On the Ides of March, go through your files…


It’s March. Spring cleaning time. SOURCE: SUPERSTOCK


…because you never know what is lurking there.

My suggestion is that you take a half hour to go through some old genealogical files.  Old fashioned PAPER files.

“But,” you say, “I have all electronic files!”

You can choose a couple of those on your computer, or a storage device, and look through them as well.

Did you find anything of interest?

In the olden days, we kept paper files because we used paper and typewriters and copy machines.  Hand written notes?  Remember those? Family sheets written out by hand?   OY!

But email?  Never heard of it in the 1970s and 1980s.  I didn’t see my first fax machine until I was an intern in Congressman Mike DeWine’s office in 1983, and even that wasn’t a modern fax machine.  NO!  We had a machine with a drum  and a telephone.  The home offices in Dayton and Marion (and you know what town is between Dayton, Ohio, and Marion, Ohio, don’t you?  Why its Engagement, Ohio!) had like machines.  Every day that would paste news clippings to a piece of paper, Xerox them (back when “Xerox” was a verb and a proper noun) and mount the page on their machine’s drum.  They would call us on the special phone, we’d answer, put a piece of silver paper on our drum, then they would push a SEND button, we would push a RECEIVE button and the drums would start turning.  The stylist on each button would start to move across the pages, copying one page in Ohio to the other in Washington, D.C.  Once it was finished with the whole page, then we would take the silver paper to the Xerox, copy it, and it was a copy of what they had sent for us to see.  All that for one page, each day.

THEN in the 1990s, we had email, which we would print off so we kept a record of it.

THEN in the 2000s we just started keeping everything on the computer, which was great until the machines wore out, crashed or were taken over by extortionists.

And now today we have people who insist that they have no files “Everything is stored on electronic media,” or, more ominously, “In the cloud!”

Which I doubt, very much.  They’ll insist, but no person is that organized.

And as my mother used to say, “Never trust a cook whose stove is spotless.”  I feel that way about people who have spotless desks, everything filed.

But if you have been working with family trees, and roots and genealogy for longer than five years, you probably have paper files.  And it more than like that you have been filing away.  Maybe you make piles.  Perhaps your desk is six feet under paper.

Either way, you have files, and periodically, you need to chose one and open it up and see what you have.

I did this just this morning when I opened the basement filing cabinet looking for something on another family line and came across a file that we moved from Ohio to Maryland four years ago.  I found amazing stuff that I had been collecting on my paternal grandmother’s family that I thought I’d get to one day.

And today, I am getting to it.  I am sorting, starting to review it, reorganizing it, and happily now, the online resources mean that TODAY I can do the research in Lithuania and Latvia that I couldn’t do five years ago.

Now, I have to say that I also love my electronic files, but I do keep both.

If you only keep electronic files, then chose a folder in your genealogy folder, open it up and click on everything.  Open it up and read it.  Ask yourself “have I used this?  Can I use this? Why haven’t I used this?”  If you are storing these files, ask yourself, what is the real value from this copy, this document, this picture?

You don’t need to get rid of it if you can’t imagine why you have it.  But with social media, you can start a basic family research page, post the stuff and invite cousins and kin to look at it and help you make sense of it.  At least this way, you files can work for you, or someone else.

So for today, go through a file and see if you learn something from something hidden in it.