End-of-the-quarter evaluation

brownfanchartAt the beginning of the year, I put together a research scheme in which I would focus on researching (and organizing the research) one branch of my family each quarter. The first quarter ended yesterday, so I thought it might be a good idea to report how it went.

Overall, I’m pleased. The first quarter of 2014 was devoted to my father’s father’s side of the family, the Adamses. Knowing which family I was researching kept me focused, which was terrific. The downside is that I certainly didn’t finish researching that family (like I ever would), nor did I finish organizing the Adams research that I had uncovered in the past. But that’s okay, because I can pick it up again in January 2015. And, of course, I can work on it whenever I want–my plan isn’t a law, after all.

So now that it’s the second quarter, I turn my attention to the Browns, my mother’s father’s side of the family. That’s timely for a couple of reasons. They’re a midwestern family for a number of generations back and I am paying a visit to the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri, next week (!). Also, there is a Brown Family Reunion in June, so I’ll be extra motivated to uncover and organize my research so I can share it with cousins.

I’m kind of excited to switch the focus of my research. I’d gotten the easy stuff out of the way with the Adams family and of course when it gets more difficult, it requires more patience. So switching gears is quite welcome.

I think it’s a little early to proclaim my quarterly research scheme a success, but at this point I can certainly imagine doing it again next year!

Focusing my efforts in 2014

My strategy for focusing my genealogy efforts in 2014In December every year, I take some time to set some goals. I set them for my organizing business and for my personal life. This will be the second year I’ve set goals for my genealogy research. (If you want, you can read the goals I set last year.)

In thinking about my genealogy goals for 2014, I realized that I really want to be more focused and organized in going about my research. I still struggle with not knowing what to work on in any given session. And that lack of focus makes it hard for me to actually get started.

I just hit upon an idea that I think I’ll try. I’m going to assign a family line to each quarter of the year. In this structure (which I just thought of, so it’s still evolving in my head), I won’t be limited to working on that line necessarily, but if I don’t have something else specific I want to do, I will work on the family line assigned to that quarter.

I’ve decided that the schedule will be as follows:

  • 1st quarter: Adams (my father’s father’s line)
  • 2nd quarter: Brown (my mother’s father’s line)
  • 3rd quarter: Rasco (my father’s mother’s line)
  • 4th quarter: Jeffries (my mother’s mother’s line)

At the start of each quarter, I’ll take stock of where my research lies. I’ll use my progress tracker to see what census, vital and military records I’ve already located.

During each quarter, I’ll try to do the following for each of the lines:

  • Fill in the gaps on my progress tracker
  • Make sure my surname files for that line are organized on my hard drive
  • Ensure that everything in my paper files for that line is also organized on my hard drive
  • Fill in collateral relatives on my family tree in Reunion
  • Search for sources for unsourced data provided to me by cousins
  • Go up at least one generation in verified information
  • Attach photos to my family tree in Reunion

What I like about this idea is that it should keep me more focused. And help me feel less overwhelmed. It should get me past the “what should I work on today?” question that can be such a barrier. And, perhaps best of all, it gives me some specific goals and a deadline–the end of the quarter. (I love a deadline!)

Pin the tail on the family tree

igleheart1900Today I had a little time to do some genealogy research, but I couldn’t decide what to work on. So I opened my family tree in my Reunion software, looking for inspiration. I noted the right sidebar had a listing of people on my tree, sorted alphabetically by last name.

I closed my eyes, scrolled up and down a few times on the sidebar and then clicked. The person I landed on was Martha Jane Ellis (1845-1919), my great great grandmother. I set to work looking at her record, looking for missing information. I pulled out the file folder for Martha and her husband, Benjamin Franklin Igelheart (1845-1913) and continuing the process of marrying my paper and electronic files. I also started adding information on siblings into Reunion, something I didn’t do in my first recording of data.

Randomizing my selection feels like a nice piece of serendipity. I sometimes prefer that to a systematic approach. It feels more fun to me and this is all about fun, right?

Where was I?

I can use this form to plan my next family history research session

For me, the biggest impediment to starting a research session is not knowing exactly what to work on. Today, I was reading an article on what to do with the last few minutes of the workday and was struck by a suggestion from Julie Morgenstern, a hugely successful professional organizer. She suggests spending a couple of minutes to identify the most important thing you’ll do in the first hour of work the next day.

I do something like this for my work life (I plan the top four priorities for tomorrow), but it occurred to me this could be really useful for my family history research. If, at the end of each research session, I identified a few things to work on in the next session, the question of what to work on would disappear. I’ve flirted with this before, but what struck me today was that I could create a form (I love forms!) that I would fill out at the end of each session and keep it handy for the beginning of the next session.

I have a similar form for my work day (here’s a link to it on Pinterest), so I adapted it for my family history research. It’s pictured on this post. At the top I have the top four research items to work on. At the bottom, I have a checklist of things to make sure I do as I close up the session.

I think this form will go a long way toward getting me past that barrier to getting started. And making it easier to get started will help me carve out little bits of time to do my research.