5 Reasons I Wish I Could Travel Back in Time and Smack My 1995-Self

5 Reasons I Wish I Could Travel Back in Time and Smack My 1995-Self

by Kerry Scott on 28 September 2010

There’s nothing like going through old stuff to drive home the fact that you used to be a complete idiot.

I’m in the process of going through old files from the days when I first started researching my family.  It’s painful.  It’s humbling.  It’s full of dumb things like:

  • Scraps of paper.  Apparently I was cheap even in my early 20s, because there doesn’t seem to be any surface on which I wouldn’t take notes.  Old envelopes from the electric company?  Check.  Napkins from a baby shower?  Check.  Pay stubs?  Check.  Dilbert-of-the-Day calendar pages?  Check.  My old personalized notepads from when I worked for the phone company?  Check (although actually it was kind of cool to see those again).  CLUE:  Only take notes on standard-sized sheets of paper.  Little scraps get lost or misfiled.  In fact, it’s 2010, so you should take your notes on a computer and avoid this problem altogether.
  • Cross-Line Cavorting.  Evidently it seemed like a good idea to throw completely unrelated lines together on the same pages when I took notes.  I’ve pages of notes with as many as eight different unrelated families on them.  Filing them is a nightmare.  That’s probably why they have been sitting un-filed since 1995.  CLUE:  Think about where you’re going to file stuff when you create documents.  Don’t mix your Smiths with your Joneses unless you want them in the same folder for all eternity.  Otherwise, separate your notes onto different sheets of paper from the start.
  • Failure to Update.  If I would have kept up with the updates to my genealogy software during the ten years my research was on hold, I probably would have noticed that sometime during that period, my database became completely messed up.  As I bought new computers during that period, I faithfully transferred my data…not knowing that it was totally corrupted.  CLUE:  Keep your software updated.  Open old files from time to time.  Make sure everything still works.  Backups don’t help if you’re backing up bad stuff.
  • Psychic Notes.  I have tons and tons of information (on those scraps of paper) that came from…where?  Thin air?  Genealogy psychic?  A dream I had?  Who knows?  CLUE:  Never ever put anything in a file without noting exactly where it came from.  You may think you’ll remember…but trust me, you won’t.  That means you won’t know whether it’s credible or not, and you’ll waste a ton of time finding out.  That’s dumb.
  • Pink Ink.  I’m stunned to find that I went through a phase during which I took notes using hot pink ink.  I can’t even picture myself doing something like that…but I recognize the handwriting, and it’s mine.  Was I bubbly?  Did I chew gum?  Was I still using a curling iron on my bangs?  Who knows.  But I cringe every time I see notes from that era.  CLUE:  Use blue or black ink.  It’s easier to scan and photocopy, and you won’t be confronted with evidence that you were kind of a cream puff back in the day.  Treat your work like serious business, because even if you don’t feel that way now, you might in the future.

Photo by Mixy

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

JL September 28, 2010 at 10:35 am

Ditto. I never met a notebook I could get along with.


Michelle Goodrum September 28, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Your comment about restricting your notes to one family per piece of paper is right on. I too have many notes, with 2 or more family lines on the same piece of paper, that have never been filed because I didn’t know whether to file them under Smith or Jones. I wish I would have learned that tip a lot sooner!

As for the hot pink ink, I went through that phase too. Why? I haven’t a clue.


Carol September 28, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Oh, ya, been there, done that, err, make that, still do that. Old habits die really really hard. But, I keep trying, and enjoying (well, sometimes it becomes overwhelming and frustrating) for the most part.


Susan Tiner September 28, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I really doubt you were a cream puff. But this is good advice, and not just for genealogy but any work you take seriously. We’ve had this issue working on the iPhone/iPad App projects because there are so many code, image and audio files we have to track across two devices and multiple versions. We finally got smart and came up with a naming convention that will scale nicely as we add new projects.


Greta Koehl September 28, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Guilty, guilty, guilty. Mixed family notes – hours of copying them into separate files. Not noting where something came from – and then it became a critical piece of information later. Where do I line up for a smack in the head?


Free Genealogy Resources September 28, 2010 at 9:46 pm

I’ve been guilty of most of these at some point or another. I’m finally breaking the psychic notes (loved the genealogy psychic posts btw) habit, but the scrap paper addiction is still going strong. If someone is giving me information, I write it down on whatever is handy. I don’t think any were written in hot pink, but I know for a fact that a few were written with one of my 4 year old’s crayons because I couldn’t find a pen. There might be one with glitter ink, though. Does that count?


Leah September 28, 2010 at 11:42 pm

I’m guilty of all those as well, but might have you beat on the pink ink. When I first got into genealogy I was obsessed with those awful silver gel pens that really only worked on black and purple paper. Yeah, it is as bad as it sounds.


Travis LeMaster September 29, 2010 at 5:26 am

I’m guilty of crossing families on the same notes, agree that it makes it difficult to file.

Also, have found census records etc without a clue as to where they were from. At this point, better to trash those and search anew on Ancestry.

Your pink ink comment made me laugh. I’ve used purple.


Heather Wilkinson Rojo September 29, 2010 at 8:23 am

I’m so cheap that all my notes are on little notepads from hotels. You know, the free ones that Hubby brings back from business trips. Teeny cheap notepads about 3″x4″, sometimes smaller. Written with the cheap hotel pens he stole…(ahem, that he borrowed along with those teeny shampoos)…. Bleeeaaah, and impossible to file or keep straight. I’ve got to break that habit FAST!


larry September 30, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Great Avice!!
I still take notes (with black ink,r blue ink or pencil) on what is handy and I mix-up families; but I DO note the sources.
When I get home I type it all up segregating(sp?) the families back together (because you know some families just don’t get along with each other.)
My typed version is checked and kept onthe comp and printed and in the files.
I don’t update my old files, will try to do that now.


Donna - What's Past is Prologue October 1, 2010 at 7:15 am

Been there, done that. I’d sure smack myself, too. I still have in my collection of disorganized papers my “notes” on one ancestor as revealed by my mother…written on a paper plate. Try admitting that to a room full of genealogists. ;-) I’m about to re-start my genea-computer program from the beginning and pretend the last 20 years of research didn’t exist. It will take me a while to go back and document EVERYTHING, but it will be worth it when I can actually determine what my source of info was. Hmm, what’s the proper source citation for a paper plate?


Barbara Poole October 1, 2010 at 10:29 am

Loved this, and I’m guilty with most of the silly no-no’s. I clearly remember too, using purple, green, red as well as the blue and black pens. They were used for my different lines when I did my genealogy family group sheets, so I would know what line belonged to each line. Enjoyed your post.


Tracy October 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Hmmm, we must have been separated at birth! I have done more on this list than I care to admit, though my big weakness was purple ink. At least I know I’m not alone.


Kerry Scott October 1, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I’m a little shocked at how many of you perfectly respectable people have a past that involves inappropriate ink colors. I am feeling about 71% better about myself now.


jo October 9, 2010 at 8:35 am

love your post, and I am so guilty. You run out of paper while spending endless hours reading a source you grab what you can.That’s why I had bills I missed cause it was near my note taking episodes, thus missed.
Sadly I still jumble my notes together into what is supposed to be surname color coded [fall purchased cheap] notebooks. Iamjust happy they can beripped out and put in a binder.
I still find myself copying something from the previous paper plate that I grabbed.
NO hope for me, though.


Angie February 11, 2011 at 11:27 am

This made me laugh – at us all – nice to know we were all young at one time. :-)


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