Monday, April 23, 2012

Time to go Shopping!!!

In my last blog I described the early how I had started to tackle the paper pile that represented my family tree research over the past 15-20 years.  This blog celebrates the fact that I have moved on from the four boxes marked “Hewson”, “Smith”, “Shepherd” and “Herbert”  and now have a fully functioning storage system for all my documents, photos etc.  .

This step started with a visit to the local office supplies shop, where I purchased folders, binders, photo boxes , sticky labels, protective plastic sleeves, folder dividers and alphabetical filing cards for the photo boxes. You will note these were all colour coordinated to fit with our spare room d├ęcor, much to my husband’s amusement. 

 The next step was to make up folders for each of the following: Births, Deaths, Marriages, Newspaper Cuttings, Census, Research Notes and Miscellaneous (for the odd things that didn’t seem to fit into the other folders).  In each folder I put in dividers for each of the Family Branches and filed all relevant documentation into each folder.  For example my grandmother on the Shepherd side’s death certificate, funeral notice, photo of her grave stone and family thank you card were all filed in the Deaths Folder in the Section for Shepherd.

All photos are now filed in “Family” boxes in Alphabetical order (SURNAME, Christian name) and any photos that are too large for the photo’s boxes I have filed into a photo folder .  I have to admit as I packed the “colour coordinated” boxes into the shelving, along with all my family research books I felt quite pleased with my progress.  It was now time to sort the conglomeration of digital files that lived on my computer, lap top and a number of usb sticks.

Filing and Storing Original Documents - Keeping that Pile under control

If you are like me, the amount of time that you have to spend on your family tree research is limited.  This means that it is important to develop a filing/storage system that is straight forward, and doesn't consume to much of your valuable research time. I think it is important that you choose a filing system that suits you and works for you.  You are the person who has to work with it.

Operation Paper Control was on!!!!


What an adventure!!!  When I had allotted the amount of time I would take to do this I had not considered the time I would waste being side tracked by the little bits of information I rediscovered in  letters, on the back of photos and in notes I had taken. Having a deadline kept me reasonably focused and I resisted the temptation to wander too far from the task at hand.

Much to my husbands delight, I finally sorted all the documentation into the four "Family" boxes!!   He  now had space to watch the footy in peace.  The next step was to work my way through each "Family" Box. sorting the information into documentation that supported "Birth", Death" and Marriages", Census, Newspaper articles, photos. 
 Initially, I sat on the floor of our lounge Room with four boxes marked "Shepherd", "Herbert", "Smith" and "Hewson".  These were the four main branches of our family tree.  Legs crossed, sneezing from all the dust, I slowly made my way through the boxes of documents, photos, notes, letters, newspaper cuttings  and other bits and pieces that I had collected over the last 15-20 years.   I then proceeded to sort all the information I had collected into these four boxes. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Family Tree Project

Where am I going to start?  Feeling a little overwhelmed I sat down and tried to set  some rational boundaries.  I had to remember that this was a starting point and to not get bogged down with the unrelenting supply of information, and resources available.   It was important to have a clear picture of where I was going with this project. I spent the initial week planning, considering all the stakeholders, setting a budget, developing a timeline and reaching decisions on what were achievable goals.

The achievable goals would be:
  • Selection of a suitable online Genealogy site to post family tree on
  • Provision of access to this tree to family members and other researchers
  • Development of a Filing system for all documentation, photos etc
  • Electronic copies and electronic filing system for all documentation.
The first step was to do some research into the different online Genealogy sites and to compare them with those that I am already familiar and decide which would suit my project requirements. It was important that this site could be easily accessed by other members of the family  and researchers who were interested following the development of our family tree.

I decided to approach the development of this family tree as a pilot project that could be expanded and developed at a later stage to include all my family tree research.  To keep the project within a reasonable boundary, I decided to only extend by family tree back 5 generations.  Then when this was established I would be able to move on and add the additional information past the first 5 generations. I think this is good advice for anyone starting on their family tree.   Keep the initial stages of your research within achievable limits. Once you have established your Family Tree up to the first 5 generations you can use this as the base to go back further in your family tree exploration. 

It was also necessary to decide on a simple and easy to use filing system for all my documents in both hard copy and soft copy.  The logical form for me, was to develop Files for the four branches of our parents surnames, e.g. my parents family names and my husbands family names.  It was important to keep this filing system simple, so as it didn't consume too much of my valuable research time.

Approaching your family tree research in an organised manner

Yes this is part of what had accumulated in my spare room, not to mention the collection of scanned documents that were in numerous files on our computer and my lap top. I am sure there are many family researchers who, like me, find it hard to keep up with the large amount of information, photos and documents that they have accumulated.

It was around 2007 I decided it was time to really sort out this mess. At this time I was studying at University and one of the subjects I was doing that semester was Project Management. Our first Assignment was to identify a project we would like to put into action over a period of 2 months. We had to develop a plan, put it into action and report back to our lecturer and class on its success. So using the guidelines and lecture notes from our Project Management Course I set out, with great determination, to put some order into my family tree research. (I do believe my husband was even more enthused at the thought of having the spare room or family office functioning in a more ordered manner).

The first step in the process was to identify what my were my main objectives. (sooooo important to have something that is dooable). So after some careful thinking I came up with the following objectives.

1. Develop an on-line family tree, that can be accessed by family members and family researchers and can be used as a basis for future research.

2. Establish a physical filing system for the storage of family tree records (birth, death and marriage certificates, photos, newspaper cuttings, personal accounts, letters etc.).

3. Develop an filing system on my computer for the storage of all scanned documents that is logical and easy to maintain.

I look forward to sharing the different stages of this project and appreciate any feedback or suggestions on how to make the process even smoother and more efficient.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Family Tree Grows

In the late 1980’s our family moved and all my family tree research was packed into boxes to be shipped off to our new home.  Over the next 10-15 years, though I still kept my eyes and ears open for new family information, I didn't have time for any serious research and so these boxes virtually, stayed sealed.  With two young boys starting school, and a family business, there wasn't a lot of spare hours for digging around our family tree roots.

It was interesting though, I had unofficially become the keeper of the family history.   Members of the family would forward on anything they thought I might be interested in.  Also when another member of the family started to delve into the family history, they would be referred to me.  So during this time, my boxes of family memorabilia grew, and gathered dust in our spare room. 

It was almost 15 years later when both my boys had left home and we had moved home again that I finally started to find the time to start digging back into the mysteries of my family tree.  By this time there were numerous online genealogy sites such Ancestry, Genes United and My Heritage. Initially I took a starter package with Genes United. I signed up and was hooked.  I started pulling out all the notes, old pictures  etc and entering the data into my family tree. We invested in a scanner and my poor dear husband scored the task of scanning the reams of photos and certificates.

The feedback that I received from my on-line tree was phenomenal.  I couldn't wait for the next instalment of "hot matches" to come through, so I could make contact with others researching similar trees. I was starting to acquire a large address book of family tree contacts and it was great to be able to share stories, documents and photos.  Over the next few years I invested in a couple of on-line genealogy site memberships, trying them out to see which I found the best.  Now I do my main research and record keeping on Ancestry, but have a number of other memberships with other On Line Family Research sites as I find that some offer advantages that others don't and it also widens my access to other researchers. A word of caution, memberships can become expensive so be careful to look for the option that best meets your needs and budget. 

However, despite my joy at the influx of new information on my family history, a dilemma was developing.  The more information, pictures and documents I collected the harder it was to keep it in order.  I needed to find a way to put all the information into logical order!!  this was not an easy task and I hope to share this learning experience with you in later blogs.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Gathering information for your family tree

I guess I have always been interested in history, and studied modern and ancient history at school.  This fascination  with the “times before me” was transferred to an ever growing interest in my family background and the people who came before me.  To begin with I was attracted by the puzzle of putting everyone in their place, with dates of birth, marriage and death. However, this has now evolved and I find I want to know more about the people,  the events they experienced and the times they lived through.

If you are planning to start putting together your family history you have to be prepared to become  a gather and collector of all different types of memorabilia.  Some items you will have to search high and low for and others will just land in your lap.  When I was first married and my two sons were very small, I started to be serious about researching our family roots.  This was in a time without Internet. All research had to be done in library’s, local museums, cemeteries, archives and more importantly by rummaging in many dusty boxes and suitcases that had been stored under beds or storage rooms. I wrote with great enthusiasm to many relatives telling them of my plan to put together our family history. Many of these letters went unanswered.  However, luckily  there were others in my family that were happy to share stories, old photos and letters and contacts with other family links.

The process of gathering information was much slower than it is today.  All communication was by post or phone and the building of the family tree was a much slower process.    Though I must confess, it was much easier to keep up with.  I don’t know what other family tree researchers feel, but my experience is that now it is impossible to keep up with the flow of information and resources  that are available to us today. (Mind you I wouldn’t want to change this, I love that you can search a name and instantly find when they were born, where they lived etc).

I believe that the things I learnt when I first started researching the family tree (a lot by trial and error) were valuable, and more importantly a lot of the information that I gathered during these early years have opened new family links more recently.  For example, recently I was reading through some notes that I had made when visiting my great Aunt in 1986.  She had mentioned that one of her Aunts had died in a fire.  Using the wonderful resource that we now have for Australian research I did a search on TROVE, and was able to find an article that gave the date of her death and the name of her husband and children.  From this little note that I had made many years ago, I was able to fill in a number of gaps in our family history.

If you are thinking of looking into your family tree here is a list of  some things that will help you find those important clues that will assist you along the way.

1. Letters - provide a lot of information, e.g. date, residence, family events, occupations  and general family history.
2. Diaries – if you are able to find an old diary or log book of an ancestor this is a wonderful bonus. They can provide so much information about the life and times of that family member.
3. Postcards, birthday or Christmas cards- can provide residential address, names of other members of the family and information on what they were doing at that time of history. 
4.  Old receipts -  provide names, dates and add to the story of the person.
5. Memorial Cards - these generally will give you birth and death date and sometimes family members.
6. Photos – look on the back for any notes that may give you clues
7.  Newspaper cuttings -  even if you are not able to see the link with your family, there must have been a reason they were cut out, so keep them.  Something might come up later that explains the importance of the cutting.
8. Christening certificates, school awards, note books – all add to the information about an individual.
9. Stories - write down or record stories from family members.  Don’t put this off.  There are so many of my older relatives that I wish I had made time to talk to.
10.  Establish links with others researching same family or connections with your family. This can be done through the Internet, online genealogy sites or just writing to family members.
11. Historical societies in towns where ancestors are a great source and may have old newspapers, photos, maps etc.  A lot of Historical Societies have books published on their area which are a mine of information about the times that our ancestors lived in.