Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #3 - Create A Family Birthday List

This may seem a bit simple, but I wonder if you have considered how a birthday list can help you with your family tree?

Start with a sheet of paper or preferably a new document on your computer. The computer makes it so much easier to correct mistakes and to reorder things in case you get a date wrong.

Start with your name and birth date. Easy enough. Then work sideways, then backwards. By sideways, I mean list the names of siblings and their birth dates. Then list your parents and THEIR siblings. If you know an exact date, list it (i.e. - 10 May 1948). If you're not sure, record what you think and include a question mark (i.e. - 10/11 May 1948 or 10 May 1948/49 or May/June 1948). You can also use abbreviations commonly used when dealing with dates in family history - ABT for About, BEF for Before, AFT for After. So, if you know a cousin was born before your, but you're not sure when, you can record the date as BEF 1950 (assuming your year of birth is 1950 in this example).

Once you have this list, identify two or three people on the list with birthdays in the next month or two. Send them each a card a few days early when the day comes, even if it has been several years since you last had contact. As part of your message, let them know you've been thinking about your extended family and are beginning to work on your family tree. They will certainly be in touch with other family members on their birthday and will likely mention your surprise card to others. Word will travel that you're working on the family tree.

Be sure to include your current mailing address, phone number, and an email address if you have one. If you use Facebook, you can also let them know to seek you out there as well. If the person you're contacting may not immediately know who you are, then be sure to introduce yourself and include a little detail explaining how you are related.

I've never met a person who didn't enjoy getting a surprise birthday card in the mail!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #2 - Matching Folders

Over many years, I've seen that family historians fall into at least one of two camps, but sometimes both. In the first camp are those who use 3-ring binders to organize all their family history notes and documents. In the second camp are those who use folders. Then there are people like me who use a combination of both, sometimes duplicating items intentionally.

Which ever method you choose is fine, as long as you do something to keep your ever growing collection of content organized. One benefit to using folders (meaning physical folders) is that you can replicate your folder system online as well. Use Surname, Placename, and other folders on your computer desktop, as well as in your email client, and also to keep your web browser 'Favorites' or 'Bookmarks' organized.

Don't forget too that you can nest folders inside one another just like in your physical file drawers. This can help you keep like groups together.

There are many benefits to this type of online foldering system and it's never too late to start. You can always create folders and gradually move files to where they belong. If you're not sure how to start, simply create a folder named GENEALOGY or FAMILY HISTORY and gradually move all your related files and documents into that main folder. Then you may wish to create Sub-Folders, perhaps one for your paternal line and another for your maternal line. Gradually move files into one of those two folders. Continue creating sub-folders and moving files until you can quickly locate and save your documents and files. You'll find this takes time to set up, but will save you a LOT of time in the long run.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #1 - Share 3 Things This Week!

As I begin work on my next genealogy book, Jumpstart Your Family Tree, it seems only appropriate that I fully leverage the technology at my disposal for the benefit of any interested readers.

My Jumpstart Tips will be a way to keep the community engaged with new ideas relevant to family history research. Whether you are just starting out or need a periodic reminder to keep you motivated . . . I'll try to cover the spectrum of ideas. If you use Twitter, then you may wish to follow these tips there too!

In some cases, the tips may be from friends of mine, many of whom are expert in certain aspects of family history throughout the world. I'll certainly give credit where and when it is due. Enjoy and spread the word!

So for my first tip, I'll simply remind you to GET MOVING! Family history isn't something you will finish in a week or two. Or even a year or two, but you can make progress EVERY DAY if you try.

One of the best ways to find things is to actually let them find you. I'd suggest finding 2 or 3 of the most interesting photographs, letters, documents or other items in your possession. Scan or photograph them, then send either via email or some other means to a few carefully selected family members - those you think may have similarly interesting items in their possession. By GIVING first, you will likely find that others will be more willing to SHARE what they may have. The more unique the items you share, the more likely they are to generate something interesting in return!