7 Time Management Hints for Genealogy Researchers

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Finding time to research your family history is a challenge for many, even if one is retired. Family obligations and job/career obligations always seem to get in the way of the fun that is family history research.

But even the time that we try to allot to doing research can be eaten up quite easily. Here are 7 tips to get the most out of your research time.​

  1. Have an online plan – although I am a fan of sporadic “intuitive” and “stream of consciousness” searching online – that should be only for a short time. Write yourself a research plan – for a person of interest, or a family, or a location. You will get a lot more results and won’t be wasting time searching for the same thing over and over again. But make sure you have a “re-visit” plan when new records or collections are added that you might be interested in “re-conducting” prior searches.
  2. Have an offline plan – if you plan to spend some time at an archive or genealogy section of a library, prepare a research plan BEFORE you get there. Don’t just show up with your pedigree chart and hope for the best.
  3. Get organized – 50 slips of paper with scrawled notes is not going to save you time. It will cost you time since you will always be looking through them. Consolidate or use online apps such as One Note or Evernote.
  4. Get off of social media sites – you heard me – although they can be useful as part of your education and can from time to time reap rewards in finding new “cousins” – social media can be a huge “time suck.” Do you really have to look at your Twitter stream every 15 minutes? And Facebook updates and new posts will be there even if you don’t check them every hour. So manage your time spent on social media and you will discover a lot more time for research.
  5. How many genealogy blogs do you really NEED to read? – some people scan through (and read) over 50 blogs a day. Are you kidding me? I have less than 10 that I regularly read and I don’t always read those. And I scan through titles – if it is really interesting I may flip to it and read it.
  6. Manage your use of social media sites – it bears repeating. Manage this potential “time suck” well and you will have more research time – I guarantee it. Create Twitter lists, Facebook interest groups etc. for the folks that REALLY interest you regularly and you will save tons of time. Use notifications wisely and you won’t be interrupted with a “ding” from your phone or PC every 2 minutes that entices you to look.
  7. How much education do you really NEED? – For some folks, there isn’t a webinar, seminar, or podcast that they would skip. Sure its a good idea to acquire more knowledge, but for me if it gets in the way of research time – forget it. One might argue that increased knowledge might equate to “smarter” researching. True, but make sure that you have the proper balance.


There are plenty more ways to create more research time – but these are the big ones for me. What ways do you create research time for yourself?

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10 Comments

  1. I have set up columns in TweetDeck for particular #topics I follow in several quite different fields – takes moments to scan through them. Maybe 10 minutes total these days as I also am writing in NaNoWriMo, and have writing buddies.
    My Facebook page is a brief post, and a very brief run-through, commenting or removing the posts as I desire. 5 minutes.
    Google+ allows me to see communities in the different fields I follow and enjoy – about 20 minutes a day.
    I pick a family line, and focus on that one for the week, researching, setting up a family plan, learning how to use my software or learning how to use a database site more effectively.
    Webinars? I watch as many as seem relevant – I feel quite ignorant. But since I’m retired, I don’t begrudge the time at all.
    Cheers – a great post there, Kenneth.

  2. Good advice and because it is organized and specific it is quite useful. What I take away is FOCUS and SELF-DISCIPLINE which of course are priceless habits in any endeavor.

  3. Not sure about that last part of #1 — it is ALWAYS a great idea to search the same thing at later dates.
    In this era, there is so much information being published every day that it is imperative to always search again after a certain amount of time…

    1. I agree John. My only point in number 1 about repeated searching online is to have a plan for your repeated searching of the same repository.

  4. Most of the research I do in Italian records involves trips to the Family History Center 40 minutes away to read microfilms, since no images from before 1901 are online yet. Also, after tracing our direct family lines as far back as I can go, I’m researching collateral family lines with dozens of surnames in eight different towns, helping other researchers find families in these towns, and currently have over 50 films on permanent loan, so keeping track of what I’ve done and my priorities for each trip is important.
    To do this, I created an Excel spreadsheet into which I copied and pasted the relevant microfilm catalogue lists from the FamilySearch website–provincial films on one sheet, town films on other sheets, each with a labeled tab. I added columns to each sheet for what I need to track (e.g. a column for each town on the provincial films) and color-coded the film titles and numbers by whether I have the films on permanent or short-term loan or have a film on order. Since I photograph sets of records at the FHC to study at home, taking hundreds of photos at each visit, I note briefly what I have photographed from each film (e.g., annual index only, index + selected records, all records). And since the FHC catalogue entry is sometimes incomplete or incorrect, I note any anomalies that I’ll want to know if I need to go back to the film–a set of records that is supposed to be on a film isn’t there or is out of alpha order or there are extra records on the film that aren’t listed in the catalogue (e.g., birth records found on a marriage records film for a certain year). I take extensive, but quick, notes while working at the FHC on exactly what I’ve searched and photographed and found, but the spreadsheet serves as an easy reference tool.
    Before each FHC trip, I use my research plan along with this spreadsheet to list which films I plan to search and photograph that day. After each trip, I import the day’s photos to a dated folder system I’ve created on my computer, process and organize them, and update my spreadsheet from the day’s notes.
    Spreadsheets are a terrific tool for keeping family history research organized and can be used in other ways. Part of my study of collateral family lines in Italy involves getting a picture of surname clans that sometimes span a couple towns due to family member migrations. To accomplish this, I’ve now created a few spreadsheets to track data and data sources for all the people I find with each of our most recent ancestral surnames (back only to 2nd ggrandparents), so I don’t lose track of these individuals if I don’t yet know how (or whether) they fit into the family tree.

    1. BTW, my post above referred to keeping track of FHC trips to read microfilms, but it can work just as well for research online. Two of the reasons Excel is so handy is that you can search for a certain word or phrase and sort your data by column, so even if you are searching different types of sources on a given day, if your system tracks things like date of search, website searched, source searched, and other details, you can find a specific entry more easily than in Word. I’m thinking of setting up a spreadsheet to track searches and discoveries in places like GenealogyBank, other newspaper archives, and county history websites.

  5. Good ideas! By limiting FB time I have been able to save more time than just the time not on FB, because it enables me to stay focused on the problem at hand. I fortunately have not done much with Twitter or other sites, and I keep my blog reading under control, too. If I had all the time in the world, I’d watch more webinars and go to more conferences, but I’m not convinced they would help me in the long run. Nose to the grindstone, I say!

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