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

Monday, July 17, 2017

What is a Digital Genealogical Workflow? Part Three: Organizing and Accessing the Digital Notes

Incorporating computers and all their iterative devices into a daily genealogical workflow is an interesting challenge. For me, the word "interesting" connotes activities that are both challenging and difficult. You can only begin to rely on a digital workflow if you have already begun to use digital devices ubiquitously. For example, if you are still using a flash drive as a primary element in your digital work flow, then you are dependent on remembering to carry a flash drive everywhere you might need one. A true conversion to a digital workflow relies on using digital items that you will automatically and consistently have with you. Fortunately, those devices now exist in the form of smartphones, tablets or iPads, computers and a means to connect all those devices together almost seamlessly.

In addition, the digital workflow assumes that you have either a way to store digital documents and images without resorting to a secondary storage device such as a flash drive or hard drive and further that you know how to integrate all of you research activities into this digital workflow.

The whole idea of digital incorporation breaks down if the genealogist resists using any one of the devices or activities involved in the process. One example is if the genealogist hates his or her smartphone and sees it as a "tether." This usually comes from a feeling of compulsion to respond to every outside inquiry that comes through that channel of access to the internet. Basic to this whole concept of using electronic devices as tools is the idea that they are "tools" and when used for purposes other than "work" they become distractions. For example, if I use my smartphone or tablet to access Facebook all day or to play video games, I am defeating the concept of using the device for a tool. Essentially, this is an issue of self-control and discipline. If you become addicted to texting or Facebook or Instagram, you will be incapable of viewing these electronic devices as working tools.

In my case, I operate in a larger genealogical community composed of many different contacts. Researching my own genealogy and that of others is a major component of what I do, but writing, presenting and working in the BYU Family History Library are also major components of my daily workflow. Depending on your own involvement, you may not feel the need to maintain almost constant contact with the larger genealogical community, but the basic tools are still part of the process.

For example, my iPhone is part of the set of digital tools that enables me to capture information from libraries, cemeteries, archives and other research location and integrate the images I capture into my workflow. But let's start at the core of the workflow concept and work outward to the use of a smartphone.

The core idea of a digital workflow is the use of a centrally located family tree program that supports all of your digital activities. The idea here is to eliminate unnecessary steps in the research process so that information is acquired, stored, evaluated and made permanently accessible in a way that avoids duplication of effort and loss of data.

To start out, I will repeat an example of moving information from a paper-based document or record, i.e. a book, through the process to storage.

Step One: Acquisition
Let's suppose that I am sitting in a library and find a book with information about my target research family. Assuming the library allows me to use my smartphone, I take a photo of the title page and the page or pages where the information is found. I have now acquired the information and the way to create a citation to the source.

Step Two: Storage
This step is automatic if I have set up my smartphone to archive all my images in an online storage program. Either while I am taking the photos, if an internet connection from my smartphone is available, or when I leave the library and once again I am online, the images are automatically transferred to an online image storage program such as Google Photos, Amazon Photos, Dropbox Photos or some other backup program.

Step Three: Evaluation
When I arrive home and I am sitting in front of my desktop computer or when I have access to my laptop or whatever, I can then review the digitized images I have gathered and begin the process of transferring all of the data into my designated family tree program. As I have written many time before, I use the Family Tree for this purpose. But, depending on your preferences, you could use another online program or a local computer-based program. This is the step where duplication of effort becomes a real issue. If you have to copy or re-key the information more than once, you will begin to resent the extra effort and either delay incorporating the information into your work flow or lose it altogether.

The Evaluation process is really where the research begins and ends. If you do not carefully examine all the information you have gathered, the whole process is a waste of time. In this process, I use a series of online documents that are available either from Google Docs, Dropbox, or some other program that allows me to keep my notes and observations in a format that is readily accessible from any one of my devices. By the way, many of the desktop programs available today, have online digital counterparts that allow you to synchronize your database to a variety of electronic devices.

Step Four: Creating Accessibility
Organizing your data is essentially the process of tagging and incorporating all of the information in an accessible fashion. For example, if I tag all of the information and add sources to every individual mentioned in the document or record, then I have a consistent and usable way to review and evaluate all the information I gather. The information then stays accessible to all my devices.

There are still a few more details that need to be addressed. I am also adding this series to the list of topics that will be covered in the future by a BYU Family History Library YouTube Video. Occasionally, I find myself repeating what I have already said or written. But this is a process of evolving ideas and come back to the same topics allows me to expand and change the perspective on what I am saying. For example, see "Taking Advantage of Your Smartphone for Genealogy - James Tanner."

Please see the following for the earlier posts in this series.

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