As I survey my work area, I note that every flat surface is piled with books or paper and the box count keeps rising. I have piles of boxes everywhere there is a space for them that will not be in the way of traffic. No, I am not a hoarder. I do not intend to die, crushed to death by my piles of old newspapers. As I would say, my piles consist of good junk not junk junk.
During the last few posts, I have been writing about paper as it applies to genealogists. This whole topic was started by a four-way discussion I had with two other genealogists and a new-comer to the field. We each had our own take on how to handle the masses of paper that have accumulated over the years. I must admit, I have always been envious of those tidy people who have marvelous filing systems with every document categorized and filed, available in an instant. I think I admire them for the same reason I admire Japanese homes, they are almost completely empty, evidencing a simple lifestyle.
I do find it impossible to relate to either compulsive filers or the Japanese, for one simple reason, neither of them are dealing with a glacially covered mountain of paper. I treat my glacier like a glacier, the older paper tends to move to the bottom of the piles and I can date the past by looking at the layers of paper that have accumulated. In an ideal world, I would have all of the piles and boxes categorized and separated by individual families. I do not live in an ideal world. I would characterize my paper management "system" (although there are many who debate that a system exists) as accommodating. I just live with it. Here are some principles I have found useful:
- Don't Worry Be Happy, as Bobby McFerrin sang. If you fret about the piles, you will only end up fretting. Unless you end up with a monumental amount of free time, nothing is likely to change.
- Make peace with the paper. Don't look at the piles as enemies but as friends. They are evidence of the huge amount of work that you have either done or are going to do.
- Put as much into the computer as is humanly possible. Digitize everything. Add metadata to your images so you can find whatever you are looking for. Attach digitized copies of your documents to the individuals in your genealogical database.
- Realize that you are not going to throw out all those historical documents and live with the realization.
Take advantage of free online services such as WeRelate.org to "store" your research and document images. There are hundreds of online options, but you need to be realistic about sinking your time into a subscription site. Will you heirs pay to keep the site open? Think about it. Use a non-profit foundation instead of for-profit company and you will have a better chance at saving your work. Hopefully, someday, FamilySearch.org will get its act together and we can use what ever the descendant of New.FamilySearch.org turns out to be for the same purpose, preserving priceless research.