Sunday, October 4, 2009

Darn the disorganization...full speed ahead!

Preparing materials for the launch of the new Web site "Descendants of David SCOTT, Sr., 1791-1866" has brought into heightened relief several impressions which have previously flitted through my brain. Primary among those is just how weak my organizational skills are!

I thought I had a pretty good filing system set up. Oh yes, there were those folders labeled "Genealogy to File" stuffed to overflowing with miscellaneous papers. And there are notebooks from research trips—some of which have been transcribed, others which no doubt contain very important material which has yet to be entered in its proper place.

Add to the mix the three active computers and the two back-up drives from now-defunct computers, each with their own files—some of which are the same, some of which are different. Do you begin to see a problem developing? We will not even entertain the possibility of a massive computer failure which could wipe out hundreds of hours of research results in a nanosecond. No, hard copies do not yet exist of most of it.

However, the most serious complication of all is the Anti-Genealogy Gremlin. He’s the one who is hiding that 1992 letter from the cemetery describing where David Sr.’s son William SCOTT is buried, how he came to be there, and what caused his death. I can tell you that it was printed on cream-colored paper and had a picture logo across the top. But can I find it? No!!! I’m sure it’s somewhere, but where?

Even more frustrating is the fact that I can’t find the land certificate for the Missouri land David Sr. bought, upon which son Andrew later settled. I know I had it just a few days ago because I scanned it and sent it to Katina. But when she asked me to transcribe it because it was difficult to read, I discover that it has disappeared into thin air. The Gremlin strikes again!

And I know I read just within the last week an e-mail from a woman in California (probably the one who helped me obtain the estate papers for William) telling me that she had gone by the cemetery office and reread the entry giving William’s cause of death. It was slightly different from the missing letter, whose sad description of “consumption and chill” is forever seared into my memory (how sad is that? to die alone thousands of miles away from your family of tuberculosis and being cold!). I’m pretty sure it was something like “congestion and chill,” but it would certainly be nice to have her exact words.

I think the Anti-Genealogy Gremlin (shall we just call him AGG) is also responsible for the cluttering up of our schedules with things like cooking and cleaning and laundry and time with family and making some money to support one’s genealogy habit. So many of those things pale in importance when we consider the eternal nature of our efforts to reconstruct these families and preserve their stories. But somehow, not everyone in the living family sees things the same way!

After being involved in family history for four and a half decades, I guess it’s not incomprehensible that there would be a lot of material floating around. But this is ridiculous! I have begun trying to establish a “Best” file in which I store the “primary” copy of each of those files, planning to add additional fragments in as they are located. I’m trying to figure out how to file things so I can find them again (if the AGG ever relinquishes his hold on some of those important papers). But looking at the scope of the project, I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll live long enough to complete it—and I’m not even that old!

I took a class once which said that you should never go to sleep until you have transcribed and filed all your research materials you found that day. Easy for him to say! But I suppose that is the message I feel driven to relay to all of you fellow researchers who may be struggling with the same overwhelming piles of paper. We must do better!

Is it possible that the AGG has access only to those papers we lay aside, thinking “I’ll file that in a minute...but I’ve got an idea for something I want to look up!” Can he only rifle through the stacks of materials that seem to accumulate so easily at various locations throughout the house—in the office, on the dining room table, beside the recliner?

If so, we must beat him. We cannot allow him to thwart our worthy efforts. Whatever it takes, we must preserve our research and make it usable for those who follow after us!

Oh yes, how about the nine boxes of assorted materials that one of our cousins just received from the children of a deceased researcher! Among the Green Stamps and old newspaper ads, there are undoubtedly gems of information which we’re hoping to discover (if our diligent cousin doesn’t lose her mind first). But wouldn’t it have been wonderful if it had all been organized into files, with narratives of conclusions or suppositions or questions all spelled out? Apparently, the AGG travels all the way to Washington State!

Considering the gravity of this situation, may I make a suggestion. Let’s make war on he who strives to defeat us. And let’s not let him win the first battle, which is indeed in the mind. He would like to convince us that the task is simply too big, that we’ve already lost control of our collection and there’s no way we’ll ever regain it.

It has to be done step by step, page by page, loose paper by loose paper, file folder by file folder. When we find a really unusual record and can’t figure out why we looked for it, let’s flag it somehow. And then when we come across the entry which had inspired that search, we can go back and write down our reasoning.

Finally, let’s remember all of that determination when we go forward. Let’s pledge each other that we will do our best to be better, to file promptly, to record our evaluations and assumptions while we have those little flashes of insight and understand something new. Let’s not allow the AGG to convince us that we’re too tired to file tonight, that we need a vacation from this work, that later is always better.

Now is the battle! And although there are other very important conflicts raging around us, may we remember that we are working toward eternal goals. May we keep in mind those who loved each other and have somehow gotten lost and are very much longing to be found.

So even though the AGG is nipping at our heels, we must go forward to victory! (The drama is intentional!)


  1. Oh my goodness - have you secretly slipped into my genealogy room when I wasn't looking and are now exposing all my bad habits, just nicely fictionalized with other ancestors' names??? I like the term "AGG" because it goes so nicely with something I wrote about on my blog, GADD - genealogical attention deficit disorder - which causes one to flit from one line of research to another.

    I can tell I'm going to enjoy your blog!

  2. Thanks! I was hoping there were kindred spirits somewhere out there. My family thinks I'm one of a kind (and not necessarily in a complimentary way).

    I love your GADD. I guess the only mediation to that problem would be to be sure to leave a little bread crumb at every junction so someone who comes looking for us (or our research) can tell which way we were going...and maybe why as well.

  3. Great post! Humorous and so easy to relate. I'm sure nearly all of us have had attacks from the AGG!