16 October 2015

Writing My Life Story

I am working on writing my life story. In some ways that is what genealogy is all about; writing the story of the life of my family: where they came from, who they were, what happened to them in their journey. But what about my life, my journey? Wouldn't I be the best one to tell that story rather than some as yet unborn descendant?

My mom was also very interested in learning the history of her family, yet when she found out she was dying of cancer and I wanted to get HER story she wasn't interested in working on that. She felt it was no longer important. I would love to have her story in her words, not only for myself but for my children who loved her, and her great grandchildren who never had the opportunity to meet her. Only I didn't have the words to explain to her that it was important to me!

There are others in my family tree that I wish so much I had a written copy of their story. Sadly, I don't.

A couple of things happened this year that gave me the push to finally start putting pen to paper (or rather fingers to keyboard) and start writing the story of MY life. The first was Thomas McEntee's Genealogy Do-Over Project. I decided if I really was going to start over at the beginning, which means starting with me, I needed to write my story before it was too late. The other push was joining Camp NaNoWriMo in July. I ended up writing 50,000 words in one month. It showed me I could do it, IF I just sat down for an hour a day and typed.

Granted some of those 50,000 words are just a rough chronological outline with very few details. But it is 50,000 more words than when I started. Have I kept it up? Sadly, no. But I am trying to get back into routines now that the days are turning cooler, or at least the nights are. We have had some really beautiful days recently, more like Indian Summer than fall.

I have a lot more words to put down before I am ready to go back and start editing it. But I will get there, as long as God allows me enough days to get it done. But since none of us are promised tomorrow, I am trying not to put off those things that are important to me.

I thought I would share the introduction of my "story" with you, in hopes that it might encourage you to also write your story.

Who Am I?

By Linda D Newman

I have been putting off writing my story for our family history, after all who would be interested in me and my story? I am just a regular person. I don’t think I am anything special. I haven’t done anything extraordinary. Although, when sharing this introduction with my friend Rochelle, she scolded me for thinking I wasn’t anything special or extraordinary. She said, “You are special, you are extraordinary. The things you do and have done are extraordinary.” I do know that I am special in the sense that I am a unique individual created in God’s image, but beyond that I don’t stand out from the other more than seven billion people on earth (except to those who know me personally). I guess I will leave it you to you the reader to make your own judgments about whether or not I am extraordinary.

Then I think about what I would give to be able to read about one of my ancestors. Especially something they had written themselves so that I could get to know them as a person and not just know the names, dates, and places of their life. I would love to have them tell me about what they believed, the things they experienced, what a typical day was like, the important things that happened in their lifetime and their reactions to them.

So based on my desire to get to know my ancestors better, I figure at some point one of my descendants might say, “Who is this Linda person who is my great grandmother? What was she like? What was life like for her?” I hope that this piece will, at least in part, answer some of the questions my grandchildren and their children may one day have about me and my life. That I can flesh out my life for them, instead of just leaving the dry skeleton of names, dates and places.

This book will have several parts to it.

Part One will be a chronological telling of my life story.

Part Two will be my responses to the question “Who Am I?” which was a writing prompt I found on a website designed to help you write the story of your life. They said to ask yourself the question “who am I?” twenty times and write down your responses. That concept really stuck with me, and I thought it would be a good way to maybe explore parts of me and my life that might not get covered in a chronological style telling of my story.

Finally, Appendix A has an ancestor report, listing the basic facts of my ancestors. The names, dates and places of the major events of their life. To learn more about their stories you can read more about them in the different books about their branch of our family tree.

Yes, what I am doing is a major undertaking, but then I am a writer at heart. The way you decide to write your story is up to you, and even that decision tells people about who you are. If you are crafty maybe you will decide to tell your story with pictures in a carefully crafted scrapbook. If you prefer to tell you story using spoken words rather than writing, get a digital vocal recorder and start talking. When you are done you can always ask someone to transcribe it into written form, but the extra special part of leaving a digital recording is that your descendants will be able to actually HEAR your story in your own voice.

But whatever form you decide to use to share your life story I encourage you to start today so that one day your descendant aren't saying, "I wish I knew more about my grandparents and what their life was like."

Genealogy Do Over Week Two

Thomas McEntee's topics for Week Two are:
1) Setting Research Goals,
2) Conducting Self Interview
3) Conducting Family Interviews

In looking over my blog posts from January I see that I didn't blog anything about these topics. So let's see what I can manage to do this time through.

Thomas talks about setting research goals in Week Two, but what does he mean about setting research goals? In reading Thomas' blog I find that he is talking about making specific research goals to prove (or disprove) facts about an individual.

I find that I was ahead of the game on this part, a few years ago I had created a template for making research plans to help in my research. Now, I don't have research plans created for very many people at this point, but I do have one for my great grandmother and some of her immediate family, because I have a brick wall in finding her paternal grandparents. I have found my research plan is a great way to see what I know as well as what I don't know, then to plan what and where I am going to look next.

I think that doing one of those research plans on myself would satisfy the "conduct a self interview" part of this week's assignment. I am sure everyone will understand that I am not going to post that research plan online. The names, dates, and places it would contain would be giving away too much personal information on myself and my living family members. But I encourage you to also make a research plan with yourself as the person being researched.

I know many of us haven't fully written out our lives, even though when anyone is starting to work on their family tree the advice is always to start with ourselves. So we put our names, birth date and birth place, then we add our spouses, children, parents, siblings. But do we remember to add all the little things to our own profile that fill out the skeleton of names dates and places to make us a fully fleshed out person to those who will look at our work years from now?

I am taking the time now to start over and do this right. And that means starting with myself and putting in ALL the facts with proper sources and citations. And to do that I need to make a research plan for myself to remind me of all the documentation I need to find about my life.

I have a couple of maternal aunts and one maternal uncle still living, and the widow of my paternal uncle that I should interview before I lose those resources. I need to find a way to do that sooner rather than later. Two are active online so they will be easiest to chat with, the other two will take more effort on my part. I know I won't regret making the effort, I will regret it if I don't.

Here is a blank version of my research plan for your use, I have this in my word processing program which means I can type as much as I want under each heading:

07 October 2015

Bright Shiny Objects

Bright Shiny Objects (BSO) catch our eye, I think it is human nature. In the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook group I have also heard some people call them rabbit holes. They have the potential to totally distract us from what we are trying to do, IF we let them. The trick is to acknowledge them without letting them divert us from what we are trying to do.

Let's start with an example, then we can talk about some of the ways to acknowledge a BSO without allowing it to get us off track of our current research goal.

Let's say my goal is to research everything I can find on my grandfather Frederick John Newman's WWI military service. My grandfather had a brother, Eric Alexander Newman, who also served in WWI. Both of them were born in England and living in the USA at the time period I am searching. Let's say I am on ancestry.com and I am searching for Frederick Newman in the military records. Chances are Eric's name will also pop up in search results.

It might be tempting to look at both Frederick's and Eric's results. But that isn't the goal for this search, only Frederick's military service is. Chances are if I click on something for Eric I will then see the "you might also be interested it" type of links, then there I go chasing those bright shiny objects relating to my great uncle and totally lose focus. Two hours later I will find that not only have I not found anything about my grandfather but I might not even be looking at things that relate to my great uncle but some distant relative in England!

You might be saying "But what's a person to do when those BSO cross my path?" Let's discuss strategies....

First and foremost, I hope before you start you have a research plan so you know the "Who, What, Where, When, How/Why" of your search. This allows you to focus your search so that you can make real progress, instead of wandering aimlessly through the ancestry website (or the findmypast. familysearch, genealogybank, etc websites).

Second comes some sort of research log.

I have to admit in my past research I have been BAD about this step. I can't tell you how much wasted time this has caused as I repeat searches for things I already have, or repeating searches with parameters that did not produce results instead of trying new parameters. Part of my problem with research logs has always been that those printed versions always seem to have such small boxes there was no way to efficiently use them, at least for me.

Genealogy Do-Over has encouraged me to start experimenting using a spreadsheet for my research log.

A spreadsheet allows me to make the boxes whatever size I need them to be (plus typing tends to take up less space than my handwriting). It also allows me to move columns around until I find a format that works for me WITHOUT losing the data that is already in the database. Plus I can sort by the different columns. Meaning if I want to find all my research on an individual I can sort by name. If I want to see all the vital records I have I can sort by Record Type. If I want to see all the records I have found on Ancestry I can sort by that. All of this without having to rewrite (or retype) lists or losing any information.

One of the benefits of using a spreadsheet program, especially when it comes to those BSO's, is I can have different pages in my document. I can have a page for my research log, or I can have separate pages for the different surnames.

I can also have a page for my to do list. This is where I can list those bright shiny objects. I can put their name as the site lists them and any other identifying information about that potential document. You can even copy and paste the information, including the url, to help you find the information again. Then I can go right back to working on my goal for that day's research without worrying about whether or not I will be able to find the information about that other potential lead at a later time.

If you have other ideas and suggestions on how to deal with BSO please feel free to share them in the comments section.

06 October 2015

Rebooting my Genealogy Do-Over

Thomas McEntee has just started his fourth cycle of his Genealogy Do-Over Program. Each cycle lasts just 13 weeks.

I was so psyched when I first heard of his project late December 2014. I thought, "This is just what I need to get my personal genealogy project into shape! I can go through my research and my mom's research and make it into one coherent project." Well, life and health interfered.

I had surgery in March. Then after I was finally feeling healed from that I fell and hurt my ribs. Plus I started on Cymbalta for my Fibromyalgia. Now that med may work great for some, but for me it caused major depression like I had never experienced in my life!

Ribs are healed. I am off the Cymbalta and my moods are finally back to normal. So here I am ready to get back into the swing of things.

I decided since Thomas is just starting another cycle I will start back at Week One too. This will allow me to refresh my memory about what I am doing and how I want to proceed. Week One's topics/assignments are:
1) Setting Previous Research Aside,
2) Preparing to Research, and
3) Establishing Base Practices and Guidelines

Well, I had set aside my research in January, so that was easy.

Preparing to Research?!?! Aren't you supposed to just decide to open Ancestry and randomly search? I am just joking, I think. But all too often that is what I have done. I have some time, my mind wanders to the subject of my family history and I open up my tree in Family Tree Maker and log into Ancestry.com.

In the discussion of topic 2 "Preparing to Research" Thomas mentioned having a "Warm Up Routine" and that got me to thinking. I know an athlete should warm up his muscles in preparation of working out. I know a singer warms up their vocal cords before singing (or they should). What do I, as a genealogist, need to do to be "warmed up" or prepared to research?

From thinking about that came this first document, "Linda's Warm-Up Exercises." Use my list as a starting place for you to think about what you want to have on your list.

The final topic for Week One is about establishing Base Practices and Guidelines. I had written my "Base Practices and Guidelines," back in January so I decided to just review what I had already written.

1. Track ALL work! including dead ends, negative results and non-productive searches. (If non-productive make a notation of why it was non-productive: tired? interrupted? bad copy you couldn't read? Also make a record of what search terms you used -- later on you can go back and see that you didn't try wildcards, or a certain wildcard pattern, or you didn't swap the surname and given name.)
2. Diligence and integrity are essential in doing genealogy research.
3. Always use proper source citation when entering information, if it doesn't have a source it doesn't belong in the database!
4. Take the time to do a careful and thorough search, whether in a database or on a document. Don't rush you may miss something important. If it takes an hour to carefully look at 1 document, then that is what it takes, there will always be another day to look at other documents.
5. Don't get sidetracked by shiny objects. Write them down to look at later, stick with your research plan for that day.
6. Stop working on genealogy by 11 pm so you can get to bed at a halfway reasonable hour.

For the most part I think what I had was pretty solid, but that maybe it needed just one more item.

7. Develop a work flow chart to make sure you don't skip steps when doing research and reviewing documents.

So that is where this document came from. It is a visual flow chart of the process I want to go through when doing my research. Again use this as a starting point for you to think about what steps you need to be including in research habits.

Just read a comment in the Do-Over Facebook Group about a "Cool Down" Routine for what they will do at the end of each research session. I will have to think on that idea and come up with something for that too I think.

03 October 2015

New Facebook Group for Busch Researchers

Announcing a new Facebook Group for those who have a Busch Line on their Family Tree. Please join us in helping each other find our Busch ancestors and connecting with our Busch Cousins!

02 October 2015

New Facebook Group for Antrim Researchers

Announcing a new Facebook Group for those who have an Antrim Line on their Family Tree. Please join us in helping each other find our Antrim ancestors and connecting with our Antrim Cousins!

New Facebook Group for Boyer Researchers

Announcing a new Facebook Group for those who have a Boyer Line on their Family Tree. Please join us in helping each other find our Boyer ancestors and connecting with our Boyer Cousins!