Yesterday I started making a list of all the things I still wanted to figure out about my family tree….. WHAT A LONG LIST! Where do I begin? There are so many things to look for and so many unanswered questions. So…. I’m going to take the advice that I’ve given to so many friends and “clients”. Start at the beginning….. with ME!
So I started with my own file. Have you done that recently? Have you looked at what information you have gathered about yourself and actually recorded or put copies of your documents into your own file? My file basically contained my birth certificate…. that’s it. Nothing else. So, this weekend I’m starting over…. with myself.
Since I already have my birth certificate, the next step was to start gathering any documents I have on myself and make sure the copies are put where they belong! So… my will, the title to my vehicle, mortgage papers, insurance records – both personal and thru employment, my business and personal resumes, and my school records have all been gathered and put where they belong. Now it’s time to document “My Story”. Who am I, what do I want others to remember about me, and what information do I wish I had on my ancestors that I can answer in a “journal” for future generations. Once I get this finalized, then I will start again with my parents. I plan to take my time and make sure I’m not only documenting everything that I know, but also making a detailed list on everyone in my tree of things that I wish I knew. This will help me get a clear, generation by generation, list of questions that I can really dig into and research.
While I’m writing my story, I’m also working on another document…. a “To Do” list. I’ve had a design for it in my head for a couple of years, but have never actually created it. So, since I’m starting over and doing this the right way…. I’m also creating the forms I need along the way.
Stay tuned…. I’m already coming up with questions, just as I’m writing my own story. Questions about my parents…. about where I lived… time frames…. deed records…. the list is going to be HUGE…. but it will be more manageable when I get it all on paper and organized.
What questions would you have if you were writing your own story for your family’s history? What questions do you have about your own life and past? I think you’d be amazed if you actually started documenting the questions!
I am sitting in the middle of my living room with little scraps of paper all over the place. I wish I could blame my puppy for the mess, but it’s all my fault. I had this brilliant idea recently that I was finally going to organize all my genealogy files and paperwork into Surname Notebooks. It sounded like a great idea, but I think someone needs to have me committed…I MUST BE CRAZY!!!!
I was feeling a bit overwhelmed when I made this choice and now I’m EXTREMELY overwhelmed. By the time I pulled every file, stack of papers, bits of scrap paper with information jotted on it, and booted up my computer, I had more that I ever imagined possible. But I couldn’t stop there. I needed a sense of accomplishment on this project and also I desperately needed to make sure I had everything possible on my ancestors in my computer as well as their paper files. I figured I better try to tackle this before it totally gets out of hand. <TOO LATE!!!>
STEP 1 – Make the notebooks
This was the easy part! I grabbed 5 notebooks and made covers and spines for them. They look really nice with the family Surname in fancy print and a copy of each surname crest. Simple enough….I’m a graphic designer. This part I could do with my eyes closed.
STEP 2 – Separating the pile
Now this part took some time. I literally sat on the floor with the huge pile of papers in front of me and I sorted them, one at a time into piles by Surname. Not bad….it only took me about an hour. By this time I was beginning to see that there were several of my family lines that I could probably handle pretty quickly. So I matched up each pile with the corresponding notebook. At least my living room floor looked good again….until I let the puppy back in….then it was covered in a different kind of clutter.
STEP 3 – One Notebook at a Time
It’s probably cheating, but I took the notebook with the least amount of papers and started with that one. Yeah…it was a cop-out….but what can I say. I needed to see some more progress at this point. Again, I sat on the floor and started sorting the papers. This time by individual. It actually was going pretty smooth…then I realized that I had some people that, obviously, crossed Surnames. My Grandma Anna would actually be in 3 notebooks (her Maiden Name book, and also in the Surname books of both of her husbands). Fortunately I was finding some duplicate papers, so I didn’t need to make a lot of photocopies.
STEP 4 – Making sure the information is in the computer
OK…so this one was definitely NOT the most fun…but it was a VERY necessary part of the organization project. Once my notebooks were assembled I made sure that every document was carefully read and the information entered into my software program. This served 2 purposes….I was sure I had the information logged, and it made me re-read each document. I actually found several pieces of information that I had missed before. I also made sure I had each item scanned and uploaded as media to my genealogy software. This took more time than all the remaining organization steps combined….actually, I’m still working on this one. But I still moved forward with the next step…
STEP 5 – Genealogical Cemetery Reports
This was a new step for me. Something that I’ve been wanting to do, but just haven’t had the time or the desire to get it done. Each “report” is individualized with an ancestors name and vital information along with a picture of their headstone, urn, etc. There is also cemetery information or cremains location information and information on their Find a Grave Memorial. As part of this process, I created a Find a Grave Memorial for each relative as I was creating these reports.
I do have one additional step that I’m working on and it will be a continuous process. Making a list of what I still need….by individual. This is going to be a very important step for me, as I found out I have duplicates of several documents. Things I didn’t remember I had because it was in a pile somewhere. Now I know what I have and what I still need.
Well…Truthfully…I’m not sure. I’m still working on making sure that all the information is in the computer and scanned…and I’m still photographing graves and entering info into the Cemetery Reports. But I know this for sure….I’m feeling much more organized and a little more sure of what I have and what I’m missing. A little organization has gone a long way in helping me feel much better about my project…and my house! I no longer get frustrated that I’m missing a little piece of paper that I wrote a couple dates on. They have all been put where they belong…..FOR NOW! The trick will be to keep the system going and not go back to my addiction for little pieces of paper. I might need to create my own 12-step program eventually!
I saw this question posted on the Family Search Facebook page a couple days ago…and it’s still got me thinking. Were they really asking us to reply to it? Or were they hoping to just get us thinking? Well…it did both for me. I almost immediately replied to their question….“Its given me a sense of self. A way to find out a deeper meaning of who I really am.”. But the more I think about it….it goes so much deeper than that.
I used to think I knew who I was. But I think I’m still finding that out. I am not just me anymore, but a combination of two people who’s DNA and family history were merged together to create me. I am my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and on and on. Every new person I find occupies another part of my life and my history. I have become a stronger person realizing what struggles my ancestors have overcome.
My family and friends would tell you I’m still the sarcastic, quick on my feet, one-liner dropping person. And that part of me is still there. But, I look at life a lot differently since I started digging into my family. I used to think I was a woman of strength and courage…but that, too, has been put into perspective for me.
My ancestors have lived thru the Great Depression, death of children during epidemics, horrific deaths by accidents, raising children without fathers due to war and death, and leaving their homes to sail across an ocean for better lives, only to live in poverty and hardship to find that prosperity. What have I done that showed such strength and courage??? Nothing compared to them!
We live in a society that seems to focus more on the wants of a family rather than focusing on the needs. And I’m just as guilty of this as everyone else. Times were simpler for my ancestors, as I’m sure it was for yours, too. They worked hard and provided the necessities of life for their families…and one by one or in small groups they brought them to the United States from all over the world. Once here they all worked together to provide more and more for their families while continuing to bring extended family members here…acting as sponsors and giving them shelter once they immigrated here. Their kids were educated in our schools, learned English, and integrated their culture and traditions with those of their new friends and neighbors to help create what has become our new way of life.
So, to go back to that thought provoking question….How has family history changed you? I guess I’ve become more aware of the struggles, the stories, and most of all the successes of my family and myself. I no longer look at what I don’t have compared to my peers, but what I have been able to overcome and succeed at in an ever changing, modern world. A world where my ancestors gave up so much and made, what had to be the most heartbreaking and courageous, decisions of their lives. Decisions that not only impacted their generations but all generations that followed them.