Are you thinking about going paperless?
Is the whole idea overwhelming?
Take it from me, a former paper girl (as in, really, I used to be a commercial newspaper printer) and legal assistant (which explored the question what if the only limit you had on paper filing was space?) and I have a total love affair with paper products and office supplies. Put another way, I am a professional paper organizer and paper junkie, and I have managed a LOT of files.
How many? Like this:
And like this:
No more. I am moving away from the paper train. Sorry, Staples – I love you but enough’s enough.
It seemed innocent enough.
All the genealogy-for-beginner guides said print these family charts, and do one up for each family group. It was a process I could follow, and I like processes, so I followed it to the letter. I lost count of the office supply trips I made for binders, tabs, plastic document sheets, more binders, more tabs, flags, staples, etc. At one point, I considered ~$3000 worth of museum-quality supplies before I got hold of myself.
I thought that if I bought all these supplies, I’d be organized.
Many binders later, I realized the only times I really touched the binders was to file more stuff in them, not do any research. And that wasn’t right, because it seemed like a big chunk of my limited spare time was going to filing, not researching. It was also turning something fun into a chore.
Also, I didn’t like the results. All those census charts were so tiny and unreadable. I could have printed them on big paper – hi again Staples – but the costs were prohibitive. I had a tight budget for genealogy, and things were getting out of hand.
As well, I was missing SO. MUCH. STUFF. My binders didn’t have URLs, or colour photos (cost, again), and figuring out how to print unprintable web pages was annoying. Worst of all, I couldn’t retrace my research steps.
I started, then stopped printing PDFs, realizing I just wanted the PDFs as resources… so… I started a folder on my computer to keep all the electronic things. Now I had 2 completely separate filing systems, divided by medium. What was worse is that after all this time and money, my filing systems were not helping the genealogical research questions. Every time I wanted to follow an idea, I’d go from journal to binder to folder to website, and it wasn’t efficient or helpful.
There comes a point in every process-lover’s life when she realizes her current processes have hit their limits. I was at my limits. I didn’t know where to find anything I’d stored – email? Journal? Computer? Photos? Binders?
As well, I was wasting valuable research time. I think I hit the wall with my process when I carved out precious family visiting time to go to the Vancouver Public Library’s Chinese Canadiana section and I couldn’t find a document I thought I’d brought with me on my laptop.
I realized that on site research minutes are very precious, and I wasn’t prepared. It was humbling.
I moved to a cloud-based electronic document management system. It has changed my life. I still have the binders I made – they’re good for storing original documents – but otherwise I rarely touch them.
I have a personal genealogical research library of 2400 files which I can access from any device. I usually use my laptop, but in a pinch I can use my phone. I capture anything useful for future reference on the go. But it’s far more than storage – it’s a research tool.
And it’s not just for genealogy… but I’m getting ahead of myself. See you next week!
Next week: Process – it doesn’t have to be painful, but it does have to work.