21COFH – How I Organize My Digital Files

The Turning of Generations blog is hosting a great series this year called the 21st Century Organized Family Historian.  Each week a ‘project’ will be posted that relates to organizing your family history.  Week 2’s topic is Developing a Digital Organization Scheme.

I am excited to participate in this blog series.  I am in the middle of reorganizing my digital files, scanning a box of genealogy paperwork, adding citations to my genealogy software for the scanned documents, and adding citations to the meta data for each digital file.  I always love hearing how other people organize their genealogy data.  We all do it just a little differently from each other.  My scheme is all about what I can maintain and ways to find the files without too much searching.

One of my biggest problems with my old digital filing system was the files being saved in Documents and Pictures.  I found it confusing so I created a new library on my C drive called Genealogy.  I did this by right clicking on the word Library in the Windows Explorer.  Now all of my photos, documents, and downloads will be kept is one area.

Within the genealogy library I have several folders: Genealogy Education, Places, Up In The Tree, Surnames.  The Genealogy Education folder contains all of information I have collected from webinars, genealogy ebooks, etc.  The Up In The Tree stores copies of all my blog posts (I am a backup junkie).  The Places folder contains any information regarding a specific place that I am researching.  The last folder is the Surname folder.

With the folders mentioned above, there is only one file kept at this level.  My Research Log is kept here for easy access at all times.

The Surnames folder is divided into 2 sub folders, one for my side of the family and one for my husband’s side of the family.  The sub folders are further divided into 16 folders, one for each surname of a great-great-grandparent.  At this point, the sub folder is divided as needed.  If a person has more than one document or photo, I create a person sub folder.  I do not create document type folders.  I put all documents within the person folder.  If there are additional surnames either further back in my line or laterally, they get a folder.  Here is an example:

Here is what an individual’s folder may look like:
Information for women is kept under their maiden name.  The exception is marriage licenses which are filed under the husband’s name.  If a woman has additional marriages beyond my direct ancestor, these files are kept with the woman.  
My naming convention is “Lastname, Firstname Document Type.”  As mentioned above, for each file I put a copy of the citation in the meta data.  To do this, right click on the the file.  Chose properties and then click on details.  The comments section allows for text.  Any additional information about the file is also added after the citation.

Change Is In The Air

In the last couple of months, I have seen updates to a variety of Google services, including Reader, Gmail, and Blogger.  All of the online applications now have the same feel.  Now the products all “drive” the same way.  I am surprised how much I like the new Blogger interface after only a couple of days.

All of these small updates has gotten me to thinking about my ancestors lives again.  Today I am wondering how my ancestors dealt with change.  There have been some huge advances in the last couple of hundred years.  Could you imagine seeing your first automobile? Airplane? Washer and Dryer? Computer?  My great grandmother, Effie Bender, was born (1892) four years after Karl Benz started selling his first cars off the production line.  Effie died (1974) five years after Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  In her 82 years, Effie definitely saw great change!  I would love to be able to interview Effie and find out what she thought of all of the new technology she saw in her lifetime.  Did she accept these new ideas and products with open arms?  Or was there resistance?

I have heard many times “change is inevitable.”  Some people look forward to change, some cringe at the thought.  I try to embrace change and go with the flow.  I think that change is part of a continuing education in my life.

New Year’s Resolution – Research Log

I have enjoyed reading the blog conversation discussing the paradigm shift taking place in genealogy in the last couple of weeks.  Michael Hait began the discussion with The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new “experts”?.  There was a wonderful discussion that followed in the comments section.  Marian Pierre-Louis wrote a great reply in Are Bloggers Really the New Experts? , Are Bloggers Really the New Experts Part 2 and Genre and Genealogy

The discussion really got me to thinking about how I fit into this picture.  I am a thirty three year old mother of two young children.  I have been researching my family since my junior year of college.  I am a member of my local genealogy society.  And I have been writing this blog for about 10 months.

I consider myself to be an intermediate level researcher.  I do not have aspirations to become a professional genealogist.  I am just as comfortable on the internet as in an courthouse or archive library.  I have taken a genealogy vacation and believe in the importance of correctly citing your sources.

One of the biggest points I have taken away from the discussion is the importance to be aware that others are reading my blog.  I know that the list of people on my blog as followers are not my family so I am assuming that you are a fellow genealogist.  I do not know why you have chosen to read my blog but I would like to keep you as a reader.  I do not plan on my blog being written at a professional level.  My style of writing is basically the conversation I have with myself in my head.  If you want to know more about my research, including citations, I would love for you to email me.

I have mentioned several times this year how this blog has changed my research.  Some of the changes have come from the focus writing brings.  Other changes have come from being a part of the blogging community and reading other genealogy blogs.  Genealogy blogs have opened my eyes to the educational opportunities out there.  In the last year, I have learned from individual blog posts, watched genealogy webinars, listened to genealogy radio and to genealogy pod casts, and read case studies that are posted online.

I do not consider myself perfect by any means.  In fact, I have a dirty little genealogy secret.  While I am careful to cite everything, I have never really kept a research log.  I have kept some to-do lists but they in no way cut it.  Over the years I have read over and over that research logs are one of the fundamentals of genealogy research.  I have always looked at a research log as an extra step that just takes too much time and impeds any forward momentum when pausing to document the steps.  I am learning this is not so.

I have recently watched Research Logs: Part 1 and Research Logs: Part 2 available on FamilySearch.org.  I have also looked at the research logs available on Google Docs in the forms section.  I have taken parts of each to create my own digital research log in excel.

So by this time I am sure that you are wondering how on earth this is all going to tie in to my New Year’s Resolution.  I just want to say that I am listening to the call to “lead by example” as Marian Pierre-Louis says or “put your best face forward” as Michael Hait commented.  I am going to start keeping a detailed research log as my New Year’s resolution.  I am going to be a better genealogist and hopefully help influence someone else who is reading my blog to be a better researcher too.

Happy Holidays!

This holiday season has been very busy for us. I am loving every minute watching Christmas through my 3 year old’s eyes.  I see Christmas lights in a whole new way this year.  The Christmas House in our town is so decorated inside and out that the family lives in their RV in the driveway.  It is definitely one of my daughter’s favorite things this year.  Every time we are in the car, she asks to drive by.  I should also mention that any house with lights elicits a “O Wow!” as we pass.

I am promising myself to sit down and write all of the great memories down the day after Christmas.  It is so important to take a moment to document our own personal histories to share with future generations.  I know how I treasure any personal stories I find about my ancestors.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  

An Early Christmas Present For A New Friend

A couple of months ago, Ancestry.com offered free access to their immigration files for free.  I downloaded any and all possible records related to my Italian roots.  I noticed on one passenger ship record that my great uncle traveled to the United States with several people with the last name Avetta.  What caught my eye was that they were from the same small town.  

As mentioned in prior blog posts about my paternal grandfather’s Italian roots, my family comes from a small town outside of Torino, Italy.  I knew that the chances were small that multiple people traveled from the same small town to the the area around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania without knowing each other.  I did a search for the Avetta surname and found a family tree on Ancestry.com. 
I emailed the owner of the tree who replied that she did not have any Ciardonei’s or Siletto’s in her immediate family tree but we should keep in touch because Cossano is a small town (At its height, it boasted a population of 1000).  We have been emailing back and forth all Fall with encouragement and research ideas.  I even received a photo of my g-g-grandparents that my new genealogy friend found in a book about Cossano.
I found church records on microfilm for Cossano Canavese, Piedmonte, Italy on FamilySearch.org and have been busy combing though them the last couple of weeks.  After several emails, I convinced my genealogy friend to send me a couple of name to look for.
I blocked off Tuesday night on my calendar to just research the names I had received at my local Family History Center.  I found baptism and marriage records for several generations.  I had so much fun!  I was giddy every time I found a new record because I knew it was another piece for an early Christmas present.
I scanned all of the images and came home to organize my findings. I was able to fill out a 4 generation chart for each of the names that were sent to me.  I stayed up late so that I could upload the files and pedigree chart to a share website on Sugarsync.  My new friend was so excited to get the images that she even wished she could stay home from work the next day to check them out.
It was such a great feeling to find and send these images knowing what excitement they were going to bring.  I think that even though I have not met this new friend in person, this will probably be one of my favorite Christmas gifts I give this year.  I am also convinced that we will find a common ancestor as I see some common surnames so this research friend might also turn into family.

Follow Friday – Fancy Nancy: My Family History by Jane O’Connor

Books are a big deal in my house.  Everyone in my family, including the 6 month old, loves to read.  Earlier this year, I was excited when my mom gave my toddler a book that included genealogy. (You can never start them too young!) 

Fancy Nancy: My Family History by Jane O’Connor is an I Can Read Level 1 book.  It tells the story of Nancy’s school project to write an ancestor report.  Since all of Nancy’s ancestors are deceased (“That is fancy for dead.”), she interviews her grandfather to learn about his dad.  Nancy gathers facts, writes her report, and then rewrites her report.  The re-write is necessary to eliminate the embellishments Nancy included the first time around to make her “ordinary” ancestors more exciting. 

I love to read this book to my daughter.  It gives me a chance to connect my daughter with my favorite hobby in a way that an almost three year old can understand.  I also like that it has lessons for adults.  The best place to start with your family history is to interview the living.  You should always gather facts.  You should write a research report for the information you find.  All of us have ancestors who are considered “boring” and it is okay.  

I definitely recommend this book to any geneamommy out there.

What Ailments Did My Ancestors Suffer From?

Last weekend was not very enjoyable.  I spent the weekend in a opioid induced haze at my local hospital suffering from kidney stones.  Luckily, I had a great Urologist who performed surgery on Monday and removed those painful boulders.

One of the first questions my doctor asked was “Do other members of your family suffer from kidney stones?”  Luckily, for my immediate family members, they do not.

The question stuck with me this week.  I thought a lot about my ancestors and what types of ailments stopped them in their tracks.  Most of the medical history I have about my family has come from death certificates.  It is interesting to see what a wide range of reasons my family listed as cause of death but this is a very limited picture into their medical lives.

I wonder what else happened while they were alive.  Any broken bones? How did they cope when they had a cold or the flu.  Kidney stones?  Heart attacks that they survived?  Bad knees?  Cancer?

I will probably never know these kinds of details about my ancestors lives.  The best I can do is to document the medical histories of the living to pass their stories on to future generations.

Tuesday’s Tip – Verify You Have The Right Vital Record

Yesterday I was so excited to see an envelope in the mail with my handwriting on it.  Self addressed envelopes always get opened first!  I tore open the envelope with excitement at what new information may be waiting inside for me.

Due to budget constraints, sending off for vital records is not an everyday occurrence in my house.  This makes them even more special.  I am always very careful to fill out request forms with all of the information I have about my ancestor.  I have found that sometimes even with the information listed, I receive a record that is NOT my ancestor.

Last year, in preparation for my genealogy vacation to Kansas, I followed up on missing information.  I ordered several vital records and updated my searches on Internet sites.  I received a death certificate for Mary Switzer.  I had used a date range for her death in my request using dates my grandma vaguely remembered.  When the certificate arrived I was so excited and immediately jumped onto the Internet to see what else I could find using the new data.  After about an hour of finding lots of new information, I realized there were also lots of inconsistencies.  After some analysis, I found that there are two Mary Switzers who were married to a Frank Switzer around the same time and same area of Kansas.  The death certificate was not my 2nd great grandmother.  Thankfully, I was able to obtain the correct death certificate before my trip.  The correct death certificate led me to the cemetery in Halstead, Kansas.

I learned an important lesson that day – always take a moment to check your records and see if the vital record you received is really the ancestor you are looking for.

Yesterday, that self addressed envelope was a bright light on a difficult day with my almost 3 year old.  I have been waiting about 3 months for a response from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.  After opening the death certificate for Edward D Lahey, I went to my computer to verify that it was my Edward.  Almost immediately my spirits fell.  This was obviously not my Edward.  This Edward died in 1973.  My Edward died between 1910-1920.  I am going to see if I can find any further information narrowing down the date of death before attempting to order this death certificate again.

After some irritation at the Department of Heath for not looking the details listed in my request, I poured myself a glass of wine and got over it.  I decided instead that the next time I go to Northern Virginia to visit my parents, we will just have to take a mini genealogy vacation to Pittsburgh.  We still have some relatives living there to visit, cemeteries to document, and prove the parents of Edward if we can.

Thankful Thursday – I am now Cousin Bait

When I began writing this blog earlier this year, my intention for the blog was to share stories with my family about our ancestors.  I did not realize that the wonderful geneabloggers community would quickly outnumber the number of family members who actually read my blog.  In fact, I think the only family members who read my blog consistantly are my mom and husband.  In fact, the blog has served a much different purpose for me so far.  Writing has focused my research, organization, and goals for my continuing hunt for ancestors.

Last week I received an email from a cousin who found my blog by googling a family name.  It was so exciting to receive that email!  I had read about other genealogy bloggers who use their blogs as ‘cousin bait’ but never thought that it would apply to me.

This person is a cousin on my husband’s side of the family and has emailed with me several times.  I cannot thank him enough for sharing his story and family photos with me.  I look forward to more communication with him and hopefully a fuller picture of the life of my husband’s great grandfather, Charles Frank Gingg.

Tuesday’s Tip – Review your previous work

I was doing some work on my re-organization of digital genealogy files yesterday.  I found a digital census image that was not added to my genealogy software.  It was the 1900 Federal Census for James Dempsey in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I printed a census form and transcribed the image.  I also added the citation to my genealogy software and to the digital image.  I was reviewing the transcription and realized that I had no note of James Dempsey being a naturalized citizen in my software.  I was so excited to find a new piece of information!

I quickly felt like a fool when I took a look at the 1910, 1920, and 1930 census images for James.  I already had this information and had missed it.

I did not understand the importance of those two little letters “Na” when I started researching my family.  I am sure that I was in such a rush to find more census images that I did not follow up with the information that I had.

So learn from my mistake.  Review the research you have already completed.  There might be a little gold nugget hiding in what you have already collected.  I am adding to my goal list to do a complete review of the documents I have when I finish my organization project.

I ordered the naturalization paperwork for James Dempsey from NARA.  I am hoping that this will lead me to information pinpointing exactly when he immigrated to the United Stated from Scotland.  It might also have information about where in Scotland he is from.