Organizing little by little

calendarsnippetHere’s one thing I know: Getting or keeping your family history research organized doesn’t happen without a little effort. (Of course, that’s true of organizing most aspects of our lives!) There never seems to be enough time to do genealogy research, let alone time to organize it.

But if you snatch little pockets of time to catch up on your organizing, you can make great strides. For example, 15 minutes spent on filing unfiled genealogy documents (either electronic or paper) is time well spent. It allows you to familiarize yourself with your documents and the holes you have in your research. It makes you feel more in control. You can get rid of any duplicates you come across. And, of course, it helps you find what you need when you’re looking for something, because documents are where they’re supposed to be.

One thing that can help is keeping an organizing task list so you can jump right into it when you carve out some time for it. My new genealogy to-do list helps me know what to work on when I have some time for research. But I think it’s a good idea to spend some time at least once a week organizing the research. Toward that end, I think that in addition to having a genealogy to-do list for each branch of my family, I’ll make one for organizing tasks. That’ll make it easier for me to just do something. (I’ll be posting a Genealogy To-Do List printable very soon so you can use my form, if you’d like.)

So here’s my challenge for you today: Think about how often you want to do family history research. And then think about when you might work on organizing your research. In this last month of the year, maybe you can carve out a little time for organizing. Doing it little by little, you’ll make progress. If you wait for a free weekend when you feel like organizing, you may never get it done.

Like many people, I have a very busy December coming up. But I’ve found that I get more done when I’m really busy. So for this December, I’m going to commit to spending at least a half hour a week organizing my genealogy research. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up two hours over the course of the month (actually, two and a half, since December started on a Monday this year). And one can get a lot done in two focused hours. To set myself up for success, I’ve scheduled five half-hour sessions on my calendar.

I’ll try to keep track of what I accomplish in that time and at the end of the month, I’ll post my progress here. I hope to be pleasantly surprised by all I can get done in those little, focused pockets of time.


What do you want to read about?

Almost a year ago, I did a poll of Organize Your Family History readers to find out what types of articles are most useful to you. 101 people responded, which was fantastic.

Since then, readership has grown and I thought it might be time to check back with you. I’m interested in knowing what types of articles you would find interesting to read here. The poll is identical, but please do respond even if you responded a year ago.

Thank you so much! I am so grateful for the input I get from readers of this blog. You’ve helped me immeasurably and I want to write posts that help you in return.

Documenting the failures

Document your research failures as well as successesHave you ever been pursuing leads on a thorny research problem and found the time just slipping away, without much progress made? I just experienced that. I was trying to fill in some blanks on an ancestor and actually managed to stay pretty focused, but two hours later, those blanks are still empty. I wouldn’t mind keeping going on this challenge, but I need to stop, because I have other things I need to accomplish this morning. Plus, I’m getting kind of frustrated.

It’s easy to spend a lot of time pursuing leads in genealogy research and feel like you’ve wasted your time. But I think there’s a sure-fire way to make the time spent more valuable. And that’s by recording what you’ve done and the results–even if the results are nil.

That’s where a research log comes in. I’ve not been diligent in keeping a research log, though I know that it can be very valuable. But my frustrating time this morning has me appreciating the effort of keeping a log, because I don’t want to repeat the unsuccessful searches (or if I do, I want to do so knowing that the searches have failed in the past).

When Springpad was around, I created a research tracker template that was included in the Family History Organizer notebook on Springpad. That form works with the way I think, so I’ve been continuing to use the template, only now it’s in Evernote. (Feel free to email me if you want me to send you the template–that’s the corner of today’s entry in the photo.) It’s simple and allows me to record the pertinent data without turning it into a big chore. I need to use it more diligently, after every research session, rather than waiting until days like today when logging my research feels absolutely imperative.

My way of keeping a research log is far from perfect. There are much more complete ways to do it–Thomas MacEntee offers an amazing research log template, it just doesn’t feel right for me. (I find it a little intimidating.)

If you’ve been contemplating keeping a research log, but got bogged down in trying to select the best format or you just weren’t sure how to do it, I’d suggest you let go of making it perfect (or even great) and just get into the habit of writing something down. Any information about your research session that you document at the end of the session is better than none!

Third quarter research report

My strategy for focusing my genealogy efforts in 2014At the beginning of 2014, I created a research scheme in which I’d focus on a different branch of my family tree each quarter. First quarter was the Adamses, (my father’s father’s family); second quarter was the Browns (my mother’s father’s family). The third quarter’s focus was on the Rascos, my father’s mother’s family. The final quarter of the year, which just began, I’ll be focusing on the Jeffries (my mother’s mother’s family).

I didn’t plan it this way, but my research schedule has dovetailed nicely with events. In the second quarter, when I was researching the Browns, who lived in Missouri and Nebraska, I paid a visit to the Midwest Genealogy Center and also attended the Brown family reunion in western Missouri. Last quarter, when I was researching the Rascos, I took my cemetery research trip and did some library research in the Alabama stomping grounds of the Rascos. I even met a woman at the library who had grown up next to the Rasco homestead!

So in the third quarter I focused what little research time I had on the Rascos (along with members of the Adams family who are buried in cemeteries I visited on the September trip). I’m still processing the information I gathered on that trip, so research on the Rascos will extend into the fourth quarter.

Now that the year is three-quarters over (how did that happen?) I can reflect on the pros and cons of the quarterly scheme:


  • It helps me stay focused
  • It mitigates frustration a bit by giving me an organized way to shift gears when I hit tough spots
  • It helps a little with the “what should I work on now?” question that sometimes gets in my way
  • It gives me a deadline (and I love a deadline)


  • It limits the amount of progress I can make on a given line over the course of a year
  • It might stop me from pursuing leads on other lines (but of course I can research whatever I want)
  • If the research on this quarter’s line is frustrating, it discourages me from shifting focus (though that’s not necessarily a bad thing)

I had originally hoped to include organizing my records on a given famiyk in the quarters endeavors and I was good about that in the first quarter. I have to admit those efforts have fallen by the wayside in recent months when my organizing business has has been so busy (giving me less genealogy time). I hope to give the quarterly scheme another try in 2015; I think the pros outweigh the cons!