Organization & Preservation Tips for Genealogy Spring Cleaning

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott—weary of this long, cold winter—jumpstarts thoughts of spring by planning his genealogy spring cleaning tasks.

Wow, what a winter we are having this year! But there is good news: March 1st was the beginning of Meteorological Spring! If you don’t believe me, just take a look at this 1937 article from a New Jersey newspaper, which says:

The astronomical Spring is fixed by the sun, the meteorological Spring by the calendar. So the weatherman’s Winter ended a week ago.

(Note: all of the newspaper articles used to illustrate this Blog post come from GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.)

Winter Departed, Says Weatherman, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 8 March 1937

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 8 March 1937, page 12

So we have passed one spring beginning, and have one to go—with this year’s astronomical start of spring occurring on March 20th with the vernal equinox.

I prefer to follow the seasons in the Farmer’s Almanac. Although the currently-produced Farmer’s Almanac has been in continuous publication since its first issue in 1818, I came across an advertisement for one of its predecessors all the way back in a 1792 Massachusetts newspaper.

ad for "The Farmer's Almanac," American Apollo newspaper advertisement 16 November 1792

American Apollo (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 November 1792, page 4

All of this talk and my dreaming of springtime got me thinking about doing some spring cleaning, especially of my genealogy and family history materials.

So I dug in and began to devise my genealogy spring cleaning plan. Although a serious project, I want to keep the work of getting things organized enjoyable—keeping in mind a delightful and fun article I once found in a 1951 Texas newspaper.

Spring Cleaning Time to Observe Safety Rules, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 19 March 1951

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 19 March 1951, section II, page 2

I got a good chuckle at a few of this newspaper article’s suggestions, such as:

  • “Never use chairs or tables in place of stepladders.”
  • “Don’t carry sharp objects or hot liquids up or down stairs if at all possible.”
  • “Avoid electrical contacts while standing on damp floors.”
  • “Avoid overtiring or muscle strain.”

If you follow my spring cleaning rules outlined below, you can avoid any overtired or strained muscles while getting a fresh start this 2014. I hope my organization and preservation tips help you with your genealogy spring cleaning tasks!

Tip #1: Digitally Copy Anything Still on Paper

I want to make my genealogy pursuit and passion something that can be easily passed on to someone in the family once I “shuffle off this mortal coil,” and to me the best way to do that is to have absolutely everything I can in digital format. Not only to preserve it, but to make it far simpler for anyone to take over. Piles of paper are just not conducive to much of anything except perhaps the “Victory Waste Paper Campaign” profiled in this article from a 1944 Oregon newspaper. It was estimated that at that time each household in Portland, Oregon, had an average of 38.5 pounds of “this No. 1, critical war material, stowed away.”

Waste Paper Hoard Larger, Oregonian newspaper article 2 June 1944

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 2 June 1944, page 13

By the way, I think I am well above this average weight of paper—hence my first genealogical spring cleaning task. So it is to my scanner I go!

Tip #2: Catalog Genealogy Books

While I will be digitally copying as many paper records, documents, etc., as I can find in my house, I still love old books and have plenty of them around as well. Since I don’t have the time to digitize my books that are out of copyright—and I have many that are still within their copyright and can’t be digitized anyway—I have set as my next spring cleaning task to get organized: to catalog each of the genealogy and history books on my office bookshelf. Now my book collection is far from huge, but again I want them to be easily listed for anyone who might be interested in the future.

As you can read in this 1909 article from an Idaho newspaper, the Library of Congress was already, at that time, the 3rd largest library in the world. As a result, I decided that if they can get their books organized, so can I.

The Library of Congress, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 1 May 1909

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 1 May 1909, page 10

I’ve chosen to use the online site LibraryThing.com to polish off this task and am well on my way, with over 150 of my books listed so far. (If you are interested you can see my books at: https://www.librarything.com/catalog/OnwardToOurPast.)

Tip #3: Follow a Rule from 1951 and Don’t Strain Anything!

I think of myself as an amenable fellow (some of my friends and colleagues even call me a “Do Bee” at times). For those of you who might be just a bit younger than I, check out this article from a 1966 Nebraska newspaper if you are not familiar with what the expression “Do Bee” means!

illustration of Romper Room's "Do Bee," Omaha World Herald newspaper article 3 April 1966

article about the children's TV program "Romper Room," Omaha World Herald newspaper article 3 April 1966

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 3 April 1966, page 166

Anyway, I decided that I better be certain I am following the rules from that 1951 spring cleaning newspaper article, especially the one about being careful of any strains or sore muscles.

It was at this point that I read an article from a 1958 Massachusetts newspaper about golf’s Masters Tournament.

Arnold Palmer Wins Masters Tournament by Stroke with 284, Springfield Union newspaper article 7 April 1958

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 7 April 1958, page 14

The newspaper article featured a hero from my boyhood, Arnold Palmer, who donned the champion’s Green Jacket after winning the Masters Tournament. What could be more spring-like than to begin sipping a summer drink! Because I couldn’t decide between lemonade or ice tea, I tipped my hat to Mr. Palmer and mixed myself an “Arnold Palmer” drink.

I then sat back, thought of warmer days to come, and toasted myself for completing my spring cleaning tasks list, knowing that I am on my way to doing more efficient and organized genealogy research in 2014. I will work steadily, a little bit every day—careful not to strain myself—until I have digitally preserved all my paper records and cataloged all my books before summer arrives!

How to Scan, Save & Share Your Family Photographs Online

The digital age is a new world for genealogists. We need to have not only research skills but the ability to scan and digitally preserve the many documents and photographs that we use daily.

This gives us the 21st century opportunity to add the actual genealogical documents and even photographs of our deceased relatives to our family tree software on our personal computers, or on an online family tree.

This online sharing of genealogy work enables anyone—be it family members or other researchers—to easily see your family history findings and the supporting documentation instantly.

Yes—it is a great day for genealogy!

Scanning to Digitize Your Family Photos

Scanning is easy and a home scanner can be purchased for a nominal cost at most stores. Copy centers and even drug stores routinely offer scanning services often for just $1 per image.

You are scanning and preserving your family’s past so you’ll want to make sure you do it correctly. Start by reading Geoff Rasmussen’s book Digital Imaging Essentials (Middleton, Idaho: Author, 2013). 150 pages.

cover of book "Digital Imaging Essentials" by Geoff Rasmussen

This easy-to-read instructional book tells you everything you need to do to prepare and follow through on digitizing and preserving your family’s documentation. To buy a copy visit the Legacy Family Tree Book store.

Scanning is as simple as putting the old photograph or document on your scanner and pushing the start button.

screenshot of a scanner in operation

Within seconds the image is scanned and sent to your photo image processing software.

I use Google’s Picasa. It is free and has all of the features I need to crop, trim, sharpen and enhance my scanned document or photograph. Within a few minutes I have a digital copy of the item ready to be attached to my genealogical files.

Backup & Storage of Family Files

I keep three copies of my genealogical files.

This redundancy builds in an ongoing backup of my research in three locations, and helps to ensure that my latest research will be easily discoverable by any of my cousins 24/7.

I store my genealogy information—along with the digital copies of my photographs and documents—online on FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. In addition, I keep a copy on my laptop using Legacy Family Tree genealogy software. I have an external hard drive to back up my laptop and I also use the online cloud storage service Carbonite. There are many options for cloud storage available to ensure that your family history records stay safe even if something ever happens to your local hardware.

Upload and Share Your Family Photos & Records Online

It is easy to put your family pictures and records online. Here is how you do it on FamilySearch.

First you open the personal page of any relative.

screenshot of the ad photo feature on FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch

Click on the Photos tab and you will see the green add symbol. Click on it to add a photograph for this person.

screenshot of the attach photos feature on FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch

Simply drag and drop the family photo you scanned to this plus sign and the application will grab it and attach it.

Take a moment to edit your family photograph by identifying each person.

You can add the date and place the photo was taken and any commentary associated with that event.

screenshot of the edit photos feature on FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch

That’s it—you’re done.

screenshot of FamilySearch page for Tuan Dieu Ly

Credit: FamilySearch

It’s that simple to preserve your family photos and make them easy to share online with family members and other genealogists.

It is important that genealogists preserve their family information online. By putting their genealogy research and supporting documentation online, genealogists are able to share it with all researchers.

Begin preserving your family’s past by digitizing your research and putting it online today.