Genealogy is a marathon, not a sprint

Genealogy is a marathon, not a sprintLast Saturday, I squeezed some genealogy research in, because I had marked it on my calendar. I know that if it weren’t in my calendar, I wouldn’t have focused on my research that morning. I was preparing to go to a baby shower that morning and contemplating starting on my taxes in the afternoon. But because I’d made that commitment, I did a little something.

Keeping my commitment to doing research every weekend was important to me and I told myself that it didn’t matter what I did, as long as I did something. So I spent some time creating the beginnings of a new sheet for progress tracker on more in-depth information, which I’ll share as soon as I feel it’s finalized, and I added two siblings to my tree, in an effort to flesh out my collateral lines.

As I was looking for small tasks to do in the short period of time I had allotted to me, the title of this post came to mind: Genealogy is a marathon, not a sprint.

Isn’t that the truth? Genealogy research is a lifelong endeavor in which a series of short research sessions can add to an important body of work.

In my fantasy life, I’m a wealthy retired organizer and I could spend all my time researching and perhaps traveling the country and the world (à la Who Do You Think You Are) solving research challenges.

In my real life, I’m a working organizer wedging genealogy research time in between client appointments, running a business, and family and personal obligations. So I do what I can, when I can do it (which, right now, is every Saturday or Sunday morning). And I take satisfaction in knowing that all the work will add up.

There are several tools that help me keep continuity as I do my research a little at a time:

Those things help me pick up where I left off, which has traditionally been a real challenge for me.

Whenever I get frustrated at not being able to spend more time with my genealogy research, I’m going to remind myself that this is not a sprint, and I’m in it for the long haul. Then I’ll do a little something.

Photo by Steven Pisano via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

It’s not about climbing the tree

It's not about climbing your family treeOne of my takeaways from RootsTech last week was how much one can learn about one’s ancestors by digging deep into the records. I learned techniques for how to use historical maps, military records and tax records to learn more about my ancestors. I can’t wait to dig in.

And that got me thinking: Do I want to learn more about my ancestors or learn about more ancestors? It’s a bit of a quandary. I find myself really excited every time I break into another generation on my tree. I’m anxious to try to verify my initial findings (using unverified sources), for example, that I descend from the Mayflower. I can’t do that if I’m still working in the 19th century.

But I realize that I want to know more about my ancestors than their dates of birth, marriage and death. I’d like to know how they lived, why they migrated, what their military experiences were like, among other things. And that’s going to require locating multiple sources about each ancestor and resisting the temptation to just climb the family tree.

I’m a big fan of spreadsheets and checklists, so I think I’m going to create a checklist of categories of sources to try to find on each ancestor before moving to another. This will also help me when I come back to an ancestor.

I can’t wait to see what I learn!

Photo by Juanjo+Willow via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

Off to RootsTech 2015!

RootsTech 2015 I leave really early tomorrow morning to fly to Salt Lake City for RootsTech. I’m really excited, though my to-do list for today is huge. This is my second year going to RootsTech; I wrote a similar post last year, which I just re-read. Last year I was feeling overwhelmed at the thought of such a large conference (according to this press release, there were 13,000 in attendance last year).

Turns out, this conference is so well organized that the large number of folks wasn’t a big issue. There are an expected 20,000 people going this year, since it’s being held in conjunction with the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) conference.

I bought a pass that allows me to attend FGS sessions as well. So this year I’m feeling overwhelmed not by the number of people, but by the sheer number of choices of classes each day. Thanks to the marvelous RootsTech app, I’ve gone through and selected the classes I think I want to take, but I’m leaving myself open to changing my mind.

Today, I’m focusing on deciding what I want to research at the Family History Library, the largest genealogy library in the world, and what I might need to take along to facilitate that research. I also want to pack light, because I’m going from Salt Lake to Washington state to visit family and I’d really like to do it all in a carry-on. (I by necessity packed light for my last trip to see family and it was worth the effort.) I’m hoping that my focus on keeping my genealogy files organized electronically will work to my benefit so that I don’t have to bring a lot of paper to support my research.

Last year I was feeling shy. This year I have true friend, a reader of this blog, whom I met at last year’s conference. Can’t wait to see her! I look forward to making more friends–I’m going to do my best to speak first and meet interesting people. (I want to give away my new business card!)

Can’t wait to see what I learn. I’ll be posting here about the conference, so if you’re interested, please keep an eye out.

If you’re going to RootsTech and want to meet up, let me know!

Don’t let perfect get in the way of done

Let go of perfectionismWhen you think about getting organized there’s a natural tendency to want to found the very best possible organizing system, whether it’s for your genealogy or any other aspect of your life. Trouble is, as I’ve seen many times in my work as a professional organizer, that tendency toward perfection generally paralyzes people.

If you’re a perfectionist, it can be really hard to start organizing something if you don’t know how it’s going to work out. Or if you’re not sure what the best course of action is.

My advice: let go of perfection and embrace simplicity. If you select or create the simplest organizing system possible–the one with the fewest steps–you’ll have the best chance for success.

For me and my family history research that means I now save most things electronically, rather than printing and filing. I find it much easier to file documents on my hard drive than in a physical file folder. (And, yes, I do back up that hard drive.)

When I do use paper, I prefer file folders to binders because I think they’re simpler to use. (Way fewer steps.)

My mantra is Let it be easy, and I try to inhabit that phrase in all aspects of my life, including my organizing systems.

If you find yourself hesitating to create an organizing system or use the one you have because you’re looking for the perfect system, I encourage you to let that go. The longer you wait to organizer, the bigger the project will be. Don’t let perfect get in the way of done.