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