizabeth Shown Mills. From the Do-Over you would think that absolutely no one has ever started genealogical research with practices they are happy about.  There are so many of us who would do it all differently if we could start again.  But that tells us something, it's not the end of the world and we're not alone. So I won't forget my old habits lest I repeat them, but I won't beat myself up, it's counter-productive and can only hold me back.

4. Come at your research like an outsider.- Family stories can be helpful, sometimes, in giving me a place to look for information when other methods fail. Other times, however, I find those stories contradicted by the facts.  I will keep an open mind, but won't believe anything until supported by evidence. Now, where is my birth certificate? I'm sure I can't be a day over thirty!

5. Have a plan. - Every time I sit down to work, I will have a plan. I will know how long I'll be working, what I need with me to execute that plan (books, files, programs), I will know where I was the last time you stopped and stop a few minutes early to make sure I have cited and logged everything. Finally, I will leave a note of where I stopped last time

6. Keep that research log up-to-date. - As above, I will make sure I leave myself time to complete my citations and research log before I finish each session.  That way the information will not be lost or forgotten, and it won't get away from me. AND...

7. Track Everything. - As Thomas MacEntee said, "Even dead-ends, negative evidence and non-productive searches". I never want to have another moment where I've spent money to get a record I was already told does not exist!

8. Be consistent in the way you record your data.

9. Cite Everything. - I have my own brand new copy of Evidence Explained, so no excuses!

10. Get Stories. - I have to start doing this asap.  My father and grandparents are gone already and today is my mother's 78th birthday.  There's no time to waste.

11. Have a plan for backing-up everything.  This is vital. There is no sense in doing all this work if I'm not going to protect it.  I have a Dropbox account for now, which has the advantage of being free and easily accessible from libraries and research centers. I also want to buy an external hard-drive when I can. It took me a long time to consider this vital. I've been very lucky that I haven't lost anything.

12. Wring every detail out of documents you find and do it the first time and, of course, log it! - Don't miss evidence of one thing in your document because you were looking for something else. Don't say you'll read more carefully next time, you may miss something really important.

These next few I will have to work on as I learn more about genealogical proof, reasonably exhaustive searches, types of evidence, conclusions and more.

13. Verify - use proof techniques.

14. Thoughtfully consider the nature of the source.

15. Always add an appraisal of your source. I would never have thought of that!

16. Thoughtfully consider what details others will need when they use your material, because...

17. You do not own your ancestors.

18. Ask for help.

19. Give credit where credit is due. - Always, period.

20. Work and think like your ancestors. I can't remember where I saw it but when I think of it, I always laugh, "Compared to our ancestors, we are all wimps!" So true. We whine about upload speeds and lack of Wi-Fi, what would we do faced with 160 acres of untamed land to farm? My cousins still farm today and I'm a wimp compared to them!  Seriously though, our ancestors were tough, tenacious and creative and we must be, too.

I think that's it although I'm sure I'll think of more down the road. Thank you to Miriam Robbins, Alona, Elizabeth Shown Mills and Thomas MacEntee without whose posts linked above I would still be trying to write this post!

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