Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cleanup in Aisles 1-1,000

Last month on Facebook Dave McDonald admonished fellow genealogists to start sorting and weeding their stuff now. Or, in other words, don't wait until you're dead to get started.

He is so right. As an amateur I filled at least two four-high file drawers, and eventually I just quit filing and started shoving unfiled papers into a drawer of their own.

What did I think I was doing? I was caught up in the enthusiasm, and didn't fully realize how incomplete (read: useless) a collection of records can be if it is not linked together by a train of thought -- necessarily a coherently and clearly written train of thought. Putting the pieces in a database doesn't count.

These days I'm sorting and discarding and saving in a 10-minutes-a-day routine, so that the overall task does not become too onerous. The only reason I can do it at all is that I know there are gems in there for some collateral families that I may live to write up. But all that time and energy in the accumulation! -- I could sure use some of it now.

The point is not to clean house. For that I could hire three college students and a dumpster. The point is that there is no point in researching what we are not going to turn into a story of one kind or another. Nothing else is likely to survive. Raw materials for sure will get the dumpster solution. When I look at the raw materials now, I can usually (not always) recall which of my 4 grandparents any given surname connected to ten or twelve years ago. So they are retrievable and useable.

If there were only one portal through which people could enter into genealogy, and if I could sit there 24/7, and if I were allowed to say only one thing to every happy hopeful entrant, it actually would not be about citations or even standards. Just this: "Don't consume records faster than you produce written conclusions and stories."

If it's not worth writing up, it's not worth researching in the first place.

Harold Henderson, "Cleanup in aisles 1-1,000," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 3 April 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Family Curator said...

Well said, Harold. And I especially like your 10-minute dump run. That's do-able. Sort of like cleaning out the junk closet, one shelf at a time.

Amy Johnson Crow said...

I do like the 10-minute-at-a-time clean-up method. Although, looking around my office, I think I'm going to need lots and lots of "10 minutes"!

You've got me thinking about the last sentence. I need to mull that over a little bit...

Cynthia Berryman said...

I love this post! It's all so true, but I especially love the way it's written. I smiled through the whole piece, and several parts made me laugh out loud. You're a great communicator and a very funny man. Keep that up, and I'll keep reading!!

Christopher Washler said...

Harold, I cannot begin to express how much I wish someone had given me your "Don't consume records faster than you produce written conclusions and stories" advice back when I started doing genealogy! Now, I'm pursuing a 10 minutes a day strategy now (though it's more like 30 minutes a week at best) in addition to all of the writing and documentation.

Michelle Goodrum said...

So true!

I'm working on this exact issue today myself. Only, for today, it's in a larger chunk than 10 minutes.

Wyo Spring said...

I used to spend 3 or more days in Salt Lake LDS library, and would spend months analyzing , documenting, and sourcing all I found. But now with the internet and availability of soooooo much. I can't keep up! Now I have piles that are waiting.....I am lucky because I've always from day 1 of doing genealogy for 40 yrs. sourced every piece of information even it was only "Aunt Katy said this in Belfry, Mont. Jul 6 ,1962. I need more than 10 min. I want to do a small stack every day. Good post.

Chris Davis said...

Harold, your comment re-invigorated me. Thank you! Like my grandma used to say ... "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!"