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?

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!

 

Building flexibility into your genealogy trip

building flexibility into a genealogy research tripI just finished with my cemetery research trip to Kentucky and Alabama, where some of my ancestors lived and died. Being the professional organizer that I am, I planned the trip fairly extensively, down to the GPS coordinates of the cemeteries I was planning to visit. I worked up a schedule and made hotel reservations. My intention was to visit four cemeteries in three cities over two and a half days. I needed to end up in Nashville mid-afternoon of the third day for a conference.

On Day One, I realized that my plan was flawed. And I was so glad that I had the flexibility to change it. What I hadn’t done in all my planning was to build time in to look at local genealogy repositories for resources that might not be available to me on the internet. When I discovered that there was a Kentucky Room in a public library in Owensboro, Kentucky, 45 minutes north of where I was, I chose to stay and do research, rather than proceeding to Alabama as I’d originally planned.

That extra time in the Kentucky Room garnered me a death certificate on microfilm for my great great great grandmother, Elizabeth McEuen (that’s her grave marker in the photo), which in turn gave me her parents’ names.

The next day I proceeded to Baileyton, Alabama, where I had no trouble locating the grave markers of my great great grandparents, Laban and Margaret Rasco, and Laban’s parents, Jesse and Martha Rasco. When an internet search revealed a genealogy room at the library of Wayne State University, in Hanceville, Alabama, I decided to stay in northern Alabama and forgo my trip south to Marion Junction, Alabama, to visit another cemetery. I chose library research over cemetery research. This also saved me a few hours of driving in each direction.

I think it was a good decision. At the Wayne State library, the helpful librarians quickly identified Laban Rasco’s death certificate on microfilm and, in addition, they located his Confederate pension application, a 15-page document that I am looking forward to poring over.

I’m so glad I took this trip. Stepping away from the desk can be so beneficial. To stand in front of the graves of my ancestors was so powerful. To see the towns in which they lived helped me see them as humans. And talking with local people who knew my family’s surnames, brought my ancestors to life for me. One of the librarians in Hanceville, it turns out, grew up next to my family’s homestead. Making that connection with her was priceless.

Thanks to a blog reader, I called ahead to the church associated with one of the cemeteries and was connected to a wonderful local historian who went out of his way to help me and even met me at the cemetery. The trip couldn’t have gone better. And I learned a valuable lesson: When on a genealogy trip, keep my schedule loose and flexible so I can take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.

Planning a cemetery research trip

Planning my tour of southern cemeteriesI’m going to an organizers’ conference in Nashville next month and I’ve decided to drive there so I can add on some time for some cemetery research. I’m excited to step away from my desk a bit more!

The branch of my family tree I’m focusing on this quarter is Rasco, my paternal grandmother’s family. They lived in Alabama until about 100 years ago when my great grandparents moved their family to Texas and then to Washington state. My research indicates that some are buried in the Rasco Cemetery in Dallas County, Alabama. Others are buried at the Mount Pisgah Cemetery in Cullman County, Alabama.

In addition, my Adams line lived in Kentucky before moving to the Pacific Northwest. So I plan to visit two cemeteries in McLean County, Kentucky, as part of this trip. At least one of the gravestones, whose picture I saw on Find A Grave, is very hard to read. I’m anxious to work the aluminum foil magic on any particularly worn stones and see whether the data on the stone will become legible.

When I think about planning for this trip, I know I want to capitalize on the opportunity. That means that I need to know who I’m looking for. I also need to look for folks who might be their kin, even if I  don’t have good enough sources to have added them to my Reunion software. That way I can photograph gravestones for potential future use. I obviously need to get my directions together–the fact that Find A Grave often gives GPS coordinates (longitude and latitude) for cemeteries is tremendous! Even though my time is somewhat limited prior to the trip, I do hope to devote some time to researching these lines so that I can bring as much knowledge to the table as possible. I also want to do a little research on best practices in cemeteries.

I wish I could incorporate some courthouse research on this trip, but I simply don’t have time before or after the conference. So, for now, I’ll settle on cemetery research and plan a future trip for courthouse documents. I’m excited!

If you’ve done cemetery research, do you have any tips for me?