How do you spell genealogy? P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E

Good genealogy takes patienceThe word that kept running through my mind as I took the excellent classes at last week’s National Genealogical Society’s conference is patience. As I listened to professional genealogists talk about strategies for success and skill building, I was reminded that good genealogy research takes time. It takes thoroughness. And it takes patience.

When I first dipped my toe into genealogy about 15 years ago, I went to an Internet cafe when I was visiting my parents (it was the days before I owned and traveled with a laptop), got on some website (probably Family Search) and started clicking through trees, going backwards in time. I created handwritten pedigree charts and was thrilled with how quickly my family tree grew.

I took everything at face value and evaluated nothing. By the time my “research” took me back to a Prince of Wales, I realized that perhaps some critical thinking was in order. I became overwhelmed at the notion of having to verify everything and put away those pedigree charts for almost a decade.

Six years ago, I decided to pick it up again and start from scratch. I’m using software now (Reunion) and nothing gets added to my tree without a source. The tree is growing slowly.

I figured out this year that I want my family tree branches to grow out, not up. While I appreciate the thrill of breaking into a new generation, I recognize now that I shouldn’t grow upward without taking the time to grow the branches outward. So I’m adding the siblings of my relatives to my tree, which can be painstaking. I’m also trying to add as many sources as possible to each fact.

In the NGS class that I mentioned in my last post, “But I’ve Looked Everywhere,” Barbara Vines Little says that we should have look for every sibling in every census. That takes patience. Combing through records, particularly unindexed records, takes patience. Figuring out alternate spellings to search or exploring friends, neighbors and associates to find elusive ancestors takes patience.

Yes, it can be thrilling to click backward in time, taking other people’s research at face value. Yet the rewards of patiently and thoroughly finding and citing sources are much greater. Good genealogists are patient people. They celebrate the small victories. And they move on to the next one, however long it may take.

Photo by Greg via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

Make your goals visible

2015gengoalsscreenshotToday is the last day of the first quarter of 2015, so I thought I’d take a look at the progress I’d made on my goals for the quarter. Since I try to research one family line per quarter, the end of the quarter is significant. Tomorrow, it’ll be time for me to turn my attention from my Adams ancestors (my father’s father’s family) and start researching my Brown ancestors (my mother’s father’s family), according to the schedule I set.

At the end of December, I put together a nifty table with eight different potential accomplishments for each line. My goal was to check off four per quarter. It was a pretty great idea, if I say so myself. But it fell by the wayside for a simple reason: I completely forgot about it.

I just discovered the goal table on my hard drive a week or so ago. While I did not focus on those goals in the first quarter, I did manage to put Xs in a few squares.

So, as I look to the second quarter, I have printed out the table and put it on my bulletin board where I put other things that inspire me. (Like my written goals for this blog.)

Writing goals is an important first step. But I dare say that remembering them is just as important!

My 2015 genealogy goals

In my last blog post I wrote that I don’t usually create genealogy goals and that this year would be different. I’m starting to really question my memory, because a search on my blog revealed the genealogy goals I set for 2013 and 2014. So I guess I what I really mean is that I need to set genealogy goals and keep them top of mind.

A year ago I created a quarterly research scheme for 2014 that actually worked quite well for me. (I described and evaluated it in this post.) I decided that I would divide the year into quarters and focus on one line of my family (that is, the ancestors of one grandparent) per quarter. At that time I outlined all the things that I would endeavor to do in that quarter. The list was lengthy and I think I knew at the time I was writing it that I’d never get it all done.

I’ve learned that when I create unrealistic goals I tend to ignore them. So I decided that for 2015 I need to structure my genealogy goals in such a way that I set myself up for success.

I created a list not dissimilar to last year’s, but instead of expecting myself to do everything on the list, I am striving to do four of the eight things on the list for each family line.  I’m sticking with the quarterly plan, but I’ll be jumping for joy if I accomplish four of the things per quarter. And I imagine the four things I do accomplish will vary by the family line.

Most of the items on my list are things within my control, which I think is important because so much of genealogy research feels outside my control. For example, one of the goals is to spend an average of two hours a week researching. The goal isn’t to solve a particular mystery or achieve a milestone, which I may or may not be able to do, but rather to put in the effort. (I did include one milestone among the goals, because it will feel so good to achieve it.)

The menu of eight items vary in level of effort, so if I have a quarter where I’m not able to spend as much time as I’d like researching, I can probably still get a few Xs. (For example, I’m sure I can find photos on my hard drive and add them to Reunion or add ten pins to my genealogy map.)

So here’s the little table I made in Pages on my Mac.


I’m sure there’s plenty of room for improvement here, but I’m feeling good that these goals are achievable and something that I can keep top of mind. I’m going to print out the table and pin it to my bulletin board so I know I won’t forget them this year!

What does success look like in 2015?

Setting genealogy goalsI’m an unabashed goal-oriented person. I don’t always achieve all my goals, but I love having something to strive for.

I’m realizing, though, that I don’t really have goals for my genealogy research. I think if I had them, I’d feel better about my progress. So before the end of this year, I intend to put together a short list of genealogy goals for 2015. I think it will help motivate me to do research when I don’t feel like I have time. And it should also keep me focused in my research.

What will my genealogy goals look like? I don’t know just yet. But the things I’m going to consider are:

  • Building my family tree up (into new generations) versus building it out (adding more collateral lines)
  • Visiting more cemeteries and/or research libraries
  • Attending conferences
  • Reaching out to cousins
  • Getting and keeping everything organized (that’s a work in progress, of course!)

While achieving goals is important to me, I believe in rewarding myself for progress, rather than results. Along those lines, I think would also be wise for me to set a goal for the amount of effort I put in. So I think I’ll include something like, “Spend at least 30 minutes twice a week” on genealogy. That could be doing research or organizing my research. Thirty minutes twice a week doesn’t sound like much, but it amounts to 52 hours over the course of a year, and 52 hours is significant!

On or before January 2, I’ll post my short list of goals here. What about you? Do you set annual goals for your genealogy research? If not, do you think you might start?