Several days ago, I was “blog surfing” and I came across The One-Minute Writer.  I love the whole idea of taking 1 minute every day to write SOMETHING about your life.  I wish it were a little more genealogy specific, to give me some good thought jumpers to advance my research, but on the day that I happened to visit, the prompt of the day was “Since ‘hindsight is 20/20’, I now know that…”

Since reading that, I’ve been thinking alot about what I’d change in my genealogy research.  And by having that in the back of my mind, I’ve become just a bit frustrated with the way I’ve done my research in the past!  If I could go back to my original days of genealogy research, there are a couple of things I’d make sure to do (and I don’t think these will be a surprise to anyone!)

1)  I would make sure that I was using footnotes in EVERYTHING to indicate where my information was coming from.  And I don’t just mean to footnote basic date and location information, but things like where I got the middle name from.  Which source told me year only, or month and year only and which source gave me the full date?  Or why do I have more than 1 location for birth, etc.  If I have no specific “source”, then where did I get the idea from? I have all kinds of little notes to myself on my group sheets that say, “Where did THIS come from?” Quite a bit of my original information came from asking my mother or grandparents for information.  I didn’t put any source footnotes at all, but if I could go back, at the very least I’d add a footnote that said, “Grandma told me so!”  Now I don’t know if she’s the one who told me, or if a fellow researcher told me, or if it’s just an educated guess that hasn’t been proven yet. And I’d footnote EVERY source, not just the 1 or 2 basic, or “best” sources.  That way, I’d know where to go back to if I had more questions.  I’d also indicate where I found the source…Allen County Library, Ancestry, Salt Lake City, Online database, etc.

As an aside to this one, I have to admit that I have put off adding footnotes to things because I’ve been so hung up on “what is the correct format”.  Finally, in the last month, I’ve started adding footnotes that are meaningful to ME.  I know that the ultimate goal is to have all information formatted so that others could confirm my research or that my descendants could follow up on what I’ve done, but I have to start somewhere.  And because I’m usually a “do it perfectly or don’t do it at all” type of person, I actually consider this a forward step for me!  As I figure out the correct formatting, I improve my footnotes.  It’s easy enough for me to have the correct format for a book – I use WorldCat to figure those out by finding the book and then clicking on the “Cite/Export” button and then choose the “Chicago” option.  I copy and paste that and then add a page number and where I found the book.  It’s those records that are microfilms of originals that I’m reading online, etc that really stop me in my tracks!

2)  In my footnotes for family group sheets, I’d worry more about writing out some of my reasoning and not just a source.  It’s one thing to attach a footnote for a WWI draft card, but to indicate WHY I think it’s the correct draft card would save me a TON of time and frustration over retracing my steps!  For example, I have a proven address for 1 child on a family group sheet.  I confirmed a sibling because he listed that name and address as the person who would always know his whereabouts.  If I don’t indicate that in my footnotes somewhere, I’ll always be wondering if I have the correct guy on my groupsheet. Or how did I find the name of the church that family attended?  My footnotes could include that I did a Google search on the name of the priest on the marriage certificate and found that his church was a short distance from my family’s location.

3)  Originally, I only cared about direct ancestors.  I did zero research on siblings or other children of direct ancestors.  So now, I’m spending alot of time filling in easy to find information that I could have been entering long ago (and finding lots of additional clues in the process!)  Even if I don’t find additional information on my direct ancestor because of gathering information on a sibling, it is not unusual to find a new SOURCE to look for information for my direct ancestor because something “clicked” on a new source for a sibling.  Also, I might find a new spelling variation for a name that I hadn’t considered before.

4)  I need to think this through a little more (because I AM going to start doing this), but I’d have a 2nd set of notes for each family I’m researching.  I already have notes for each family that are written like a timeline.  For every piece of information I find, I include the date, the event (like birth, census, city directory, etc.) along with pertinent details.  Next to that, I include a thumbnail image of my source (see my blog entry) so I can quickly tell if it’s an original or from a compiled source, etc.  I try to keep iformation for every member of the immediate family, so these notes can become pages and pages long.  Eventually, I’d like to turn these notes into a “story” and less of a list.  These would be the notes I’d give to family members who are interested in what I’ve found.  But I think I’d like to keep a 2nd set of notes – or an additional “chapter” in the same notes, that are just thoughts, questions, reasoning, ideas of things to look for, specific sources to look up on my next trip to the library, etc. that only I would see.  I could also copy and paste background information into this set of notes that might come in handy someday in the future.  Historic information on a certain location or hours of operation for a repository, ect. It just seems that if I try to mix those things in with my “timeline notes”, it would be easy to miss something and it would ruin he flow of my story.  Maybe I should pick 1 family and try a set of these types of notes to see if it’s worth my time.  Just seems like whenever I’m researching – especially online research – questions keep popping into my head.  “Did I look for that already?”  “Maybe I should check out such and such county.”  “Here’s a new spelling I haven’t tried yet.”   Right now, I use the “Post-It Note Method” which isn’t very effective.  Or I write little notes on the back of group sheets or photocopies that didn’t turn out and then later, I wonder what those notes mean.  Did I ever look that up?  This would be more than a research log – more like a research “diary”.   

Dear Diary,  Was my ancestor’s home in the affected by the Chicago fire?  Look for maps.  Did his address change soon after?  Check Chicago Directories.

Maybe I should spend less time thinking about this and “Just Do It!”