Genealogy Overload

I finished my middle grade fantasy, and have begun sending it out to agents. While I’m waiting to hear back, I have several other projects to work on (as most authors do). However, I like to take a little time between writing projects to get a non-writing project finished, or at least well-started.

My current project is a Genealogy Database of all my scanned and filed documents. (Update: 1,234 files entered, 241 more to go from my side of the family.) But the genealogy information never stops coming!

I squeezed in two short vacations in the past few weeks. The first, with my husband, also involved visiting 3 cemeteries in Delaware to find my ancestors. The second, with my mother and daughter, also involved 3 cemeteries—this time in New York. So now I have photos and cemetery records to add to my database.

I got a huge surprise in the mail, too. The day after I got home I received a package from my aunt. It contained a scrapbook of my ancestor Capt. William M. Wooldridge, who died in 1863 from a disease contracted while fighting in the Civil War. There are at least half-a-dozen contemporary newspaper articles outlining his artwork, architecture, and inventions. It also had articles about his marriage and some of his Civil War action.

I have found that this is how genealogy goes—droughts and floods. For long periods, every attempt to research will meet with a brick wall. Then suddenly evidence and data will fall into your lap. Sometimes it’s a response to a forum post I put up years ago. Sometimes it’s the opportunity to visit cemeteries or other historic places. Sometimes it’s an unexpected package from a relative. Then one clue leads to another and sometimes an entire wall falls.

I haven’t reached a breakthrough with all this new data, but I have tied up some loose ends and rounded out my data for several generations.

Genealogy is much like writing. You know that feeling when the words are coming so fast you can’t keep up? When the story is rolling and you are high on the exhilaration? When new data come in for my genealogy, I get the same excited rush. And when it leads to a breakthrough, I actually get giddy.

Maybe that’s why I love both writing and genealogy—the unexpected highs more than make up for the long stretches of routine, nitty-gritty hard work.

Do your hobbies complement your writing? Or are they polar opposites?

Organizing Chaos: Reclaiming My Research

I live in a state of organized chaos (don’t most moms of toddlers?). I am not a person with an empty desk at the end of a workday (or pretty much ever). My folded clothes reside on the floor for several days before they find their way into the drawers. And my piles of papers survive until I can’t stand to look at them anymore.

But here’s the thing: as disorganized as it looks, it is organized to me. I can find things. It all makes sense to me on a basic level. So there is a method to the madness. And the things that seem most disorganized are the things that are lowest on my priority list—things that can wait a while before I get around to them. My folded clothes can wait until I finish my blog posts for the week, for example.

And I am meticulous where it counts. Appointments on my calendar are not only written down, but color-coded. My finances are computerized and updated. My writing projects are ordered and backed-up regularly. My editing changes are tracked via spreadsheet and color-coding (and sometimes graphed for good measure). My queries are tracked similarly. To-Do lists are kept and updated daily (or as needed).

You see, I can only keep so much in my mental organizer before I get brain fatigue. So I focus my organization skills (which are pretty sharp when I bring them to bear) on the most important things in my life: keeping my family and writing obligations. Other things can wait until I have time to get around to them.

Unfortunately, I failed to bring my organization savvy to bear on my genealogy research. I have been doing genealogy for about 15 years, and have amassed a huge amount of data. When I began, I had no idea how complex genealogy could get, so established only a rudimentary organization scheme. 15 years later and over 2,000 files later, I have no idea what I have, or where of several places I have it. I know I have duplicated research, thus wasting time. I have just started a database, where I can sort everything out, find and delete duplicates, and then re-organize the files into a cleaner and more intuitive organizational scheme that will make things easier going forward.

I learned a great lesson from this genealogical tidal wave: Start a database from the moment you start researching a topic. When I research for future books, I will definitely do this, and thereby save myself a great deal of time and headache trying to find or confirm research.

How do you keep your research in order? Any tips to share?

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