30 May 2016

Free Civil War Records and Tips for Finding State Pensions

This morning I read in Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter about FamilySearch's new Civil War record releases. I'm always excited about more records (or even indices) coming online, but for me, the big news may be the new landing page.

This page is a listing of free online Civil War Era records (so Federal and State Census records are included as well as Freedmen's Bureau records). These are just the records provided free through FamilySearch, though. Previously, it's been time-consuming to review FamilySearch for Civil War records. This makes it much easier. However, you do need to realize these are just from FamilySearch. The list is so long; you might think it is comprehensive.

16 May 2016

Evernote for Research Planning: Beyond Just "Plans"

One of my most popular posts is the Freebie Friday with the Evernote Research Plan with Analysis form. I like having that form in Evernote, but there is so much more you can do with Evernote to help with research planning. Today I'll cover my two favorite ways to use Evernote for research planning.

10 May 2016

Is Your Genealogy Knowledge "Fuzzy?"

My last post was over a week ago. In the meantime, I have been in sunny Florida attending the 2016 NGS Conference in the States. It was a great conference, and one of the lectures, in particular, resonated with me. Not by chance, it was related to my last post about goal setting. Every so often I need a "refresher" on certain topics and this time the topic was research planning. Naturally I chose several lectures related to that topic. Why I need a refresher varies. Sometimes I need a refresher on a topic I don't use a lot or don't know a lot about (such as researching a particular ethnic group or researching in a specific location). Sometimes I need a refresher because I just feel like I've forgotten some important concept or part of a process. That's what happened this time. I have to plan research all the time, but I felt as if I was overcomplicating the process. I had already pulled out all my at-home resources, but they weren't helping with the "feeling" I had. This particular lecture made me understand why.

Audio Recording of the Lecture Available for Purchase

First, the lecture is "Developing a Successful and Efficient Research Plan" presented by Gail Jackson Miller. You can purchase a digital audio recording of the presentation from PlaybackNow, the official recording company for the conference. Most sessions, including this one, are only available as audio recordings. Also, you do not get the handout with the recording. You can purchase the single session, here.

How the Lecture Helped Me

Later I will post about some other sessions, so I'm only going to mention Ms. Miller's lecture today. I point this out because what was so helpful for me was simply a different way of thinking about the research planning process. That is why the issue I was having was a "feeling." I knew the steps to a successful research plan; I hadn't even forgotten anything.

Maximizing Your Chance for Success

A different lecture might be the one you find stands out. However, I do think it is beneficial to attend lectures, on closely related topics, presented by different lecturers. When you are new or newer to genealogy, this exposes you to the variety of ways you can do genealogy "right." It will also help you see what is consistent from presenter to presenter. Those are the things that are essential for success.

When I was less experienced (and this can also be less experienced with attending educational events, not just doing research), I learned so much from lectures that didn't exactly fit the way I think. I usually didn't know one method or another would be better for me. That was something I would learn later when I found the right method for me.

Continuing to educate yourself, even on topics where you "know" how to do something, like research planning, can make you more efficient and a better researcher. If you struggle to do something, you are less likely to do it. This can be keeping a research log, creating a research plan, taking good notes, writing a report, or any genealogical skill. Your self-education needs to educate you about the "right" way to do genealogy, which is generic, and the "right" way to do a skill for you, which is very specific. Only doing one or the other can lead to problems. It may be minor problems such as being inefficient (the task will be done and done correctly, just not efficiently) or it may be major, such as leaving out vital information (although you are very efficient with what you did).

"Developing a Successful and Efficient Research Plan"

What I liked about Ms. Miller's lecture was it looked at research planning from the view of the scientific method. In one way, what clicked for me was almost semantics. I'm comfortable with the scientific method, even though I'm not a scientist. Apparently this "scientific" approach is how my brain works. I point this out for those of you that know you do or do not, think this way. This conference seemed to have a theme of a research goal or research question being called a hypothesis or stressing you should test a hypothesis for your goal/question. If semantics were my only issue, most of the lectures would have clicked for me, but Ms. Miller's lecture was the only one that clearly fit my way of thinking.

From Fuzzy to Focused

I won't go into a lot more detail about the lecture because it will be specific to me. I do want to try and give you an idea of what might be the indication that you need to find educational material that approaches a topic from a different way of thinking.

As I said, I knew all the steps for a successful research plan. I hadn't forgotten anything---which was a possibility. I've had this kind of "feeling" about topics before, and I had forgotten a small but crucial part. "Developing a Successful and Efficient Research Plan" suddenly made everything I knew seem clear. A visual analogy would be a photo just out of focus, not so much as to be unrecognizable, just a bit fuzzy. When you haven't seen the perfectly focused picture, you might not realize there is a problem.

If there is a genealogy skill you "know" but are still struggling with, see if it is in-focus for you. First, make sure you really do know everything you should be doing for success. Sometimes it is a small issue you've forgotten. If your knowledge is sound and complete, seek out more variety in educational materials. I find lectures are very helpful for this problem because hearing the "right" explanation for you usually allows a better understanding of written material. We all learn differently. You might prefer written educational material (I need to hear and read to learn best).

Lectures usually cannot be extremely in-depth so you may need to take your education to another level once you focus your understanding. If hearing information is best for you, consider an institute in person on on-line. This will focus on a subject for multiple sessions (in person these are usually five days but on-line can vary). If reading is best for you, you can try a book or create your own in-depth education with a series of shorter works, each progressively more in-depth and covering specific topics.

Once you find what works for you, it is much easier to perform that task everytime you should. Make sure you aren't excluding an important part or step to make the task easier, though. You should be finding a method that works for you and still includes all the necessary information or steps. If you take an inappropriate shortcut, you may not even know it is causing you problems. First, you can't fix a problem you don't know you have. In genealogy, these problems often rear their heads later. You may have built your brick wall by trying to simplify something (taking a shortcut). Experience usually shows us where we went wrong but at that point, you have to go back and repeat work. Luckily you can learn from the experience of other genealogists.

If you're struggling to do a task, check and see if your knowledge is fuzzy. Make sure you know and remember what you should. If that doesn't focus your knowledge, look for a different explanation of the same information. By always continuing your genealogy education, you increase your chance for success.