Time-management wisdom from Joshua Taylor

djoshuataylorcropI’m a professional organizer and I routinely give time-management advice to my clients who want it. But, as regular readers of this blog know, managing my genealogy research time is a work in progress for me. I struggle with staying focused, knowing what to work on and combating overwhelm.

That changed a little on Saturday. I was fortunate to be in the audience at the Genealogy Society of Southern Illinois’s annual conference. The speaker was D. Joshua Taylor, professional genealogist and truly organized person. Joshua has been doing genealogy research since he was 10 years old and had his first professional clients while he was in high school. He is the president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the director of family history for FindMyPast.com. He is paid to do genealogy research for others, but he still works on his own genealogy research on a regular basis.

Joshua gave four talks at the GSSI conference, all of them terrific. He’s clearly a very thorough researcher; I was very impressed with the tenacity that came through in his talks. He leaves no stone unturned in his research.

While all four talks were really valuable, one talk that really blew me away. It was The Modern Genealogist: Timesaving Tips for Every Researcher, in which he outlined how he stays happy and focused while exploring his roots. Here were my big takeaways:

  • He works on only 1 to 3 projects/problems at a time, along 3 to 5 extended projects (brick walls).
  • If he comes across something else he wants to check out, he just adds it to his project list to work on in the future. (The discipline of that amazes me.)
  • For each research project, he sets a manageable goal and commits to a finished product, putting the research into some sort of meaningful form. I love that he knows what success looks like, in advance.
  • He plans each research session before he starts.
  • He writes a mini-research report for each research session, even when he’s doing it for his own research.
  • He reviews his research log every month or two to see what he’s missed and what he can apply to other families.

One benefit to working on just a few projects at a time, he said, is that you have a fighting chance of completing them. “I would rather leave behind 3 to 5 completed projects than 50 started, but not completed, projects,” he said. I was impressed that such a young man (I think he’s about 30, if that) thinks about his legacy–that’s probably a byproduct of being a genealogist, isn’t it?

When I got home from the conference, I immediately identified the three projects I’m allowing myself to focus on at this time. It’s been absolutely liberating–I don’t have to try to figure out what to work, which makes it much easier to get started. I will keep you posted how this all plays out, but I’m feeling very good about following Joshua’s excellent advice.

One other mind-blowing revelation at the conference was that Joshua and I are cousins. I’m going to repeat that, because it’s so amazing. Joshua and I are cousins. Our common ancestors are my third great grandparents, Joseph Price (1820-1904) and Mary Puffenbarger (1823-1896). (It’s Mary’s grave that I used aluminum foil to read in my blog post Reading hard-to-read gravestones.) How did I discover that? Like many good genealogy lecturers, Joshua used his own research in examples. In his very first talk of the day, he mentioned Joseph and Mary, much to my excitement. Joseph Price is one of Joshua’s brick walls, so it’s conceivable that I might, at some point, be able to give him a hand. That would be a dream come true!

Do you schedule time for genealogy?

Schedule time for genealogyLast Sunday, I created a list of the things I wanted to get done before going to bed that night. I was going to be traveling the following week, so the list was pretty long. At the end of it, I wrote “Genealogy research.”

I’m so glad I added that last item. I got through the rest of my tasks quickly, checking each of them off the list. If I hadn’t added genealogy to the list, I probably would have turned off my computer and picked up my knitting. But because of the reminder, I went ahead and worked on the transcription of my 3rd great grandfather’s Civil War pension records. (Incidentally, that go the ball rolling and I continued transcribing during my trip.)

As much as I love doing family history research, sometimes I forget about doing it. When I get busy and lose my momentum, it can be hard for me to get the ball rolling again.

I’ve tried scheduling the research and that works for awhile. But it’s always when other parts of my life take over that the little pleasures fall by the wayside.

If you make family history research a priority, by scheduling it on your calendar or putting it on your task list, you can keep the momentum–and the enjoyment–going. At least that’s what works for me!

Photo by Courtney Dirks via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

Gravestones can contain errors

gravestones can be inaccurateI know this isn’t news to most of you, but the fact that gravestones can contain errors was brought home to me after my mother passed away last month. As I posted at the time, her obituary contained an error, even though I (a professional writer) had written it myself.

Somehow I felt that more care was given to the accuracy of gravestones, since they are, literally, engraved in stone. But I learned otherwise when my father and I went to the cemetery office to make arrangements. The office worker handed me a printout of what the grave marker would look like (it’s the covering for the niche in which her cremated remains were placed) and my mother’s birth date was wrong. She was born May 2, 1933 and the marker proof said May 5, 1933.

I caught it handily and made the correction. And of course it was simple human error. But what if I hadn’t been there and my grieving father hadn’t caught it? The gravestone would have been wrong. I wonder how many times that has happened in generations gone by. I would imagine our ancestors didn’t have the benefit of seeing proofs.

The experience has led me to take less stock in the “proof” that I had thought a gravemarker provided. It’s simply another secondary source that needs to be verified through other means.

It’s a great reminder of why it’s important to have multiple sources for any facts we track down.

Asking again: How do you use Facebook for genealogy?

FB-f-Logo__blue_100In early May, I wrote a blog post asking you how you use Facebook for genealogy. Unfortunately, a WordPress problem caused the comment Submit button to disappear and readers couldn’t answer the question. So I thought I’d try again. Please let me know how you use Facebook for your research!

Facebook has become part of my daily life and, I bet, yours. It’s almost hard to imagine how we navigated the online world without it. I use it for lots of things, but I don’t use it a whole lot to further my genealogy research. I’d like that to change.

I know that Facebook offers a lot to genealogists and I’m wondering how you all use it. I belong to a few genealogy-related Facebook groups that I find really helpful when I take the time to read them. They are:

I’m also a part of one family group, which was helpful when a reunion was being organized last year. And, of course, I have the Organize Your Family History Facebook page.

Are there other genealogy-related groups or communities that you recommend? Do you use Facebook to find cousins or otherwise further your research? I’d love to hear about it!