Notes from the past…

The Seasons of My Genealogy Research

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This has been written for the next Carnival Of Genealogy, to be posted on the West in New England blog on July 4, 2011.

First things first: I live in Texas, and there are only 2 seasons in Texas…

HOT (as in downloading as fast as I could!)

This would be the beginning on my genealogical addiction, ca April 2003. I had recently gotten a new computer and a decent (dial-up!) internet connection, and I was playing around with my new toy one day. My daughter Sarah came over to visit and I remember she was searching online for the lyrics to a particular song. At this point in my cyber-life, I had a difficult time just turning my computer on, so Sarah came to visit a lot!

Sarah actually got me started in my genealogical quest, although she had, and still has little interest herself. Somehow as we were surfing that day, we ended up at Ancestry.com. Don’t know how we ended up there, maybe Ancestry put a bug in my computer… Anyway, Sarah asked me for some names and off she went. It wasn’t long at all before she found a family tree with my step-grandmother perched on a branch.

Ok, you say. So what? Well, in 2003 I didn’t realize that Agnes Amanda Schad was my step-grandmother. As kids, my brothers and I had always called her Nanny II. Nanny (the first Nanny, that is) is my Mom’s mom. Nanny II was my Dad’s mom, or so I thought. It suddenly occurred to me: Dad had Nanny II and Mamie. I never before that day really put the pieces together and realized that Mamie was his biological mom and Agnes was his step-mom. We visited both and just accepted things as they were without ever thinking twice about it.

Wow, and here I was trying to decipher my first pedigree chart! From that day on, I have been hopelessly hooked on the hunt!

My HOT season continued for about a year. I downloaded everything I could find at Ancestry that I thought related to my own family. Didn’t matter if these people actually were my ancestors. Sources? Who cared about sources? Certainly not me!

I also began to follow a few blogs. Dick Eastman’s newsletter was my first. But as I read these blogs during that first, blistering hot period, I very slowly began to realize that I needed to do this right. I needed sources! Somewhere I read that “without sources, genealogy is just gossip.”

I had also tried several genealogy database programs, starting with Ancestry’s first freebie, Ancestry Family Tree. (I think that was the name…) I dabbled at filling in the source boxes, but wasn’t consistent.

Still not really making a serious effort, though.

If you’ve ever lived in Texas, then you know that one day is summer and the next is winter. No Spring or Autumn down here.

COLD (as in cold, hard research!)

By about 2005, I had finally become a serious researcher, sort of. I had settled on Family Tree Maker as my database program and began to add sources to each fact, sometimes. I had stacks of papers on my desk and images scattered all over my hard drive. I followed several blogs and thought I knew a lot about family history research. My cousin Susan helped me set up my own first blog.

But I am nothing if not a neat freak! I looked at my work and the tornado alley that was my desk and hard drive. As 2008  arrived, I had accumulated an immense amount of documents and images downloaded from Ancestry and other genealogical sites. I had a rather cluttered metal file cabinet. What a mess! I also just wasn’t really comfortable with Family Tree Maker. The look and location of my blog had changed several times. I seemed to be spinning my wheels. Time to get organized and stop wasting time!

Over a period of weeks in late 2009, I cleaned off my desk and reorganized my file cabinet by Surnames. I set up a series of Surname folders on my hard drive. Photos and actual documents went in the file cabinet, scanned and downloaded images went into the Surname files on the hard drive. I had earlier switched to RootsMagic as my database program. I imported my FTM file into RootsMagic and printed out a 13-page list of everyone in my database, ordered by RIN numbers. I started at the top of the RIN list and went through each person’s page and added sources to every fact. In most cases, if it didn’t have a source, then it wasn’t a fact and it was out of my database! I am still working through that list, about half-way completed.

My blog is now at WordPress.com and is used to document my research. Here I can talk about my “Happy-Dance” moments or pose questions and examine brick walls. Since my ancestor hunting has evolved into methodical research, I have had more than a few Happy Dances and even knocked down a brick wall or two.

Most of my images and documents are “virtual” now, and reside on my hard drive and my Picasa Web Albums site. My metal filing cabinet is for original photos and documents only.

I am proud of the work that I have done and can say with confidence that my family tree is not a collection of names, as I have seen in some trees, especially on Ancestry. I still refer to these online databases, but as a guide only. If I find a person online who looks to belong in my tree, I then start hunting for proof, for sources. I have uploaded my GEDCOM’s to RootsWeb’s WorldConnect and also to WeRelate. If you visit these sites, you will find my data, along with all my sources.

I open my RootsMagic program almost daily (or more!), go to the next person on the RIN list and… DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT!

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