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By Ryan Taylor

Many genealogists are retired. They're the lucky ones. They can choose when they want to work on their hobbies (provided their grandchildren leave them the time).

Others of us have to work our research in during holidays or between Saturday basketball games.

Marcia Yannizzee Melnyk has decided to help out by writing The Weekend Genealogist: Timesaving Techniques for Effective Research.

In many ways, The Weekend Genealogist is simply a short, general handbook for doing family research. However, Melnyk has considered how much of our work must take place at home, leaving intensive library and archives visits for vacation time.

She therefore concentrates on how to keep your data straight (using forms and software) and filed so that you can find it when you need it-quickly. Make every hour of research time include sixty minutes of work done rather than time spent dreaming or shuffling around. She also emphasizes using each document to the best advantage, advice which every genealogist needs to take to heart.

Her list of 'Ten Questions to Ask Every Document' could be made into a poster for hanging above genealogical computers all over the continent. Especially important are her points about using the original record where possible, and thinking about what the document implies as well as what it states.

I think that often we are in such a hurry to use a record and scurry on to the next one, we see only the most obvious facts and do not stop to think about what is lurking between the lines. Many documents tell us more than what is written in ink.

Melnyk recommends transcribing documents in full, not just abstracting them. This enusres that you have a typewritten version of old handwritten materials, and you can transfer the full text from your floppy disk or hard drive to the notes area of your genealogical software. That way, it's available for future reference. It is surprising how often we want to go back and look again at significant documents to clarify some detail or see if they have more information than we saw at first reading.

She also has advice about research trips, subtitled 'Making Every Minute Count.' That's important. The book has icons in the margins: Important, Reminder, Warning, Idea Generator and so on. She puts several ideas in the Important category for trip planning, including ensuring that the facility you'll be visiting actually has the records you want to see. That may seem obvious, but it is surprising how often genealogists travel long distances assuming that the book they want will be waiting for them. Another sign over genealogical computers could read Never Assume.

One of Melnyk's icons is labeled Timesaver. One of these is Ten Ways to Cut Your Library Stay in Half. Her suggestions focus on planning, being prepared with supplies and questions, and photocopying everything. Having photocopies when you get home enables you to look over the records at leisure, digging out everything they have to say. Melnyk's suggestions for preparing, arriving, working and photocopying in libraries are just what I try to do when I'm on a genealogical field trip. This chapter is worth the price of the book all by itself.

Although Melnyk is writing from an American perspective, and most of her references to books and libraries are to U.S. sources, Canadian readers can benefit from her general advice. It is written in a plain and straightforward style, and the icons in the margins help in noticing the most important bits.

The Weekend Genealogist is published by Betterway Books in Cincinnati Ohio. It can be purchased through local bookshops, or via the internet from Global Genealogy and amazon.com.

Posted February 26, 2003
Column copyright © 2003 Ryan Taylor

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