Miracle Needed

The tide came quickly. It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to accomplish organizing an office as messy as mine. In a world of quick solutions, this project does not have one.  I was overcome with mental exhaustion quickly. I soon lost focus, and worse, heart for the prize. My Genealogy Do-Over would have to wait for something miraculous which was just around the corner.

In 2016, I dipped my toe in the minimalism wave. This community of people who live with only that which gives them joy was just what I needed to accomplish some very difficult tasks that I have been delaying. Letting go of things is hard when the things evoke good memories and feelings. Sentimentality and simply not being ready to face the emotional tide I was going to experience became my prison. The guided minimalist approach I took made the chore a lot easier. The declutter categories I put into practice were:

  • Trash (useless to me and others)
  • Give Away (quality and useful to others)
  • Maybe Keep (not sure if I want to let go)
  • Keep (Joy / Value)

My home office was not the starting point for this new minimalist journey; it was the many boxes of my mother’s things that I stored after she died a few years ago. I felt guilty doing anything enjoyable in life when I knew I had this task that I kept delaying waiting for me.  What I learned when opening those boxes and truly looking at the things she kept was that their value to me was not as the objects but the memories they evoked such as the smell of her many purses with the half sticks of Juicy Fruit gum in each. The purses went to a local non-profit thrift store. Mom can not use them and I would not use them. The emotional journey those purses took me on was hard but worth it.

Processing the decisions for each item with the minimalist approach made it much easier. The Maybe Keep category was the best thing I could have put into practice.  I gave myself permission to keep some things. Surprisingly, I did not keep as much as I thought I would.

I then put the minimalism approach into practice throughout the rest of my home. This is not an over the weekend kind of process. Even taking a week or so to declutter a room, the process is fluid. What I loved and brought me joy one month may not the next. Setting an item aside to see if I need it in the next three months teaches me what is necessary in my life. It forces a person to ask what brings joy or value?

My home office is now finally getting the attention it needs. No longer am I feeling guilty for treating myself to an organized office. However, what a tough task it can be for a genealogist to let go of things. It takes a lot of soul searching and questioning every single item to determine if that item has value. The very definition of value has to be determined as well. What is of value to a genealogist?

Genealogy Do-Over: Rewards of Week 1 – Day 2

Mid-day Saturday and I am in the thick of it, sorting through paper and consolidating boxes. Our cross-cut paper shredder is my best friend today.

My efforts have been rewarded in a couple of ways already. One, I found a certified copy of my own birth certificate. I knew it was somewhere.

Reward number two:  drum roll, please. A humble spiral notebook with my mother’s handwritten life story, 33 pages just as full as the first. She was born in 1921. Her story book stops in 1938 around when my parents were married. As much as I want to stop everything and read it through, I will not.  I am pretty sure I know much of it already. What a treasure though. Mom died in 2012. Seeing her handwriting is like getting a hug.

Mom's life story, page one.

Page one of mom’s handwritten life story.

Genealogy Do-Over – Week 1

I learned of this thing called a Genealogy Do-Over a couple of months ago while at a conference. Sounded scary but deep down I knew I needed to get on board. Starting with Week 1 today (July 3), I have taken some time to review my research practices and have begun to better organize my office.

The topics of Week 1 are:

  • Setting Previous Research Aside
  • Preparing to Research
  • Establishing Base Practices and Guidelines

Setting Previous Research Aside.  This will take a bit of work. I am so disorganized. I have research in every form and stashed in various places in the house:

  • office desk
  • five-drawer file cabinet
  • on book shelves in binders and folders (or not)
  • travel case that I take to conferences
  • TV tray in living room where I sit and read while watching/listening to TV
  • moving boxes that are still unpacked
  • two desktop computers (old and new)
  • two laptops (broken hinge one that is slow and new fabulous purple replacement)
  • flash drives (who knows how many)
  • memory cards from my camera (again, who knows how many), and
  • a terabyte external hard drive

The electronic files are duplicated in several places I am sure. I lost some of my research when another older laptop and a previous external drive crashed. To say I need this Do-Over is an understatement.

Preparing to Research. In all honesty, I seem to research better at night after the sun goes down. I am not as distracted with other things of the day a.k.a. pesky housework. I am a natural night owl anyway. Many of my siblings are, too. That’s the kind of thing you don’t necessarily learn in researching ancestors. I wonder if Delanie was a night person.

My thoughts on preparation would be to gather my essential items close and have templates of forms and filing system at the ready. Here is my to-do list for this week:

  • Review the templates available on Genedocs Template’s Facebook page at Genedocs Templates.
  • Watch and adopt useful practices from Linda Debe’s instructional YouTube video entitled Organizing Digital Files found here:  Organizing Digital Files.
  • Attack (clean) my office and create a healthy, organized environment conducive to better research.  This will include gathering and organizing all of the research from the various stashes throughout the house.  And then, Set it Aside!
Before Office Pic

Office – Before

As an incentive to follow through with that last bullet point, my shameful office pic should serve as motivation. I hope to have an After pic before Week 2 starts. I think I need an intervention. Wait, this Do-Over is just that!! Going to do my best but I get tired just looking at this picture.

Establishing Base Practices and Guidelines. This feels like I am making New Year’s resolutions. With all good intentions, here are some things that come to mind in how best to research.

  1. Do not research in the wee hours of the morning (it is currently 1:30 a.m.). Did I mention I am a night owl?
  2. Keep research materials at my desk/office area not all over the house. This is why my office must ultimately be a comfortable place to sit at the desk and have a separate comfortable reading area. I don’t always want to be sitting at a computer (I do that all day at my 9-to-5 job). I like to read newsletters and blogs on my iPad while curled up on the couch.
    1. Research materials include:
      1. laptop
      2. Evidence Explained
      3. notebooks
      4. Evernote (have not used this before but intend to try it)
      5. Research logs
  3. Develop and maintain an electronic filing and naming system.
  4. Go paperless when possible. Keep all notes and papers in an electronic format. Original documents can be filed safely away in an archival friendly manner.
  5. Back-up ALL electronic files:
    1. on a cloud server
    2. on external hard drive
  6. Keep learning!  Continuing education through conferences, blogs, webinars, newsletters, history books, interviews.
  7. Join my local genealogical society and relevant societies to my personal research. Check. Already have done this.
  8. Give back! Regularly contribute to the genealogy community.  Do not always take, take, take. Transcribe cemetery headstones, share obituaries, or other interesting facts that I find along the way.
  9. Establish daily tasks to keep my research from becoming stagnant. Perhaps on Monday I can write a blog post on my weekend research accomplishments. Tuesday could be focusing on a particular person. I imagine this will fluctuate as my research develops. It could be that I take Mondays to think through what my tasks should be for that week in blog form.

I am curious to see how this list changes as I get further into this Do-Over. Old habits are hard to break. Taking things slow and being deliberate about each task should bring me closer to the goal — breaking down brick walls through organized research!

I have given myself a weekend to get a lot of the office organization done. Wish me luck!

If you are interested in a Do-Over for your own research, check it out here:  Genealogy Do-Over.

Genealogy Do Overs

Yeah, been a while — life takes priority.  Don’t forget to hug those you love and live life in the now no matter how badly we want to keep researching the past all night, and day.

I attended a genealogy conference today for the first time in a few years.  The speaker was Lisa Alzo (http://www.lisaalzo.com).  Very, very helpful topics, one of which gave me the permission I needed to start over with my research.  Have you heard of a “genealogy do-over?”  Me neither.  What a great idea.  I have been so disorganized in my young life as a researcher.  Starting fresh with a new tree and using knowledge I have now that I did not have 10 years ago — now that is a pretty appealing idea to me.

My tree has become so overgrown with who knows who they all are.  I made a boo-boo many years ago and incorporated someone else’s tree into my own.  My, my, I wish I could hit the “Undo” button on that one.

A thought occurred to me today as I was listening to the topic of “using a research journal with Excel” –do you use one? me neither — that my research is like a real tree.  The roots are shallow and spread out like I have been watering the surface for 10 years.  Nothing substantial, deep, or truly life-giving has been given to my tree.  I am watering shallowly with wide research using easy resources rather than bringing my family to life by digging deep.

Here is a link to the “do over” blog that Lisa Alzo discussed briefly today: Geneablogger.com – Genealogy Do Over

FTM Screen Shot

Where I begin …

I am seriously thinking about doing this with a brand new tree.  Lots of work, I know.  Will I be able to stay focused, organized, and glean deeper results from my research if I start fresh using the new tricks I know now?  Time will tell.

and the Winner is …

The DNA results were that Steve is of Ashkenasi Jewish ancestry.   Very interesting.  Still have not found relatives, though.  The folks that Steve e-mails who have been determined a relative by Family Tree DNA do not write back.  And, there are absolutely no Mitchells in the relatives list.  Was birth momma fibbing?

DNA Test

Steve got his test kit in the mail this week.  It only took 3 days to get it from the day I ordered it.  He did his first swab a few minutes ago.  The instructions say to wait 3-5 hrs between swabs.  He has three total swabs to do.  Anxious to get these in the mail but will have to wait until Monday now.

DNA Test Decision

I decided to go with the same DNA research company that I used for my mom.  I found out that it is also the same company that one of my Womble cousins used for their research.  It just made sense to keep all of my genealogical DNA research within the same company.  So, now, we have five immediate family members in the Family Tree DNA databases.

The DNA test that Steve is doing is different from the others though.  FTDNA has a new test they call Family Finder.  It is useful for adoptees who are looking for closer relatives than the ancestor DNA test usually provides.  The Family Finder results will provide matches for five generations or less.  We did not do the Y-DNA test yet.  The cost would have been over $400 for the Family Finder and the Y-DNA test.  Let’s see what the Family Finder results look like before we do the Y-DNA.  It doesn’t do Steve any good to know who he is matched with that has a relative from many many generations ago if he doesn’t even know who his father is.  The Family Finder should get him information that is useful in his immediate paternal family search.

DNA Project

Today is Father’s Day. This prompts a conversation between my husband and I about who his father might really be.  He was adopted at birth.  We know who his birth mom is, but not his dad.  Ultimately, the conversation leads to the decision to pursue DNA matching using today’s DNA ancestry services. My mom participated in a DNA service which was interesting.  In previous research, Steve was provided a name from a birth certificate that only a private investigator was able to see. The State of California has sealed the adoption records and this PI claims to have seen this birth certificate and this name. We have confirmed that name matches Steve’s birth date and birth mom by searching the California birth records’ online database. So, we are going to use that name in our DNA search project. But, we must allow for the possibility that Steve’s birth mom lied about the name. She lied about other information on that birth certificate and the name may just be a fabrication.

This is what we have to start with:
Paul Mitchell, Jr., born 10/22/1962 in Los Angeles, CA, to Katherine Yvonne Maben.

Hopefully, a DNA profile will prove whether Mitchell is really Steve’s paternal lineage. Going to do a little research now to find out if the same DNA database that I used for my mom will be the best choice for this type of research.  FamilyTreeDNA.com is the website for the service my mom used.

Who Am I?

I read an article yesterday in the St. Louis Post Dispatch about the State of Illinois voting upon allowing adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates with the consent of the birth parents.  This new legislation would open up so many doors to adoptees who just want to know who they are.   Imagine you are adopted and that you looked and acted nothing like your adopted family.  If you were given the opportunity to look at your original birth certificate, would you?  Would you look for your birth family?  Would you look for more clues to answer Who Am I?

It is this question that caused me to begin family history research.  Not for me, but for my husband.  That was more than ten years ago.  We have found many answers but are still searching for more.  Now, I research my own family history and am fascinated with it all.

Whether you are simply trying to fill out your family tree or searching for birth parents that may never have known you were born, this page is dedicated to you.  I will post information that I find along my own journey.