Monday, June 30, 2008

Ongoing Projects

Why are some activities easier to do than others? At the start of the year, I wrote about trying to get some extractions or transcriptions done most days before dealing with any incoming mail. That tactic certainly worked with the probate abstract book, which was transcribed by March. The second stage of work on the details from the book, inserting tabs so that the information could be pasted into a table, was almost compulsive – the sort of task that is so easy to do in preference to anything else, that it’s probably a good job that, that is also now finished. The results have been pasted into excel and just need some rearranging and categorising to make them useable.

The process set me thinking about the different requirements of tasks on the study and how to achieve the most progress. There are many activities to be carried out for a one-name study. The primary task may appear to be the amassing of a large collection of data on the name. But that data then needs analysing, and conclusions developing from it, which should be published in order to advance research on the name. There will always be some overlap of these tasks, especially since one rarely finishes data collecting, as new sources become available. But for a small study, the bulk of the data collection can be carried out before the other stages and, in some cases, the study can effectively be “completed” – having traced everyone by the name back to an original source. There may be new developments to explore, such as the use of DNA for genealogy but, if you only have a few hundred names in any census, the basic work doesn’t take long.

For a large study it’s different. If you waited until all the basic data was collected, it would probably be your descendants carrying out the other stages! So it seems important to work on several stages at the same time.

Thinking about the nature of the activities, there are some which I describe as “mindless” - even if they take a long time to complete, it doesn’t matter since they can be picked up easily and paused at any time, and don’t take much effort to carry out. Other tasks require a bit of planning – perhaps they are still easy to carry out, but must be tackled in one go (eg where the data is only available for a limited time, or where any break in the extraction process would result in a different set of reference numbers and make it difficult to match up the data), or else they just require more thought in order to get them right (as when designing a web page to best explain a particular point). For most of these tasks, the final goal is known – it’s just how to get there that’s the issue. But then there are those tasks which require a great deal of thought and application, often without knowing quite what the final result will look like (as when I tried to find a way of mapping a modern Parry distribution with a program designed for 19c information).

So, for the different types of activities, it’s not just the time available that influences whether they get done or not – it’s also attitude. Do I feel like putting in that level of work, at that time? Am I up for a challenge, or do I just want something simple that will give quick results? I once read that it’s more effective to start a new project before finishing the previous one – the reasoning being that starting and finishing are the hardest parts and, if you finish a task without something else on the go, it gets harder to start something new. (Of course, it is important to ensure the original task does actually get finished!)

But, again, it's the principle of overlapping tasks, rather than tackling them consecutively.

So why this ramble about tasks? Basically, it’s the reasoning behind the structure of the ongoing projects list which follows. I’ve not really thought about the nature of the activities of the ONS in this way before – it’s just been a list of things to do, one after another. But structuring the activities, with priorities taking account of the nature of the tasks, could be a more effective way of making progress.

So, the ongoing projects:
The probate abstracts book is the main task but it has moved into a “thought required” activity, since the structure of the eventual database needs some consideration. And, although there are some simple corrections to be made to the original transcription before posting that onto the web site, page layout and linkage of related abstracts needs thought.
There are actually two new transcription tasks - census entries and BMDs. Since both of these will take a long time overall, having two provides a bit of variety. They are also both subdivided into smaller activities:
BMDs – the starting point is typing up the certificates received from the marriage challenges. As that moves into combining those with results already received in a variety of electronic forms, and submitting them to the Guild marriage index, the basic transcription task will become the civil registration indexes not yet transcribed.
Census – all of the index information is already extracted so this is the continued transcription of the additional details, starting with “my” three counties. Again, as this task moves into a “thought required” activity once a county is completed and the process of matching individuals across census years begins, the transcription will move on to adjoining counties.
The other current activities that require some thought are updating the web site with information on the DNA research, and with the “Fess families” details derived from the display in April.
And, while I’m doing that, the “serious thought” subject – how to connect up information on the web site so that people can easily find out what is available for any individual.

And now the projects are "in print", look out for their progress.

Three weeks ago, I said that, by the end of the week, I intended to have caught up with all the outstanding tasks. Clearly I didn’t achieve the goal, since I have only just posted the current projects list, but I also “failed” with regard to correspondence – probably the major difficulty of every large ONS and the reason that some people choose not to register their studies. Producing an initial response to people isn’t (usually) too difficult but, having had 25 new contacts since the start of the year, it is the later exchanging of information that can take up the time. And I still have several queries that had to be put aside about six months ago.

But setting the goal helped so my next one has to be catching up with that outstanding correspondence, whilst still keeping up with any day-to-day occurrences. And, while on the subject of those, here’s the news from the last couple of weeks:

I spotted a couple of Sir Edward Abbott Parry’s books on ebay. In looking for more information about those, I found an interesting article by Susan Watkin, detailing his work.
I received details of three more marriages from the Marylebone marriage challenge during June. There are 5 challenges to sort out items for, but none of them are places Parrys are common in so it shouldn’t take long.
I had a nice surprise when a Guild member took the trouble to send me a death notice from a newspaper – and then followed that with 13 17c marriages she’d found on a visit to the Westminster archives.
The Queensland Convict Transportation Registers were mentioned on the Forum – 58 Parrys and 1 Parrey transported. Details from the assizes will be a good subject to research at some time but that will have to go on a “future projects” list.

Finally, a couple of comments from correspondence:
Octavious is a fairly uncommon name – but I’ve had two queries recently involving it. The searches I’d carried out for the first query helped me identify information on the second promptly, despite the spelling varying between “ious” and “ius”. It’s helpful when things coincide like that.
I’ve also received emails from both new and renewed contacts regarding the Golden Valley family, which have resulted in me browsing the Patent Rolls for early information, as well as rechecking some of the coat of arms details. There are some contradictions in the reference works with regard to which families certain Parry quarterings have been ascribed to, so sorting that out will be part of the “fess families” research.

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