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How many of you have sat down to do a quick look-up on an ancestor…..and dinner was suddenly cereal again? (Ahem.)
Researching your ancestors is exciting, fascinating, overwhelming and time consuming. Most of us don’t have 2-3 hours a day to research. We do need to sleep sometime.
Reader Emma recently wrote:
I’m trying to get back into doing my research– so right now I’m making a plan to carve out time AND be productive in getting back into the swing of things. I would like to spend 20 to 30 minutes a day doing research. My challenge is where to start and how to stay focused daily so I don’t have to backtrack or start over every day.
(Thanks, Emma, for asking what many of us have been struggling with!)
Just as we discussed in the organizing your genealogy post, give yourself time to let you personal system evolve. The most successful plan for short bursts of research is the one you consistently perform.
Let’s get prepared first…
What you need:
- A timer – The one on your cell phone is just fine.
- A Legal pad – I get mine here. I don’t even have to leave the house. 🙂
- A designated place – A home office is wonderful, but the kitchen table works just fine.
- Your computer
- Decide what you want to know. Break your larger research goals of “trace the Smith family back to their country of origin” down to more manageable goals of “Who were the parents of Tate Smith of Waverly County, TN?”
- Plan where to look for the information
- Prep your research log. You can use the one at the bottom of the post.
- If possible, perform your research at the same time each to consistently build your habit.
Tip: Do not forgo making your research plan. Having a specific research goal and plan can make the difference between finding your ancestors or not.
Now for the Research
- Set Your Timer and turn off distractions – Multitasking is not your friend and leads to mistakes in the research process. Tip: Plug your earbuds in. For some reason, having my earbuds in, even with no music playing, facilitates my focus. I’m not really sure why, but it works for me. Having earbuds in also diminishes interruptions from others.
- Begin your search – Research is what you have been waiting for.
- Make notes and analyze the information you find as you find it. In your genealagy research, you will inevidably not find your ancestor or your research lead will not pan out. We call that “negative” results. Tip: Do not neglect to make notes and/or document where your ancestors do not appear. Negative research results can direct your next research steps.
- Repeat the search/analyze portion as many times as necessary until you have found your answer or exhausted your search.
- When your timer goes off, stop. Make a note where you stopped and what you need to continue with the next session!
Start again the next day……
Let’s talk about focus for a moment. Have you ever been researching and come across information on ancestors other than the one you are currently researching? An hour later, you have completely forgotten who you were originally researching?
A yellow legal pad can solve this problem for you. Simply make a note of what or who you found that you want to research further at a later date. Include the source information, so you can find the record again when you need it. Return to your original search.
And if you go beyond your time limit (way beyond your time limit), well, cereal for dinner is not such a bad thing.
Download this genealogy research plan template to use in your next research project.