Spring 2017. My genealogy files are a mess! 20+ years and multiple family lines. Duplicates and large gaps are everywhere! Where and how do I clean this up? Hmmm- a magic wand? Wave the wand and files are in order with complete documentation. Digital items have easy to recognize labels. Family tree on my computer follows current standards. Data analysis is still up to me. Well, I don’t have a magic wand but I did find The Genealogy Do-Over. I ordered the book and signed up on the website for monthly guides. This post reflects my thoughts as I begin the do-over process in earnest for husband’s family tree.
How did I start? Developed a global plan then applied the plan to specific family lines. Color-coded paper files for primary branches became first priority. I reviewed record keeping forms and decided which ones to use. I had recently changed to RootsMagic for my computerized databases. A planned genealogy field trip and family reunion in Pennsylvania, Dad’s home state, directed one choice. His family tree provided the perfect venue to reexamine old skills, learn new skills and clean up digital data. Mom’s family tree became my focus for 2018. I continue to refine the process.
Now, I turn to my husband’s parents (father- Ellerbee/ Simmons; mother- Johnson/ Reed) and begin again. Green file folders hold Ellerbee family data. Red file folders hold Johnson data. Standard forms appear in most files although data may not be complete. Digital file clean-up has been hit-and-miss as I prepared a scrapbook and wrote a few blog posts. Research logs started and/or completed? Zero. The process begins again.
NOTE: 2019 goal says: “Begin paper & digital file clean-up for father-in-law’s and/or mother-in-law’s family.” Change to: “CONTINUE paper and digital clean-up for father-in-law’s and/or mother-in-law’s family.”
My initial reaction was “What a disaster!” Then, I remember the much improved content now in my parents’ digital and paper files. Preliminary work is done for husband’s family. Now comes the detailed and sometimes tedious work of review, analysis and documentation.
Start with current generation and work back in time. Generations 1 and 2, including siblings, are up-to-date. I have basic information on direct line ancestors. I followed the same sequence more-or-less with my parents’ families, i.e., direct line ancestors first with occasional side trips to collateral relatives.
What prompted my decision to learn more about a specific collateral relative? The receipt of vintage pictures from a cousin was one reason. Review of early notes and questions about previous findings suggested new directions. Online comments or an email from a distant cousin led to seeking more details. Information about one person revealed a tantalizing clue about another person. And, I was off in pursuit of the next person! In a few cases, I just wanted to know when a person died and/or if they married.
I recently received an information request from an Ellerbee distant cousin. I have an original source that she didn’t have. I scanned and sent the relevant information. In return, she shared information about her direct ancestor, a sibling of husband’s direct ancestor. I love the give and take of genealogy!!
Now comes my dilemma. Do I start with husband’s direct line great-great-great grandfather and work forward? Or, do I follow the more standard procedure of working from husband’s grandparents back? Working forward from John Ellerbee (born about 1808, Georgia) seems more glamorous. This path shines brightly with possible detractors that could easily derail my plan. Starting with Ellerbee grandparents appears to be a straighter and better lighted path with fewer shiny pebbles as detractors.
The Board for Certification of Genealogists offers some guidance. One genealogy research standard addresses “efficient sequence.” Specifically, “Research plans specify the order for examining resources. These sequences give priority to efficient discovery of useful evidence.” The term “efficient discovery” stands out for me. Which procedure will enable me to discover information in the most efficient manner? In general, more current information is easier to discover. The straighter path seems less exciting but still leads to important results.
Answer seems obvious- start with Ellerbee grandparents. (Big Sigh!). Last week, I found a probate record for John Ellerbee. The record lists children’s names including married surnames of daughters. One entry confirmed information provided by distant cousin about her ancestor. Detour! I created research logs for John and his two wives. Citation revision continues in database. I note questions and observations for later follow -up. When this is done, I will return to the more recent past and pick up with Ellerbee grandparents.
Now that I’ve started, I feel less overwhelmed. Thanks for listening!
I used this post to explore my current dilemma. Writing helped to defuse my sense of despair about the status of the Ellerbee and Johnson files. I admit to applying Genealogy Do-Over principles inconsistently and rarely to these files over the last few years.
Recent family death and another family emergency greatly affected my motivation to work on genealogy over the last 4-5 months. I have kept up with genealogy blogs.
What I learned: Journaling is a way to think through a dilemma. Remembering positive results from application of Genealogy Do-Over principles to my parents’ family trees. Specifically, careful review of documents revealed previously unknown information and presented new insights. I am leaving a better legacy for later genealogists.
What helped: Writing this post. Previous experience with Genealogy Do-Over principles. Having standardized format for record keeping. Color coded files in place. Knowledge of both family lines from previous research. Some clean-up of Ellerbee and Johnson files is done.
What didn’t help: Personal frustration.
To-do: Complete work on John E. Ellerbee with currently available information. Leave questions for another time. Focus on Ellerbee grandparents next. Follow research plan including documentation.
 Thomas MacAntee, The Genealogy Do-Over Workbook (Hack Genealogy : 2019); digital images, PDF version.
 Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 2nd ed.. (Nashville, TN: Turner Publishing Company, 2019), page 13.
 “Florida, County Judge’s Court (Hillsborough County),” digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 May 2019), entry for John Ellerbee, 1 Dec 1886, file 73, Hillsborough County; citing “Florida, Wills and Probate Records, 1810-1914” [database online], Florida County, District and Probate Courts.