Five Things I Learned While Taking Stock of My Genealogy Documents

I invested in a new genealogy software program (Reunion for iPad) and most of my research time has been spent transferring documents and information from my Ancestry account, my paper files, and my Google Drive into the software program. The process has been slow, but rewarding. It’s forced me to take another look at everything I’ve found on my ancestors so far. Here’s a short list of the things I’ve learned or remembered during the process:

  • Take baby steps. I’ve dedicated one month to focus on finding all the information I can on each of my direct ancestors, starting with my parents and moving up the tree using Ahnentafel numbers. Finding out what paperwork I already have on my people was the logical first step in this process. So I’m checking all of my genealogy repository sites: Ancestry, Google Drive, paper files, and Reunion. I note the documents I’m missing while simultaneously storing all of my documents in all four places.
  • Make a simple spreadsheet. I know. Spreadsheets are the worst, right? But for inventory purposes, they make all the information visible at a glance. I set up six columns and labeled them: Ancestor, Document, Ancestry, paper files, Google Drive, and Reunion. The first column has my ancestor’s name, the second has a fairly simple description of the document, and the other four are just columns for X’s that indicate where in my files the document can be found.

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  • Make the spreadsheet work hard… I figured if I’m going to spend all this time filling out a spreadsheet I might as well make it do double or triple duty. Thankfully, early on in my inventory process, I realized I could make the spreadsheet double as a timeline by adding a column for the dates of the documents I inventoried and then sorting them chronologically. (Sorting is the only advanced function an Excel beginner would need to learn to make the spreadsheet useful. It’s relatively easy.) Then I realized if I added the locations of the documents I could pull together all of the significant places of my ancestors. So, using only eight columns, I now have an inventory, a timeline, and a location tracker for all of my ancestors.

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  • But don’t go overboard. Seeing all the handy ways an Excel spreadsheet could be used for genealogy made me want to put ALL THE THINGS into one spreadsheet.  That might work for some, but I have found that the larger a spreadsheet becomes the more overwhelmed I get. Any spreadsheet that extends beyond the frame of my computer screen seems counterproductive to me, so I’m less likely to keep up with it.
  • Review first; input second. As tempting as it was to have all these documents to enter into my shiny new software program, I refrained. Looking at every document at the same time helped me make some logical decisions about any conflicting information. For instance, my maternal great-grandfather has four different birthdates on four different official records. But on further scrutiny, I noticed that two of the birth dates were recorded way after the fact and one was in a church registry and was likely to be the date of baptism. Finding those discrepancies all at once saved me some confusion and resulted in my entering his correct birthday.

This process made me realize I am not nearly as organized as I’d thought. (Look at all of those empty cells up there!) I had many state-specific census records squirreled away in my software program that I never factored into the larger scope of my ancestor’s lives. I found I had forgotten to print hard copies of birth certificates and death certificates for my paper files. Screenshots of online family trees were hiding in my Google drive that I’d forgotten about for years. Thank goodness I caught it in time!

To a Friend Whose Operation Has Been Postponed

Open the rusty screen door
Follow my voice through the center
of the forest with no trees

Float atop the escaping river
like a weekday problem on a Saturday afternoon
Watch the cardinals glide above

this mess of a city, careless, self-absorbed,
The drivers in their compact cars, too,
accelerating behind you to dates and games

the scattered possibilities of something better
Take solace in the abandoned
take-out bags and six-pack rings

like embedded buttons to press
along the speckled shore of Lake Michigan
Lives are being lived here—mine, yours too—

Fill your lungs with ivy
Feel each of your toes slicken with grease
and pulverized stone, the natural aftermath

of ten million people using up this world
a paragraph at a time, a paragraph
at a time when each of us yearns to write

A burnished tome

A Second Cousin of a Second Cousin

A couple years ago after researching as thoroughly as possible, I had decided my family was not related to the infamous outlaw, Jesse James. But, after finding this newspaper article recently, I’ve brought out all of my research again.

To be clear, the man interviewed happens to also be named Jesse James. He is not the outlaw, but he is definitely my grandfather’s cousin.

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Click here for source.

The Invitation

My dearest,

I’m writing to ask you to my wedding on the 15th. Her name is Roslyn. You don’t know her. 

I don’t wish for you to receive this news as a rebuff. It is possible to be two things at once. Like you. What was that name you insist your mother gave you in that bleak time before we met? “Herve”? And yet will the Lord God judge me as a liar for calling you Harvey all these years? 

Two things at once.
Your Jonah