Monday, January 2, 2017

Start The New Year Off Right!

It’s a brand new year and always a good time to evaluate your goals for the next twelve months. For those of us researching our family history, this is a great time to make a list of those goals for the coming year.

Sound overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be. One of the tricks I use to make the process easier is to start at the end. If you start off knowing where you want to end up, it makes it a lot easier to outline the steps you have to take to get there. It’s sort of like mapping out a road trip. You can even break the process up into smaller segments, such as quarterly. Start small and work up to the bigger picture.

So let’s look at an example. Let’s say your goal is to complete the story of your grandfather Stuart, from his birth until his death, and you plan to finish this in three months. If you are laying this out on a calendar, your entry for 31 March is “Done with Granddad Stuart”. You now have three months to get there. In order to make this work, you have to set aside time to get it done, and make that time sacrosanct. If you only have one or two hours a week, decide which hours on which days will be devoted to this project - time when you can work uninterrupted - and STICK TO IT. Put it on your calendar and pretend it is a job where have to show up to on time. Once you sit down, set a timer and you will be surprised how quickly the time passes. If you have to “reschedule” your research time, mark your calendar and show up to work on time.

Then set out your research plan. Perhaps your first project will be making a timeline of his life based on the information you already have and lay that over an historical timeline to see where events in his life line up with the big picture. Now you know what you know. Next, figure out what is missing. With that list in hand, write up a plan of all the places you can search for the missing information. Keep a research log in whatever format works for you, (spreadsheet, index cards, notebook, etc.) and keep track of where you look, the search parameters you used, and what you found (or didn’t find). If you click on the "2017 Research Project" above and scroll down, you will see a list of links to some useful tips on using research logs for genealogy. Try to avoid getting distracted by “bright shiny objects”. If something turns up that you want to explore, but it doesn’t get you to your immediate goal, make a note of it, bookmark the webpage, write down the site, book or article, and go back to it LATER. As you find information, make sure you either print out the verification document, save it to your family tree program or file it somewhere (physically or digitally) where you will be able to find it again. Enjoy that feeling of accomplishment when you can cross an item off your milestone list.

Set aside some time about half-way to your goal to determine how you are doing and if you need to reevaluate your goals and how long it will take to complete this part of your research. You are probably thinking that this is all taking a lot of time and planning. Many of us (in fact, probably most of us) are running around willy-nilly through,, and an abundance of other genealogical research sites grabbing what we can, when we can, on who we stumble upon. Then we forget what we found or where we found it and end up doing it all over again. That’s a lot of wasted time - time better spent devising a “plan”.

If you start with your end goal, set up milestones to hit along the way, make time to do the work (and be faithful to that commitment) and keep track of your research, you will find that you will make a lot of progress. Start small. Figure out what you want to accomplish in the next three months. Make sure your goals are reasonable. Be organized and keep track of everything.

Don’t forget you have a wealth of resources and help available to you from all your fellow “diggers” here at D.I.R.T.

And don’t lose track of why you are doing this - because you enjoy it - and you are leaving behind a legacy for generations to come.

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