Thursday, September 29, 2011

Using to-do lists in genealogical research

I was very surprised to read this recently on Randy Seaver's blog: Genea-Musings: Can I Ever Tame (even manage?) my Genea-Monster?

I have never used the to-do lists in genealogy software. I probably should do that, but I haven't. My mind set was that I would have to print out each to-do list from each of the ancestral families that I wanted to research in the libraries and archives. Of course, if I had checked my RootsMagic program more carefully, I would have seen that they have several types of To-Do lists to use, and they can be printed out either separately or as one general list.

Randy is an experienced genealogist, and so I thought he would have discovered the usefulness of the to-do lists by now.

We use Legacy, and whenever we come across something that we think we should look up, we create a to-do item. These can be related to particular individuals in the database, or they can be general.

In South Africa, most of the things on our to-do list are for the archives, and they are scattered in different depots around the country. The archives indexes, however, are online here. Go ahead, try them. Go to one of the search pages and type in the name of someone you know, you might be surprised, even if you, or they never lived in South Africa. Choose the RSA index for a start.

So if I find an item in the archives relating to a person in my database, I create a to-do entry with the description "Call for", followed by the archives reference. So in the task list I have something like:

Call for MSCE 1216/1965 - Grice, Wilfrid Robert

and in the task description field I have more information from the index, in this case "Grice, Wilfrid Robert, b. Durban, s/s Alice Gladys, b. Laffan, 1965-1966" (the "s/s" means "surviving spouse" - the other possibility is "p/s", meaning "predesceased spouse").

This particular one is in the archives in Pietermaritzburg, so if I am going to visit there, I can print a to-do list for all the things I need to look up there, in priority order, and as I complete them I mark them as completed and change the priority to "Low", so they won't show up in future lists of things to look up there. And I also edit the task line, changing "Call for" to "Seen".

I have found this a very useful tool, and it saves a great deal of time. I go to the archives with a printed list of what I want to look up there, and I print it just before going. When I get there, each new document may have information that leads to new things to look up, so I add them to the to-do list on the laptop computer, or, if they look very interesting, call for those documents then and there.

In the same way, we have looked up references in British newspapers for family members who have married or died in the UK. You can look them up here. We enter them as we find them, while looking at the person in the database. When we went to the UK on holiday (a rare occurrence) we took a list of exactly what we wanted to look up at the Colindale Newspaper Library, and spent a morning there finding useful stuff. The to-do list feature of Legacy made it easy to do.

You can enter something two, five, ten or twenty years in advance of going to the library or archive repository, even if you may think you will never have the opportunity to go there. But if the opportunity does arise, all the things you want to look up are there, ready to be printed.

The only thing that I think could be improved in Legacy's to-do list feature is to have a way of converting a general to-do item to a specific one by linking it to a person. You may find information that links that person to your family, so you add them to the database. But the to-do item showing the document you used is still a "general" one, so there is a possibility that you might look it up twice.

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