Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Success: My Geriatric Fiesta

The great thing about the American South is they hold onto their history. If you hail from anywhere south of the Mason Dixon, you can be sure that someone in your family has a great stash of treasures just waiting for you to discover them.

That has been the case with my great aunt Shirley.

She gave me my first great start in doing genealogy. I was 17 and just starting to see some progress on my work. I was getting pretty discouraged that it wasn't going better. We went to Shirley's place, and she showed me a 20 page genealogy some distant cousin had sent her. I went from having a handful of names to hundreds of names.

Over time, I grew wiser and learned how to document and check someone else's work. And that was when I realized I probably didn't get everything Aunt Shirley had. She still had all of my great grandmother's stuff. There had to be answers to questions I still had somewhere in the ephemera of Callie's possessions.

So I called her up and made arrangements to go back. When I showed up, she had a dining room table full of boxes. Albums, stray documents, copies, envelopes, and stacks and stacks of pictures. At first I was like:

But it wasn't until I tried to reach for my first box that I realized this would take a long time, and it would take longer if I did it wrong. Then I was like:

Some helpful hints for any large-scale scanning opportunities you have this holiday season.

Don't get overwhelmed

Eventually I just decided to go by box, that way I could put it all back the way I found it. Several times I had to remember that I wasn't there to organize the boxes of stuff she has, especially since she doesn't ever plan on going through these things again. I'm here to digitize them. Just grab one and dig in. But don't go crazy and unpack the whole box all at once, or you'll skip stuff and scan things twice.

Or just make a mess.

Review first, copy second

Don't waste time unpacking a box or scanning things that have nothing to do with you. I don't need to scan pictures from the 2004 Disneyland vacation. It's important to be thorough and make sure you don't miss anything by accident. But if you're tight on time, focus your sights. Make a list of what you need to find so you search, not mosey through the boxes. It'll help you to keep your pace and not get distracted.

If you're there with other family members, be sure to include them in what you're doing. Looking at old photographs can help jog their memories so good stuff falls out. Ask them questions about the things you're looking at. In the process of asking about a newspaper article about my grandfather's death, I found out about an article for my grandmother's little sister I had no idea existed.

But if including them becomes problematic or distracting, like them telling you the same story for the third time in a row, taking a break to spend time with them doing something else is a good idea.

Budget your time

I gave myself three days. Any more than that, I knew it would be more polite to come back for another trip because I only live an hour away. Budget differently based on your likelihood of coming back and the present circumstances of your visit. Aunt Shirley was going in for surgery and I was helping to babysit her husband with Alzheimer's. I don't want to create more work for them. For the amount of work I had to do, three days was ideal. I was able to go at a comfortable pace.

When I got bored with scanning pictures I changed it up. I'd take a break for about 10 minutes, then do documents instead. When I couldn't deal with boxes anymore, I started organizing and labeling the files on my computer. I kept switching it up so I could keep working, and the change of pace made it possible for me to find everything that I did. I got more done switching things up than if I just had a scanning bonanza and waited to "do the rest later."

Small doses are better

Maybe it's because scanning is such a repetitious activity, but eventually you start to burn out.

So do your work in bite sizes. Make small piles of things to scan. Scan them. Put them back. Maybe sort and label the files on your computer. Set a start time or a stop time, or set a goal for the number of things you want to scan. Once you reach your goal, give yourself a present. I got myself some presents before, during AND after I finished.

Share the love

One of the greatest gifts you can give to your family is to share what you discover in small, but meaningful ways. Shirley loved hearing about Pomp Fenity's autograph album. I also shared pictures with my mom via Facebook. And be sure to send a thank you card to whoever has just allowed you to make a royal mess at their house. Be sure to include a picture, relatives love that sort of thing.

Scanning trips don't have to be difficult. They can be fun, meaningful, productive experiences. If you organize yourself and take your time, you can discover indispensable knowledge you never knew you couldn't live without!

Happy Holidays!