Monday, August 13, 2018

AmericaGen Study Group: Successful Correspondence

AmericaGen Study Group
Chapter 8 Homework 
Marceline Beem

Reference: Greenwood, Val D. “Successful Correspondence.” In The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 4th ed.,165-74. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2017.

I have to admit that when I first saw the topic for this week’s session, I was underwhelmed.  Reading the chapter didn’t change my opinion. My first reaction was “More printing and filing? UGH!”

Last week I finally started digitizing my research files. One of the first documents I scanned was a death certificate for Calhoun Cail, who died in Ft. Myers, Florida in 1967. In going through his information in my Legacy file, I realized I did not have an obituary for him.  Googling for Lee County, Florida obituaries, I came across an obituary index maintained by the Lee County Genealogical Society. I found an index entry for Calhoun Cail’s obituary and sent a message to the email provided on the website, asking for a copy of the obituary.

As the author mentioned, be as specific as possible in your request for information. My email was short and to the point:

I would like to request a copy of the obituary for Calhoun Cail. It was published in the Fort Myers News-Press on March 13, 1967, page 2, section a.  Thanks in advance for your help.

If there is a fee for the request, please let me know the charge and how to pay it.

Just this morning I received a fabulous reply that not only included the obituary but also information about the funeral home and how to order the death certificate. I already have the death certificate, but I do intend to follow up with the funeral home.

I tend to not save emails because Gmail makes it so easy to keep and search for old emails that I felt it wasn’t necessary. But in going through my documents to digitize, I realized that I have correspondence from old accounts that I no longer have access to. Geocities, anyone?  I printed very little of my early correspondence and now wish I had some of it. So, I am adding saving my email correspondence to my organization project.

The request for the obituary and the reply are definitely ones I do not want to lose access to, but I don’t want to print it just to scan it again. That’s using a lot of resources (paper, toner, my time) for paper I don’t intend to keep. Instead, I can save the correspondence as a PDF, right from Gmail. Instructions for printing to straight to PDF can be found here.

I’ve already shared that I save all of my digital documents in one folder, rather than having multiple subfolders broken down by surname or location. To name this file, I am using the person’s name, the word “Correspondence,” and a brief description of the subject and date of the correspondence. When I sort the files by name, I can quickly see all of the correspondence I have about the person of interest. For the obituary request, the file name is “Cail-Calhoun_Correspondence_Request-for-Obituary-August-8-2018. The reply was saved as “Cail-Calhoun_Correspondence_Answer-to-Request-for-Obituary-August-13-2018. And of course the PDF of the obituary was also saved under a separate file named “Cail-Calhoun_1967_Obituary.”

Since I am horrible with research logs, I am not going to bother with a spreadsheet or log as suggested in the chapter. However, as I go through my current project, I will search my Gmail account for past correspondence, save the emails as PDF, and do the proper analysis and correlation, just as I am with other documents.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

AmericaGen Chapter 7: Organizing Your Research

AmericaGen Study Group
Chapter 7 Homework 
Marceline Beem

Reference: Greenwood, Val D. “Organizing and Evaluating Your Research Findings.” In The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 4th ed., 142-164. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2017.

My research process is a bit different from what the author advocates in this week’s readings. I have never been very good at keeping a research log and filing documents. In fact, I hate filing so much that at every office job I've held, that's the one task that gets put off indefinitely. My hatred of filing doesn't change when it comes to genealogy research. I hate it, period. Mark that as a drudgery task for me. Keeping a research log is almost as tedious as filing, so I spent many years keeping rather poor logs or ignoring them all together.  That changed when I was introduced to the “write as you go” method for research reports. 

My document starts as a research plan, with a specific question and sources to answer that question identified before I start researching. I then type up my notes as I research, providing the citation details (e.g., page numbers) for each piece of information.  The result is that my research plan, log, and notes are in one document. Usually, I will write my analysis and conclusion in the same document, followed by images and transcripts/abstracts of the key documents used to reach my conclusion. I do initially type a transcript in a separate Word document, but by also including it at the end of my research notes, I can easily share my research with others in just one PDF file.

To get my research organized, one of my goals is to convert my family files to digital images, keeping only original records and photographs. I keep all of my digital documents in one folder called “Source Documents.” The files are named in the following pattern: LastName-FirstName_Year_Description. When sorted by name, the files are automatically arranged chronologically by person. Some examples:
  • My great-grandmother, Caroline Price, died in Florida in 1940. The digital image of her death certificate is named “Price-Caroline_1940_Death-Certificate.”
  • Rebecca Horton purchased land in Tennessee in 1832. The digital image of the transaction is named “Horton-Rebecca_1832_Land-Purchase.”

For deeds, I use both the grantor and grantee in the file name.
  • Richard Grantham purchased land from John Smith in Bladen County, North Carolina in 1775. The digital image of the deed is named “Smith-John_Grantham-Richard_1775_Deed-Bladen-p488.”

Transcripts use the same name as the original document, with –Transcript appended to the file name:
  • King-John_1798_Will-Transcript
I try to limit my use of subfolders to two circumstances:
  • Numerous images from one collection, such as the Draper Manuscripts
  • Specific locations where I am related to most of the community.  I use this to store census images and similar documents where more than one family of interest is on the page.
I’m not very consistent at putting census records and such into the second type of folder. Lately, I am more prone to store the digital image in the “Source Documents” main folder, using my direct ancestor’s name in the file name.

Here is a screenshot of my “Source Documents” folder:

You’ll notice that not all of my file names follow what I’ve described here. There are older files that were scanned or downloaded before I finally settled on my naming convention. One of these days, I’ll get around to renaming those files. But this also illustrates my main takeaway from this chapter: there isn’t one right way to organize your research logs and notes. If a particular method uses too many tasks you hate outside of genealogy (for me, filing paper documents and keeping logs), you aren’t likely to use it in genealogy research, either. Use Google and Cyndi’s List to find articles on how to organize your research. Find a method that works for you and incorporate it into your workflow. If you find a method that works for you, you'll be more likely to keep your records organized, easily finding them when you need to review your work or share it with other researchers.