The First Thing . . .

A recently married couple–both in their late 20s from Florida–are visiting us on the California Central Coast this fourth of July weekend. Amid trips to Hearst Castle and the beaches and wineries, we have talked about their roots. They are old enough to know the outlines of family stories, but still too young to appreciate how much they will want this information in 20-30 years.

When grandparents and parents leave us, family stories evaporate. These stories exist in no online database, library, courthouse, or archives anywhere. I explained to our visitors, “The Internet becons, but you should start with your parents and grandparents. Valuable details of their lives and origins can disappear tomorrow. At the same time, online databases will only get bigger and better.”

This is obvious advice to experienced family historicians, but not to young people who cannot remember life without the Internet. Their default button for learning more about anything usually involves a Google search and networking with Facebook friends.     

The first thing? Not the Internet. Instead, save the family stories. Interview your parents and grandparents. You will never regret having the interview notes or perhaps even a DVD. Are you looking for your first genealogy project? This is it.

Published in: on July 4, 2010 at 6:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Pilot Projects

You have researched and compiled your family history since pre-Internet days. Your genealogy piles and files outgrew your workspace during the Clinton presidency. Organizing thousands of  photos – tintypes, cabinet cards, brownie camera snapshots, negatives, and more recent digital photos – seems impossible. 

You cannot fix this in a week or a month, but you can complete a pilot project, a limited task with a specific goal. Examples? How about a three-generation pedigree chart with attached photos? A biographical sketch of a great-grandparent? A digital scrapbook showing a family group sheet, timelines, and, say, the 10 most significant documents for your grandparents? Suggestions for additional genealogy pilot projects most welcome here. I would love to accumulate a list of 50 or more. 

When you begin a pilot project, focus on and organize only those items needed for the project. Everything else goes in the to-be-arranged file. Then do the project (if it takes longer than a month, it’s too large to be a pilot project), and – voilá — create a book, Power Point show, article, or chart. Your children and grandchildren will save this (nobody throws this stuff away) and even read it (because it is short enough). In doing the pilot project, you will teach yourself techniques needed to do the larger project you always envisioned (like organizing all of your genealogy information). 

Of course, this works in Real Life, as well. Complete a small, dip-your-toes-in-the-water project in the direction of any goal. Keep What Works, discard the rest, and expand on the pilot project.

Published in: on June 30, 2010 at 4:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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