Now Where Did I Put That Birth Certificate?

Many researchers justify their filing “system” with the defensive, “Oh, I know where everything is!” I know that’s what they say, because I’m saying that (to myself) all the time! I really do know where everything is, of course. It’s somewhere in my office, where else would it be?

But if you really and truly want to find that birth certificate you better set aside a large portion of your afternoon to find it. That is, if you were me.

THE FIRST PROBLEM

Years ago, I printed EVERYTHING whether I needed it or not because whatever it was, I might need it someday. Those were the days of dial-up connections. When you finally got the page to paint up, it was truly a victory worth savoring. I savored by printing.  And printing and printing. Paper clips grew to be too small; those paper “clamps” came in assorted sizes and I have them all; file folders proliferated everywhere; a used 5-drawer vertical filing cabinet (tag sale: $5.00); and 3 desk drawers for hanging folders in 3 separate desks. No problem.

THE SOLUTION TO THE FIRST PROBLEM: DROPBOX

Well, yes, that’s a problem. First line of attack was DropBox. I teach genealogy classes from start-up researchers to advanced. At one time, I printed a blizzard of handouts for the attendees. After burning out 3 printers and moving on to my forth, I began to put all classroom material in DropBox. You can see what I’ve got here. Click on the “Useful Documents” tab at the top and there you’ll find a link to “Useful Genealogy Documents.”  Now you might be saying to yourself, “Why not just give them the DropBox link.” I’m so glad you asked that question because on the surface, it seems to be the logical thing to do. Here’s the reason: In order to get to the documents folder, I’m making a visit to my website a part of the path because there’s more there than just documents! I also learned another clever strategy from DearMYRTLE that involves PayPal. More on that in another post! But now, I bring one thing to that first class, usually blank pedigree charts for everyone. Filling them out becomes a “homework assignment.”

THE SECOND PROBLEM

I have piles of paper. A better description would be mounds of paper. An even better description would be mountains of paper. But it all makes sense, you see, because I know where everything is. Just don’t ask for a specific document and I’ll find something that might come close.

So at a recent NEAPG meeting at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, we saw several excellent presentations. But one in particular inspired me. Barbara Mathews, CG and a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists among other accomplishments is a very experienced and highly qualified genealogist. She showed us how she sorted out and kept track of 11 years of research on ONE family!  It was all stacked neatly in file boxes, labeled and easy to access. That led me to a possible solution.

THE SOLUTION TO THE SECOND PROBLEM: FILE BOXES (NEATLY LABELED)

When I had a chance a few days, I dug out 8 boxes that seemed to be an appropriate size. Like Barbara, I labelled each: “genealogy,” “old bones,” client research,” “personal,” “household,” and a few other broad categories. Then came the hard part. I started to actually touch every single piece of paper in that room and casually but confidently tossing each into its appropriate box. Sounds good, right? Well, it depends. I have yet to find the time to start “sub-sorting” each box of stuff and figuring out what to do with every single piece of paper in those boxes.

THE THIRD PROBLEM

Now comes the important decisions. I’m determined to shred every last piece of paper I have. In order to get to that stage, other than fireplace fodder, I needed an organizational plan. I needed to seriously cogitate, come up with an excellent strategy so that everybody would say, “That’s brilliant.” Actually, getting to the brilliant part could be the fourth problem, but bear with me for a few more minutes.

THE SOLUTION TO THE THIRD PROBLEM: TECHNOLOGY

Technology. Remember I’ve been at this since 1969. Other than a brief 25 year hiatus, genealogy has been at the forefront of my mind and the purpose of my very existence. Other than my family, genealogy takes up nearly all of my time. As a result, the records are a critical component of my life.

So what did I have here? Client work, documents of all stripes, handouts from dozens of presentations or webinars that I have attended live and virtual, a few syllabi from conferences, presentation material, copies of applications (SAR, DAR, various genealogical societies around the country), instructions, “How-To” operate various pieces of hardware and their warranties and the list goes on and on.  First, I will devise a clever filing system. I can’t just dive into this project; it has to be logical so that I’ll be able to find everything tomorrow and 10 years from now. It would be boring for me to tell you what I’m in the midst of doing right now. OK, no, I’m really not doing any of this right now. But after the holidays…

The plan: scan and shred, scan and shred, scan and maybe shred. I use an all-in-one HP printer

The SHREDDER!

The SHREDDER!

that is reasonably reliable and, of course, my smartphone, both of which I described in my last post. But here’s the good news for me. There was a sale on the ever popular and ubiquitous Flip-Pal portable scanner. It should be here in a couple of days. These three devices will allow me to scan everything regardless of shape or condition. From the printer, I can rename it and file it immediately. The broad categories would be client work, my own family research, household documents, society documents and records (NEAPG, NERGC, WMGS, etc), genealogy class materials and curricula, medical records, warranties and a few others. From the Flip-Pal, I believe the scans will go to a flash drive or what would be even better, I might be able to scan directly to my computer. My smartphone will then be supplanted by the Flip-Pal.

The start of the "Big Fix"

The start of the “Big Fix” – Click on the image to view

Once I have all of this business electronically filed in the broad categories, I will be able to create subfolders to further sort all the data. Most of the subfolders are already created, but I’m very sure there will be more. Then, sometime in 2016 or beyond, I’ll be able to call myself “The Organized Genealogist” except someone has already claimed that moniker. I’ll have to find something else. Any suggestions?

I wish I could say that it’s a simple solution. Well, it is actually. Put things where they belong is simple. It’s just not easy. It’ll take a great deal of my time, time that I currently can’t spend. Had I known then what I know now with regards to how busy I was going to make myself…never mind, I probably wouldn’t have done anything substantially different. It’s seeing the results of poor planning that has brought me here. And now, instead of burning out my printer, I’ll probably burn out my shredder!

CONCLUSION

Actually, this is far from a conclusion. But until I get my act together and ORGANIZE my genealogical life, I won’t be able to work efficiently or sleep effectively. Seriously, this “pyramid of paper” is driving me crazy. The lesson is GET ORGANIZED!

Stay tuned for Chapter 2: How I learned to get organized and the fabulous, productive, rewarding results. This stage will have to include organizational tools such as Evernote, OneNote or anything to which I can adapt smoothly and easily, if there is such a tool!

2 thoughts on “Now Where Did I Put That Birth Certificate?

  1. Ellen Marie Janik

    Great article Dave, I can totally relate. Looking forward to using this same plan in my office( which at present time is a gift wrapping station!). Here’s to getting organized in 2016. Cheers! EJ

    Reply

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