Out on a Limb: Pile Driver

By David A. Fryxell Premium

Not to brag, but last week I took one bulging folder of genealogy research and sorted it into a half-dozen more manageable folders, each carefully labeled by surname and geographic location.

OK, that may not sound like much of an accomplishment to those not bitten by the genealogy bug. But those of you who share my woes of piled-up papers, teetering mounds of photocopies and “I know that will transcription is in here somewhere” are no doubt standing and applauding my initiative by this point. (Sure, there are a few of you out there who are avid family historians and scrupulously well-organized. We’ve seen you with your six colors of file folders, each fronted with a family group sheet, with your label gun and paper clips — also color-coded — and your maddening ability to locate every fact you’ve found about every ancestor. Go ahead and flip the page, both of you.)

I was inspired to this heroic act of organizational eptitude (if there’s such as thing as ineptitude, there must be eptitude, right?) by this issue’s cover story. I confess to being in awe of the article’s author, contributing editor Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, who wrote a whole book on getting your genealogical act together, Organizing Your Family History Search (Betterway Books). Sharon has every ancestor in his or her place, every family fact documented to a degree that would stand up to cross-examination by Perry Mason.

But don’t be intimidated. While you or I may never achieve the organizational nirvana Sharon has attained, we can still make progress. Just look at me, turning file-folder chaos into facts at my fingertips! Sharon’s article, beginning on page 22, shows you step-by-step how to wrassle your family tree facts into submission and start reaping pedigree charts from piles of random research.

Even if your research is relatively well in order, you’ll need Sharon’s tips to keep up with all the new findings the rest of this issue will help unlock. Do you have roots in the United States’ neighbor to the north? Consult contributing editor Maureen Taylor’s guide to getting started in Canadian research (page 36). Maybe you even have royal ancestors — or wish you did. Associate editor Susan Wenner shows you how to add some “crowning achievements” to your family tree beginning on page 52. And whatever military service your ancestors performed, military historian Mark Haviland can help you go beyond the basics of name, rank and serial number; see his how-to guide to “War Stories” on page 28.

You’ll also glean a wealth of new information from the CD-ROMs that contributing editor Rick Crume rounds up on page 44. Frankly, the profusion of data discs can seem as much a mess as most genealogists’ aforementioned filing “systems” — unless you know which ones to pick. Rick has done your homework for you, sorting through stacks of CDs to find 65 of the very best to jump-start your genealogy.

Now if I could just get somebody to come to my house and do the organizational work for me on all those other bulging folders…

From the April 2002 issue of Family Tree Magazine