May 10, 2019

Reviewing Old Files

May 10, 2019

Recently, I rediscovered a cache of digitized records that my sister and I accumulated on a genealogy trip to Minnesota several years ago. The purpose of the trip was to find out more about a great grandmother’s family. Nearly the entire family, consisting of parents, two sons and four daughters, had immigrated from Sweden to Minnesota by 1880. My great grandmother and one sister left Minnesota for Utah, and we knew a lot about their families, but our trip was planned to try to find out more about the parents and the four children who had stayed in Minnesota. The trip was successful, and we accumulated copies of obits from microfilmed newspapers, birth and death records from the county courthouse where most of them had lived, photos and other information from a local history archive and photos of headstones from cemetery visits. Since we were only able to get paper copies of some the records, my sister scanned and sent me digital copies of everything we’d gathered.


The next step, of course, should have been to organize the records and make sure that the information they contained made it into my family tree. I’m embarrassed to admit that didn’t happen. Life intervened; my sister passed away, and the records have been sitting in a file for the last seven years.  Now it’s 2019, and I just made contact with a couple of descendants of these same Minnesota relatives. That has motivated me to take another look at those long lost records, get them organized and entered into my tree. Now I’m writing about these extended family members so I’ll have something that can be passed along to the next generation of genealogists. In the case of the Minnesota records, it’s especially important since most of the records we collected so long ago were not and are not online. It took time and money to visit out-of-the-way courthouses and archives, and it would have been a shame to just let them go away.


Problem solved, at least for that set of records. Unfortunately, I know that those Minnesota records are not the only records that are hanging around in my computer waiting for me to do something with them, and that’s not to mention the old paper files that are still languishing in my file cabinets. All of them are organized at least by surname, but they need to be organized on a more granular level and be added to my tree. There are stories there that are just waiting to be told. It’s just a matter of buckling down and doing the work.


I admit that I sometimes let my research results get away from me, but from what I hear from other genealogists, I’m probably not the only one. The siren call of research is difficult to resist, especially now that it’s so easy to research the night away in front of a glowing computer. But what I have realized is that gathering records and information and doing nothing with it is like being a hoarder. Eventually your house is full of stuff that no one has any use for and no one wants. If you’re in the same procrastinating boat I’m in, maybe you might want to join me in a very belated New Year’s Resolution to look into all of those records you’ve collected over the years and archived without really looking at them.  We might all be surprised at what we already have in our old files. I suspect a few brick walls might be breached.


Carol Stetser

Researcher/Director at Large