Every year about this time, most people spend some time spring
cleaning the house to organize things and get rid of clutter.
A lot of people find the task a bit overwhelming, but have a great
sense of accomplishment in the end. Just as rewarding (but perhaps
even more overwhelming) can be a spring cleaning, genealogy style!
Spring is a great time to go through all of the family history
information that you've accumulated over the past year.
Now is the time to go through your file marked "Miscellaneous"
and start organizing. When everything is organized, you'll be able to
make better, more effective use of your research time. As A.A. Milne
said, "Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that
when you do it, it's not all mixed up."
People Don't Get Organized
You know you should get and stay organized, so why don't you? Here
are some of the most popular excuses for not getting organized and ways
to help you get over them.
is too messy, I wouldn't know where to start!"
Even if you have more piles than files, organizing your research
is just a matter of getting started. Some people like to start with
the most daunting task and work from there. Once you've filed away 100+
pages from the "Miscellaneous" folder, other spring cleaning
tasks seem small. Other people like to start with the smaller tasks,
(say, backing up their family file to disk) so that they feel a sense
of accomplishment right from the beginning. Either way, try making a
list of specific spring cleaning tasks that you can check off along
is a waste of time I'd rather be researching."
The more organized you are, the more effective your
research will be. If you're disorganized, you're more likely to
feel overwhelmed and research will be less fun. Don't think of
organizing as putting a halt to your research, think of it as
a way to help you research faster and smarter. For example, as
part of your spring cleaning you may consider entering your most
commonly used sources into your family history software. Or, taking
the time to scan in and organize your photos will give you the
opportunity to attach faces to the names in your family file.
And while you're at it, you might just discover some new information.
the point? It is nearly impossible to stay organized."
It is easier to stay organized if you personalize
your filing system. If you are more comfortable filing by
first name rather than last name, do so. If you want to organize
your census image printouts by geography instead of by date, go
ahead. The more intuitive you make your filing system, the more
likely you are to stick to it.
One other way to make organizing easier is to think about where
you usually find piles of papers. Do you like to do your research
at the kitchen table but keep your filing cabinets in the den?
If that's the case, you probably end up with piles of papers
in the kitchen rather than in the filing cabinet where they
belong. Why not move your filing cabinets into the kitchen?
That way, you'll be more likely to file your papers as you finish
looking at them.
to Do With What You Have
In spring cleaning, deciding what to do first is sometimes the biggest
challenge to getting started. Here are some small things you can do
to get started.
Research Findings You Don't Need
Have you ever gotten started researching a person only to find
out later that he or she wasn't really related to you? You don't
want the information to go to waste, but you really don't need
to keep it around. Now is the time to donate research
like that to people who can use it. One way to make sure that
your research goes to good use is to post the information to
message board so that other people can benefit from your
Through Your Magazines and Journals
Have old issues of the National Genealogical Quarterly
laying around that you don't need? You can donate those to your
local genealogical society or library (to find one, try our
list of helpful
web sites organized by state). If you only need 5 pages
of a 250-page magazine, you can keep yourself organized and
cut down on paper by scanning those pages on a scanner. That
way, you can keep the pages on your computer for later reference
and other researchers can benefit from a "like-new"
Your Internet Bookmarks
Lots of researchers bookmark genealogy sites
as they come across them online fully intending to check them
out later. As part of your spring cleaning, don't just delete
them! Why not take an hour or two to go through those bookmarked
sites and see what you can find? Then, you can organize the
ones that you think you can use into folders by topic so that
you can use them later.
Your Family File and Upgrade Your Software
Everybody knows that they should backup their
family file on a regular basis but not everybody does. As part
of your spring cleaning, take the time to copy your family file
to a separate disk or CD-ROM and put it in a safe place so that
you'll know where to find it. (You might even consider contributing
your family tree to the World
Family Tree project for safekeeping.) While you're at it,
why not look into upgrading
your family history software to the latest version? There might
be some features that will help you stay organized all year
and Scan Your Photographs
Organizing photographs is a job that takes some time but is always
very interesting. As you organize and attach captions to photographs
from decades past, you get to see how members of your family dressed
and lived. This particular spring cleaning exercise is always more
fun if you think of it more as an opportunity to time travel than
just a clean-up task.