22 December 2014

Setting the stage for success

In February, 2015, I will be traveling to Salt Lake City, Utah for the combined FGS and Rootstech conference. I am thrilled to have the chance at a bit of research at the Family History Library along with the conference activities. This is my version of pre-planning for this research adventure. 

#FGS2015 is right around the corner.


Believe it or not, February will be here before most of us can blink. There is much to do before this once in a lifetime event, and many attendees will be making sure that they get quality research time in at the Family History Library. I'm one of those folks. 

Admittedly, the library will be crowded. Like no-room-to-sit, 15-people-in-every-aisle, staff-run-ragged busy. Imagine this incredible library filled with people, and then realize that every one of them have computers, binders, notebooks, bags, and all the other "stuff" most of us take into a research facility. Then pile on heavy winter jackets, hats, mittens, and scarves. A lot of people, a lot of stuff. This equates, in my mind, to preparation. In order for me to be successful, I need to be ready as soon as I walk in the door. 

Last year when I attended, I was able to stay after the conference and spend two full days in the Library. That was fantastic... but I don't think I'm going to have that luxury this year. I also learned last year that although I felt very prepared with my research goals in hand, I was simply not prepared enough. I was still successful - I found some great material that has helped me considerably in my research. However, I could have done more. 

Changing Tactics

In 2014, I used Evernote to log my research at the library. It worked, to a point. I needed a better set up for inputting search results, and tracking my progress. I would have benefited a great deal from reading through Cyndi Ingle's Evernote for Every Genealogist blog, and using her advice to create a better template. Evernote is a great tool, and I use it daily, but the other realization I had was that it didn't work for me in that environment (at least, not in the way I had it set up). 

Moving to Excel

I have found that Excel is such an amazing tool for genealogy, and I have used it in several other research projects and in a variety of ways to organize my data. I decided that for 2015, I needed to go back to what I was comfortable with, instead of trying to learn enough about Evernote to make it work. I'm creating a template specifically for research in the FHL, so I can pull it out for any project, any time. 

The template will include the following:
  • Tabs for each primary surname I am researching. 
  • Columns for key elements.
  • A column for prioritization, so that I can quickly sort and organize my data based on what is most important for me. 
Some of the other benefits of using Excel in this way include the fact that I can sort by location, or by ancestor. 

Excel, genealogy, family history, research plan, research log, FGS2015, Rootstech, Family History Library, research trip, spreadsheet
Screenshot of my Excel research log. 

As of right now (and always subject to change) the column headings include: 
  1. Priority
  2. Film #
  3. Item #
  4. Collection Title
  5. Objective
  6. Individual
  7. Location
  8. Year (if known)
  9. Other Parties
  10. Objective Met? (Y/N)
  11. Notes
  12. Citation
  13. FamilySearch Link

Putting together my list is actually fairly simple, thanks to a tip I picked up from D. Joshua Taylor a few months ago. His suggestion was to maintain a running list of resources I want or need to pursue at any of the major genealogy libraries around the country. You never know when you might have the opportunity to research at the DAR library in Washington DC, or the Allen County Public LIbrary Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, for example. Life happens fast, so these unexpected research trips may not leave you with a great deal of time to prep. If you have the running list handy, you can take advantage of these random moments of genealogy heaven. I took this advice to heart; and since I travel a lot more these days due to my work with Findmypast, I thought it was a great idea. Therefore, I have a running list of film's to look at the Family History Library (ironically, I keep this list in Evernote!). All of this means that all I need to do is transfer the information to my spreadsheet, and I'm good to go. 

One thing I will be missing this year, more than anything else, is my research partner. Last year, my daughter was able to spend a day at the Library with me, and we had a marvelous day together exploring our history. She was only four years old at the time, and really got excited exploring the microfilm, the stacks, using the reader's, and seeing the museum style displays around the library. Unfortunately, she won't be joining me in Salt Lake City again this year. 

My daughter, selecting film at the Family History
Library, February, 2014.