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June 1, 2010

Can You Teach an Old Genealogist New Tricks?

Oh boy. I never learn. Or I learn the hard way.

Over the last 30 plus years I've been diligently researching the Peer family of America. They came to Ontario from New Jersey in the 1790s, some stayed and some returned to America. There are descendants all over N. America. My goal has been to publish a book (or books!) on the family.

With that in mind I've "met" many descendants online. They've generously shared their family information and photographs.

Over the past month I've gotten closer to my goal of publishing my book. I've had to break it into several books as it was well over 1,000 pages in the draft format. It works well to have Vol. 1 on the immigrant ancestors Jacob & Ann - details, documents, maps, a genealogy summary of their children and children's spouses. Then each child of Jacob & Ann gets their own volume which digs down into 4 or 5 generations.

Each subsequent volume for each child (there were 8 children so 9 volumes total) will contain narrative chapters, a genealogy report and notes, maps and so on. I have wonderful photographs sent to me by other branches and other researchers and these are to be included.

Sounds easy but it requires careful organization to compile all the data, documents and photos. The problem? Remember I said "30 plus years..."? The photos that didn't come via email are scanned and in folders on my computer. The emailed photos are in folders on my computer. But over the last 10 years I've upgraded computers several times and so there are several folders scattered on my hard drive.

I spent the weekend moving photos into the correct folders, one per family branch (or volume). I was pleased to find that I had enough foresight to give each photo a good long file name such as "WilliamAlexAlviraJoseph.jpg" That allowed me to look in my genealogy program and find the branch that the photo fits into.

On some photos I even added the contributor name such as "WilliamAlexAlviraJosephFromThomas.jpg" Great! I know who shared the photo and can add their name in the books appropriately as the contributor.

But some photos have no contributor name. In my genealogy program under the name of the Peer individual it says simply "See email for more information on photo" Oh no! I didn't say who sent the photo! I just said to check my email.

But a search of all my email addresses (current ones) didn't turn up every contributor. I realized that I had a very old computer which was networked to my main one and when I got rid of the computer I neglected to copy my email files to the new one.

Therefore I do not know the names of every contributor who sent photos. I know most, but not all. I'm horrified at my carelessness. Many of the photos were sent to me several years ago and I simply don't recall who might have sent them.

Now for the "if only" part of my post:

* If only I'd kept a master list of contributors and photos

* If only I'd remembered to transfer my old emails over to my new computer three years ago

* If only I'd entered the contributor names in my genealogy program

* If only I'd organized the photos by contributor name as they came in instead of filing them away for the future

With any luck, Peer descendants with whom I've been in touch over the years will read this post and contact me to tell me they sent me photos. Most of the 60 or so photos have contributors' names attached but about a dozen have no contributor name(s).

I know better now. I'm an old genealogist but I am always learning. The hard way. My new trick is to notate items properly and carefully at the time I find or receive them. No more setting them aside for later.


Jennifer said...

It's like you were reading my mind when you wrote this, lol. I'm trying to find old emails & photo sources right now as well.

I have learned that the "properties" option on a photo can be your best friend. Just 'right click' on your photo & then click on 'properties' from the pop up menu. Click on the 'Summary' tab & it should allow you to enter Title, Subject, Author, Keyword, and Comment notes on most photos.

Barbara Poole said...

First, congratulations on your book. Of course I checked my FTM, to see how many Peers I have (3). What valuable lessons you've just shared. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes right now, but I am still correcting mistakes from when I began. Thanks for sharing this.

The Grandmother Here said...

Everyone has sad stories about pictures or files that are lost. "The courthouse burned." "The dog ate my homework." It doesn't matter if it's paper or digital, stuff happens. Noting the source is important. We learn from our mistakes and if we're smart we learn from the mistakes of others. Thanks for helping us all.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

@Jennifer - a new trick for this old genealogist! Thank you! I"ve just gone in and looked and holy cow why did I never click on the SUMMARY TAB before? What a world of frustration it would have saved me! Thank you for this great trick

Greta Koehl said...

I've tried to many ways to deal with this problem - printing out all genealogy- and photo-related e-mails, forwarding them to my "good" e-mail address, keeping lists of photo information, etc. I'm sure some important ones have fallen through the cracks, however. Well, at least we're not alone....