My cousins notebook

One of my organizational tips is for everything to have a place… no more sticky notes and scraps of paper. For genealogy, I have something that I affectionately call my “cousins¬†notebook.”¬†02_malibu journal refill pages

It looks like this… it is a portable notebook from Daytimer called the Malibu refillable journal. There is a lined page version and a plain page version. But any notebook will do!

01_malibu planner







There are many types of lists and contacts housed in this notebook. When I see a website, hear a speaker, or receive an email about something new, I track helpful websites, particularly if I have to wait to look at it and find it later.



09_helpful tips

I keep track of newly found cousins. I note which line of the family, Ancestry user name, family tree name, and I also track here whether I have shared my private family tree with them. I keep track of DNA matches as well.

12_dna matches_redacted 11_cousins correspond and invite to tree_redacted

Sometimes I find family trees that I want to look at later, so I note that.

10_helpful family trees_redacted


In addition to the hand-written notes to myself, I also have some lists that I use and update. I have a list for each person who has been DNA-tested. I have a ready-made copy and paste list of surnames for when I correspond with DNA matches.





07_list of surnames to paste into DNA messages

Something that I track in this notebook are the names that have “google alerts” set for surnames and the surname message boards that I have added to my aggregator, Feedly. If you need more information about Feedly, I have other posts about how to use it and set it up to streamline your genealogy sources, blogs, and surname message boards.

06_google alert list and family surname message boards in feedly

I have a list of the maps that I have collected for my research trips (and the ones I want to collect next).

05_list of maps

If you belong to RootsWeb groups, this notebook is a great place to track which groups are feeding into your email. I also update this list occasionally, removing groups that aren’t active anymore and adding new groups as my search expands.

04_rootsweb yahoo groups

The final list that I track and update in my cousins notebook is my society memberships, the cost, and the renewal dates.

03_genealogical society memberships


One of the best ways to clear your desk is to have a “go to” place for those notes and scraps of paper! Get a notebook and get organized!!

Are you a dot collector or dot connector?

One of the trends in popular genealogy that is impossible to deny is the rapid accumulation of information, even if it’s errant information. Professional genealogists complain about it. I read the message boards! This genealogical hoarding is an interesting phenomena. But like all hoarding, there tends to be a reckoning. Eventually something will gob-smack you in the face and wake you up to the reality of what you are doing. Everyone will have errors in their trees, but with sourcing and a little bit of research, we can greatly minimize those errors, particularly those passed on to others.

collector or connectorSome people on Ancestry are obviously just collecting names, collecting data, and collecting photos without even the slightest amount of logic or research applied. Case-in-point, I found a hint to my own name this week. I was so excited, but when I clicked on the link, it was to another online tree that had listed me as deceased and having died in a place where I have never lived and never visited. I was married to the correct man from the correct family, however, the information about me was wrong. I contacted the tree owner to see if he or she could update and correct the information… no answer yet. But then a strange thing happened. All sorts of people started attaching all of that wrong information to their own trees. The misinformation propagated like rabbits in springtime.

If you approach your research as a connector rather than a collector, you might be surprised what you find. Family history is about more than names and dates. It’s about lives and struggles, wars and ideals, faith and hope. You can learn about some of the heroes and some of the scoundrels. How many of us know the migration and hardships? The stories and the “overcoming” are what make a great testimonial of life. The connections woven between military men or farmers in a community, or the women at church are so valuable for us to understand how they survived and thrived. It’s important for us to have that perspective on how we came to be and all of the events that had to occur in order for us to be here right now. That kind of perspective is life-changing. To think that all eight of my great great grandfathers had to survive their Civil War service for me to be here right now is a thought that makes me choke up.

One of the great things about an online tree is the ability to seek and find. The difficulty lies in assessing the quality of information. I would encourage you to look at each tree with a careful eye. Is it sourced? Are there documents and photos and stories? If not, move on. If each of us approach the process as connectors rather than collectors, we will build a much more valuable network of information.