Creating a genealogy to-do list

gentodolistsampleI know I have two big impediments when it comes to making progress with my genealogy research. One is that I often don’t know where to start in a particular session. The other is that I think I need a huge block of time and that huge block rarely comes.

But I know better. I am a big believer in grabbing snippets of time to complete discrete tasks. For me, this is true in life and in genealogy research. But my reluctance to start a short session still rears its head.

Yesterday, as I was pondering this situation, I came up with a strategy that might be helpful. I created a form for myself where I can separate tasks by the amount of time I think they’ll take. That way, when I find myself with 30 minutes to spend on family history research, I can scan the “30 minutes” section (or the “15 minutes or less” section) and hop right into a task. The form I created has seven sections: 15 minutes (or less), 30 minutes, one hour, two hours, half day, full day, and weekend.

Since I’m trying to focus on one branch of my family per quarter, I decided to make a separate list for each branch. That way, if I come across some leads for families I’m not working on this quarter, I can put them on the appropriate list, and when that quarter rolls around I’ll already have a task list to get me started.

If I manage to use this form consistently, it should serve a few purposes:

  • I’ll be able to jump right into my research without feeling overwhelmed
  • My sessions should be more focused and productive
  • I’ll research more frequently, because I won’t be waiting for large blocks of time to emerge
  • If I hit a dead end, I can go right back to my list to refocus

I can’t wait to give this a try. I’ve started with a short list for a couple of family branches. I’m going to figure out a way to include routine tasks on the list (like updating my progress tracker and making sure that all paper documents are also properly stored on my hard drive) so that they get done relatively painlessly. I think this will definitely be a work in progress.

In the next week or two, I’ll create a template for you to use in your research and include it in the Printables section of this site. I’m going to wait a little while to do so, so that I can refine it a bit, based on my use. (An excerpt of my one-day-old version of the form is what’s pictured with this post.) I’m thinking that I may drop the final two sections, since I want to include smaller tasks, not large projects, on the list. But I’ll use it awhile before deciding.

I’m curious: Do you find it hard to figure out where to start when you have time to do genealogy research? Or is that something peculiar to me?

Making my Ancestry tree public

Making my Ancestry tree publicBack in July, I was pondering uploading my family tree from my Reunion software to Ancestry and trying to decide whether to make the tree public or private on Ancestry. I invited comments on that question and was really thrilled to see a robust discussion about it, with advocates on both sides.

So I uploaded my tree, making it private initially. I was disappointed to see that the sources didn’t update as hyperlinks, so while my facts are sourced, others don’t have easy access to the sources.

After careful consideration, I decided to make the tree public. For me, the good of helping others with their research and potentially attracting connections with distant relatives outweighed the risk of my data ending up in incorrect trees.

The decision was made, but then I stalled. The perfectionist in me didn’t want to make the tree public until the source problem was fixed. But I haven’t made fixing that problem a priority. (It kind of overwhelms me.) Today, I decided to not let perfectionism get in the way of progress and I pulled the trigger and made my tree public.

Having done this gives me the impetus to do several things:

  • Create a checklist and schedule for systematically going through my Ancestry tree and hyperlinking the online sources included in the tree (and simultaneously making sure I’ve saved them on my hard drive).
  • Add the information and sources I’ve found offline in recent my recent trips to my Ancestry tree.
  • Come up with some sort of schedule for updating the Ancestry tree. (I keep the Reunion software on my hard drive up to date–it’s my primary database.)
  • Check out Family Tree Maker for the Mac, which I’m told automatically updates to Ancestry, and consider switching to it from Reunion.

I’m hoping that making my tree public will help others and, potentially, lead to some fruitful interactions. I’m looking forward to seeing where this might lead!

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:

Pros

  • 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)

Cons

  • 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!

 

Trying out Ancestry.com family tree

Ancestry family tree screenshot from iPhoneThanks to the lively discussion here earlier this month about public vs private family trees on Ancestry, I decided to go ahead and create a GEDCOM file from my Reunion software and upload it to Ancestry. I  considered the pros and cons of a public tree, as expressed in the comments of that post (I so appreciate the comments!), and decided to make the tree private when I uploaded it, do some quality control, and then make it public once it’s ready.

I’d been keeping all my data on my computer in Reunion, rather than on Ancestry, because I don’t like to rely on cloud-based databases; I really like the information to reside on my hard drive. But I decided to upload the file for four reasons:

  • I’m intrigued by the prospect of the shaky-leaf hints (though I understand they often lead nowhere).
  • I would like to find cousins.
  • I would like to help others with my research.
  • I just did an Ancestry DNA test and I want to be able to link the results to a tree to give me maximum return.

So I uploaded the tree this week, which was very easy. But then I hit a snag. I am meticulous about not adding any ancestor for which I don’t have a source to my tree. Everything is sourced. But the sources don’t upload in a satisfactory manner. The source is noted in non-hyperlinked text. So the source is there, but isn’t as helpful to others (or me) as I was expecting. (I did a google search and apparently that’s just the way Reunion talks to Ancestry.)

The shaky leaf hints, though, make it easy to add many of these sources as hyperlinks that others can click on. So yesterday, I spent some time going through the hints, evaluating them, and adding them to records. I’m starting with the Rasco family (that’s my father’s mother’s family, and this quarter’s focus).

Two challenges came to the forefront immediately. One is keeping my Reunion software updated while I’m adding things to my Ancestry tree. (In other words, if I come across new data that’s not already in Reunion, I have to be diligent about adding it to Reunion as well as to the tree.) The other is overwhelm. I need to take this one person at a time, and try not to skip around or get lost in exploring and evaluating other people’s research on my family members.

For the moment, the tree is still private as I get a handle on the source situation. But I intend to make it public soon. I’m already so grateful for those who have public trees.

I think ultimately I’ll be glad that I have put my tree on Ancestry. It seems to have potentially added another layer of complexity (and work) to my research activities–and I really do like to keep things simple. But once I get through this source situation, I think it will be great to have an online tree and I’ll be delighted if it helps others and helps me meet new-to-me cousins.