I’ve amassed a ridiculous amount of paper related to many areas of my life. Admittedly, I am a tear sheet addict. I’m always clipping and snipping recipes, obits, and inspirational what-nots. I gather vacation and travel brochures, church bulletins, ticket stubs and photos. The list is nearly endless. But in no part of my life have I suffered a bigger and more daunting “pile problem” than in my family history writing “file.” Really “file” has become “collection” and I always worried if I ever gathered it all together from all the places I had it squirreled away ~ “collection” might easily have become ” dumping ground.”
After years of stepping around, over, between stuff and avoiding the subject, I finally hit on a solution: Divide and Conquer. Though easily said,this was a heck of a lot of work! Epic in fact, considering my approach to genealogy is classified as somewhere between a hummingbird and a pit bull. At times, I have no focus…here I go… and am easily distracted from branch to branch ~ flitting happily, fueled by the nectar of hints. When I (think) I’m on a hot trail, I am the tenacious pit bull who will not let up! However, even while in my unrelenting bull-zone, I will invariably have an idea pop up for someone else I’m chasing. So there, smack dab in the middle of my Urbanski notes, I’ll “jot” a little something for my next round with the Farmers.
That’s how the piles and the sorting-out and organizing gets so danged complicated. Once distraction has set in, avoidance of the overwhelming task follows, and then my writing “umph” would go flying off on the wings of the Hummingbird muse.
Bye-Bye Birdy !
So here’s my Divide and Conquer Method:
What you will need:
6 boxes ~ Any size, and unmatched will do. I had empty Girl Scout Cookie cases on hand which I used. Laundry baskets work too. Just be sure that they areat least large enough for a standard sheet of paper to fit into.
5 notebooks~ you can be fancy and have 5 different colors, or all the same and just write with Sharpie on the front
some pens and paper clips and a stack of brightly colored post-it notes
either easy proximity to a printer/copier, or, an extra pad of paper to note what you need to copy / scan and the location of it
Livable enough, Right ?
Now for the Tricky part! Choose a set of Parents who you wish to start with. Don’t worry about 1st, 2nd and 3rd wives or husbands, just zero in on the Pair of parents that you want to start with. This can be WAY BACK WHEN or it could be you and your spouse. Doesn’t matter a whit. Just choose someone (bear with me and resist the urge to flit away )
If you have Character Cards, this is a great use for them, otherwise, just write on the boxes or tape on an index card to identify the boxes like so….
Box 1 Mama’s Mom Box 2 Mama’s Dad
Box 3 Dad’s Mom Box 4 Dad’s Daddy
Box 5 Combo (includes their kids)
Box 6 Out Cast Pile
(old mail,your lost water bill, and /or stuff pertinent only to people you are NOT searching for right at this moment)
Pretty Simple Stuff.
Lay an open and labeled notepad next to each of these 6 boxes and go search for the 1st pile you would like to tackle. This is where the good part really starts! I began with my computer desk area (top surface first, then I worked my way across to the overflow piles). Tackling the dining room would have been bewildering and overwhelming. I needed a little confidence and experience under my belt before moving on to the truly daunting landscape.
With my buddy Susan (an enthusiastic an patient helper) at my side, I actually made it thru sorting the desk top and seeing wood grain in under 20 minutes! The left hand side of the desk went fairly quick too! When a box of Grandma Lydia filled, I replaced it with another box for her. All the papers that pertained to more than one person got photocopied. ALL OF THEM. This included the little scraps of torn paper that had two or three different date of births or notations for when I had ordered death certificates for an entire household. Susan made a Post-note with the various names, copied the page and threw the original into box #5 with the post-it attached signifying the distribution of photocopies had been made. The copies (one made for each person’s own box ~ although only 1,2,3 or 4) went into their respective boxes. The photos were noted on each person’s note pad (if they appeared in one with others in the family) and were laid to the side to be scanned or digitally photographed if they looked really frail. The original then went into the #5 box. DO NOT START XEOROXING THE PHOTOS. Scanning once is light exposure enough!
Any time that I had a little brain-hint, research thought, or remembrance of someone I wrote it down on the notepad next to their box. This (and my helper) kept me in pit bull mode…
Grandma Bess had a seamless procession of Beagles named Corky who she fed until each one died (fat and happy) of obesity
I’ll admit that the system was working so well that when we rounded the right hand side of the desk, I set the kitchen timer and challenged myself to “get ‘er done” in less than 20 minutes. I failed, it was closer to 45 (tough pile). But it did make the whole thing feel a lot like fun!
Keep working your way through until you have exhausted yourself or have rooted out all of your favorite “stuffing” spots. You will most likely have some pretty uneven boxes. It’s a great way to get an easy and quick visual assessment of what you truly have. My fullest boxes always tend to be the “Out Cast” and the #5 Combo box.
But, guess which box you get to start with on the next generation’s round of sorting? You guessed it…the Combo. So, slowly, all the piles and boxes become sorted down to manageable and sense-making files.
Usable Files…How Cool is That?
I then had to go tearing thru my Out Cast (#6) boxes to find things that were not related to family history. I did this later with a trusty trash can at my side. Honestly, how many catalogues does Eddie Bauer send me in a year?
If you can get this far on ONE of your PAIR TREES, the sense of accomplishment and freedom will spur you on to do more of them. We’ll address storage and further sorting in Part II. Right now, I am tired from just the memory of climbing my paper mountain
and yes, Susan is still speaking to me