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

Friday, February 22, 2013

Coping with Genealogical Data Overload

I have almost 2500 automated sources sitting on generated by their extraordinary Record Search function. Basically, all I had to do was upload my family tree and voila! I have a huge number of original sources to process. This just adds to the pile of other unfinished genealogical challenges I have stacked up waiting for my attention. I realize that I am far from unique. Almost everyone I talk to in the genealogical community has some unfinished pile of something or another to worry about.

What saves me from paralysis is focusing on one task at a time. I use to do lists, not to give me daily goals, but to remind myself of all of the unfinished projects. A good example is the scanning of the thousands of negatives and photos I received indirectly from my Great-grandmother. I could easily spend all day for weeks scanning and labeling these images. But, I am forced by other commitments to do the work piecemeal. So what I do is dedicate a full day once a week or so to doing this one task. Even though some weeks, such as this one, when I am in St. George, Utah, I cannot spend any time on the project, I still have one day a week where that project is a priority and so when I get back home, I pick up the work where I left off. Scanning and labeling images has become the background to everything else I do.

One trick I have found, is using my own family files for examples in teaching classes. When I teach a class about's Family Tree program, I use the time in the instruction to edit the entries in my own family online and add more sources. Surprisingly, I make quite a bit of headway in editing the entries simply by using them as examples every week in my classes.

Presently, one of my major time consuming projects is preparing PowerPoint presentations for classes at Expos and conferences. I find this to be extremely time consuming, but by dedicating blocks of time to this effort, I can begin to make headway. Sometimes, with deadlines, I have to abandon all other activities to spend all my time with preparation. This could be frustrating, but it becomes less so, if I work steadily on the PowerPoint projects and try to stay undistracted by other activities. Fortunately, I can stay current with email and blog posts with my portable devices and use odd hours when I am waiting in lines or for appointments to keep up-to-date.

As the amount of genealogical information and data piles up, I have resorted to computer-like filtering processes to keep from getting buried in the non-essential. I use news aggregators, such as Google Reader, to give me an overview of the blog stream and I do the same thing with email. I use an email aggregator so that all my email addresses come to the same place for review. These same apps work on my iPad and iPhone so I can see email at odd times and places as I mentioned. Sometimes, if the piles get too large, you just have to cut your losses and dump a huge amount of input as read so you can, in essence, start over again the next day. For information on news aggregators see Wikipedia:News aggregator.

Like many, who have done research for years, I have a huge pile of boxes with family documents, photographs and an endless series of papers from old scrapbooks to letters. The boxes seem to defy organization. So last summer and again this coming summer, I intend to hire one or more of my grandsons to scan documents and enter metadata about the scanned documents. Fortunately, all of my grandchildren have grown up with computers and I find this to be an opportunity to help them appreciate genealogy also.

One of the things I can't do anything about is the overload of information coming over the Internet. It is sort of like processing ore in an open pit mine; only a very small percentage of the overburden is valuable ore, but you still have to dig through the whole pile. It seems like days will go by when there is nothing I am really interested in reading, but suddenly there are significant shifts and I am spending all my time just trying to keep up with the flow of newsworthy stories. It would help if all of the genealogy companies didn't wait until the same conferences to announce their new programs, but they do them all at once and I end up scrambling to keep up with the latest changes. In some rare cases, the vendors will send me new material in advance so I can write about it beforehand and be ready to release the announcement at the time the product is introduced.

Another aspect of genealogy that is changing rapidly is the availability of online sources. I have lately begun expecting records that I need to research to be online and this is becoming more and more common. Keeping up with the flood of newly digitized records is almost impossible, but the key here is knowing how to search for new records. Sometimes, huge online collections go entirely unnoticed by the genealogical community because they are outside the mainstream of their focus. For example, most genealogists have a tendency to ignore or be unaware of Trove the website of the National Library of Australia. That site alone has over 327 million Australian and online resources:books, images, historic newspapers, maps, music, archives and more. OK, so how do you find out about all this stuff, much less keep track of everything? The answer is quite complex.

Part of the answer is learning how to turn it all off. Sometimes we forget there is a power switch on all of the devices. Keeping up can be addictive so it is good idea to be acutely aware of that possibility and try to maintain balance. You do need to have a life outside of the electronics and genealogy.

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