The other day I got a wake-up call. It came in the form of an e-mail from a distant cousin inquiring to find out whether I was still working on our common line, the Moores, and also asking for a current e-mail address for another distant cousin. It just so happened that I actually had started back to work on this line and was in the process of completing a compilation of the descendants of our common ancestor. I was working on the last group of these Moores, which consisted of the descendants of this gentleman’s (and the other cousin’s) grandfather. I realized I had really dropped the ball on this project. Not only should I have gotten in touch with these Moore cousins immediately, I should have been keeping in touch. For one thing, they can provide me with information on their lines. For another, the cousin who contacted me had changed addresses (and I had to scramble to find the other cousin’s addresses and figure out which one is still good). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, some of my cousins on this side who have been following this research are elderly, so I cannot take them for granted.
One of my mistakes was to underestimate these cousins’ level of interest in this research (turns out both are very interested). The other mistake, however, was letting my correspondence records fall into disarray. I know there are various systems for keeping track of correspondence and that many professional genealogists have some pretty sophisticated and complete systems. However, I believe that even the keen amateurs should have some sort of correspondence records system. For many researchers corresponding with family members, fellow researchers, experts in relevant fields, providers of services, etc. is a vital component of their research.
Instead of a single correspondence log, I keep separate logs in the front of the binder for each family and subject. This now includes a list of the e-mail address of my correspondents (and sometimes snail-mail address for those with whom I exchange hard copy materials as well as telephone numbers for those people with whom I have occasional “Texas telephone calls”), as well as a list of people that I want to contact at some point (mostly posters on genealogy discussion boards). It also has copies of a lot of my e-mail correspondence with them (sorry to those of you who believe in paperless offices – paranoia born of a long, pathetic history of losing e-mail that exists solely in electronic form has led to this state of affairs). What I need to add to these are copies of some of my own e-mails dealing with research; some of these e-mails, lost in the aforesaid pathetic history, could provide a lot of blog material with very little alteration, and being the lazy person I am, that thought really makes me cry. The other addition that is needed is an actual log of correspondence with dates. I could do this in purely chronological order, but I prefer to have a separate section for each correspondent. This would make it easier to notice when I have not corresponded with someone for a while. While this amount of detail might not be necessary for less-active family lines, I think it is essential for the major areas of research. And finally, make sure that main list of contacts is always fully up-to-date, which may include noting which e-mail addresses no longer work.
I hope to include “Lessons Learned Sunday” as a semi-regular feature on my blog. You will notice that I included my own experience (read: mistakes). That’s the idea. Since I have made so many mistakes in the course of my genealogy research, I figured these mistakes would provide plenty of fodder for blog articles and, I hope, help a few people.