Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My genealogical tool kit

I must admit that I am a tool person. One time when I was working on the front suspension of a Jaguar, my friend and I spent a couple of frustrating days trying to separate the front ball joint to replace an idler arm. We finally talked to a mutual friend about the problem and learned, for the first time, of a ball joint fork. On tap with a mallet on the fork and the ball separated. This was pre-Internet days because today you could look the whole job up on the Net and find out how to do the job with a list of parts and tools. But this and many other experiences taught me that there is a tool for a job, whether it be fixing a faucet or doing genealogy.

In genealogy you could think of your tool kit containing some paper and a pencil or you could realize that specialized tasks usually require specialized tools. You may be able to get the work done without using the best possible tool, but you are likely to be frustrated in the process and possibly spend much more time than might be truly necessary to do the job. I often see patrons come into the Mesa Regional Family History Center with a bulging notebook of papers and notes in total disarray. I am pretty sure they are spending a lot of unproductive time finding their ancestors.

So what are the specialized tools of genealogy? First and foremost is the computer. If you have to make a choice between a laptop and a desktop, then a laptop wins hands down. I know there is a sizable population of genealogists who still do not trust computers and do not feel comfortable unless they have a pile of paper copies of their genealogy, but almost all genealogical research can be augmented by entering the data into a computer program and to do so, you need a computer.

My next necessary tool is a digital camera followed by a scanner. I still see people hunched over books in the library copying out information. In my recent visit to the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, I found several references to family members in the Salt Lake City Directories. Rather than copy out the entries, I simply photographed them with an additional photograph of the title page. I gathered a number of entries in different directories in a matter of minutes, rather than spending hours copying out the entries in long hand. The digital images give me the option of going back to the "original" entry time and again in case I forget the context. I use the scanner to digitize documents and then attach the digitized copies to individuals and families in my genealogical database program. Thus cutting short the seemingly never ending cycle of having to lot up the source again and again.

Of course, my tool kit contains a few genealogy programs. I find that in my physical tool kit, I have a drawer full of wrenches and screwdrivers. Some people do not understand why I would have more than one set of wrenches or more than one or two screw drivers. If you do serious car repair or home repairs you would not have to ask that question. Likewise, if you do serious genealogy, you probably have more than one computer program to use. Each program has its own strengths and weaknesses. I sometimes use one program that is particularly good at looking up sources for that purposes, but prefer to transfer the information into another program I like better for other reasons. No, I don't have trouble keeping track of my latest information, any more than I have trouble keeping track of screwdrivers. I just use a different method of keeping the most current information available.

Don't forget books. I have a sizable collection of reference books, almost all of which I have read from cover to cover. Even with computers, books are still a valuable tool for providing a framework for research. It is important to get advice from others from time to time and books give advice.

I also attend conventions. Not as much as I would like to due to my heavy commitments in other areas, but often enough to remind me of the need for personal contact with other genealogists. Fortunately for me, I work in a rather large Regional Family History Center and work with dozens and dozens of other volunteers. It may be a little strange to think of other genealogists as tools, but they are part of a support network that enhances my own knowledge. Since they know I keep learning about anything going on, there is sometimes a competition to try and tell me about something new that I haven't heard about yet. When you are expected to know things, you will spend more time learning than you might have otherwise.

There are a lot of other tools in my genealogy tool kit, including classes, seminars, libraries, and many other things that help to find my ancestors and those of others around me.

1 comment:

  1. Digital cameras have certainly changed how genealogists research when traveling... they save so much time, which allows for investigating more resources.