Keeping my research interesting

Keeping genealogy research interestingSince I heard Josh Taylor speak in early August, I’ve been really trying to keep a laser focus on my short research to-do list in an effort to keep from being distracted. My 30 x 30 challenge helped a lot. Since I didn’t give myself the option of not researching during that time, it was very helpful to just go to the list (which had me either transcribing one ancestor’s Civil War pension file or working on citations for another).

But here’s the thing: When my 30-day challenge was over, I took a little break, because processing those pension files started to feel a little like drudgery. And I was reluctant to go back to it. It made me realize that I need to change up the research from time to time if I’m going to do it on a regular basis.

As I pondered that, I saw the error of my ways. I took Josh Taylor’s advice to have one to three projects on my to-do list. (I had two.) But I skipped the part about also having three to five extended projects (brick walls) that I can dabble in when I need to mix it up.

So here’s what I’m going to do to keep my research interesting and, I hope, to get back to daily research: I’m adding one main project to my list along with five extended projects/problems. That’s my list pictured above.

I have a leisurely weekend ahead, so I’m hoping to enjoy doing some genealogy research. My revamped list will help!

Update on my 30 x 30 challenge

The 30 x 30 genealogy challengeTwenty-five days ago, I started my 30 x 30 challenge. My goal was to work on my genealogy research for at 30 minutes for 30 days. I’d been frustrated at my inability to take the time to actually do the research I found so rewarding. I felt like I needed some sort of special motivation to keep me going.

So I decided to make a short-term commitment to stay on task. I chose 30 minutes because it’s short enough to be realistic for a daily goal. And it’s also not intimidating.

I chose 30 days because it was short enough to sound bearable. If I’d said I was going to do it for a year, I’d have probably quit by now.

I knew from past experience that having some sort of commitment and goal would be really motivating for me.

It’s turning out great–I think the number 30 has been magical. I’m proud to say that I’ve not missed a day yet, and in just a week, I’m confident I’ll be able to report here that I succeeded in my goal.

One thing that has made this easier is that I’ve had a project to focus on, transcribing the Civil War pension file of my 3rd great grandfather, Richard Anderson Jeffries. That meant I didn’t have to give much thought to what I was going to work on each day. That quandary is probably the single biggest barrier I have to getting started with research in any given session.

Almost all of the 25 days so far I’ve worked on R.A. Jeffries’ file. Today, I finished transcribing the entire pension file of 27 documents (woot!) and will start extracting the data next. It’s crazy how much I’m enjoying this.

The big question I’m having is whether I’ll continue with the 30-minute-a-day habit when the 30 days are up. I’m guessing I might give myself a break for a few days, but I think I’d be well advised to start another one soon. The commitment has proven to be truly powerful for me.

Edited to add: I did make it to 30 (in fact, 31) consecutive days of at least 30 minutes of genealogy research!

My 30 x 30 challenge

30 x 30 genealogy challengeOne of my biggest challenges when it comes to doing family history research is making and taking the time to actually do it. Sometimes it falls to the bottom of the priority list and doesn’t happen. That’s a shame, because I really love doing the research and am anxious to make progress. I’ve found that putting it on my task list is helpful.

But this month I’m taking it up a notch. I decided to commit to doing 30 minutes of family history research every day for 30 days. I started last Friday, and so far I haven’t missed a day.

Thirty minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time (which makes it easier to accomplish), but if I do 30 minutes a day for 30 days, that will be 15 hours of research. Two full days. There’s no way I could take two full days to do research this month, but I can find 30 minutes a day.

Since I’ve made this commitment, I’ve worked on my genealogy on days I never otherwise would have. I had a couple of stressful days this week due to a family emergency, but I did the research at the end of the day. That felt great. Right now, one of my projects is transcribing Civil War pension files and that has the advantage of being non-intimidating and easy to open and close. I love that I’m making progress on it!

One tool I’m using to strengthen the commitment and just make it more fun is Don’t Break the Chain. It’s a simple calendar I mark when I’ve accomplished the goal (doing 30 minutes of research). It’s powerful because after a few marks you don’t want to break the chain. That’s my Don’t Break the Chain calendar in the photo above.

Anybody care to join me in your own personal 30 x 30 challenge?

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 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!