Search for your ancestors more efficiently with a genealogy research plan. Create and track your own genealogy research plans using Trello.
How To Trace Your Family Tree,  Organize Your Genealogy

A Complete Guide: Creating Your Genealogy Research Plan Using Trello!

A guide to creating your genealogy research plan using Trello. Start finding your ancestors with a organized genealogy research plan.

You know you should create a genealogy research plan for finding your ancestors, but are you wondering “How?”

Maybe you’re really wondering “Why?”.  Do you really need to create a genealogy research plan?

Maybe you are having flashbacks to those high school term papers! I have to tell you our high school teachers were on to something!

Why You Want To Create a Genealogy Research Plan

Creating your genealogy research plan will:

  • Keep you on track – and off those rabbit trails – when actively researching.
  • Make you more efficient in your research.
  • Save you time as you search for those ancestors.

Genealogy research plans do not have to be complicated and can take many forms. In this post we are going to explore how to use one of my favorite online tools Trello to create genealogy plans.

Trello – A Perfect Tool for Creating Your Genealogy Plan

Trello is a task management or project management app.  Using boards, lists and cards, you can organize your genealogy research projects. 

First you will need to create a free Trello account at  There is an option to pay for a premium version, but I find the free version meets my needs well. (And you know me, I’m a frugal genealogist!)

Update: (October 2021) Trello has 4 levels to their pricing structure. I’ve always found the free version meets my needs. The free version is now limited to 10 boards per workspace, so if you want/need more boards, check out your options here.

Trello Log in page with arrow pointing to "create an account"

Once you  create you account and sign in you will go to your Trello dashboard. Here is what mine looks like.  Each of these squares represents a board.

Trello dashboard with Are You My Cousin? board thumbnails with genealogy research plans

Learn the basics of getting started in this quick video, then keep on reading!


Now that you’ve got the basics, let’s look at how to create a genealogy research plan using Trello.

For our genealogy example, we will be using my ancestor Joanna Barrett (1824 – 1910).  Joanna represents one of my brick wall ancestors! She was born in Ireland, immigrated to America by 1852 where she married William Richard Wilmoth.  They lived in Surry County, NC where they are both buried. Joanna Barrett had one daughter born in America – also named Joanna – prior to her marriage to William Richard Wilmoth. Oral history states Joanna immigrated from Ireland with a husband who died on the ship prior to baby Joanna’s birth in America.

I desperately want to solve the puzzle of Joanna  Barrett, so I have my plan.

I created a Trello board for Joanna Barrett. In the title of a board I will include my primary research question. Having my research focus written out to see each time I open that Trello board, keeps me on task when I research. In other words frequently reviewing my research question keeps me off of the those rabbit trails. 

On that board, I created 9 lists all pertaining to Joanna. 

Trello board for genealogy research plan for Joanna Barrett
  1. Surname Variations – Having a easily referenced list ensures I do not miss Joanna in the records simply because I did not recognize her. 
  2. Wild Theories – My favorite!  This is where I record possible theories to research out about Joanna.
  3. Timeline 1848 – 1860 – A timeline helps reveal patterns and gaps in your research. In this case, I am primarily focused on a short time span.
  4. Carroll County, VA – A potential location for records
  5. Patrick County, VA – Another potential location for records
  6. Grayson County, VA – Another potential location for records
  7. Immigration Records – A record set that needs to be researched.
  8. Surry County, NC Contacts – Contacts of other researchers and family members in the area who can assist my research. 
  9. Helpful Websites – Essentially a bookmark list for sites specific to my Barrett research project.
Genealogy Research plan (2nd part) for Joanna Barrett on Trello

The types of lists you create for your research project will be made up of topics that pertain to your ancestor.  You will notice the lists I set  up are generally divided into locations (#4-#6), references or sources (#1,#8 and #9) and brainstorming (#2).  Having a timeline (#3) is very helpful when trying to put your information into perspective and look for gaps or patterns in your research.

Under each list are cards. Cards can simply be reminders such as the those in the Surname Variations list. 

Or… can hold more information or notes on a particular subtopic.  Below you can see inside one of the “Wild Theories” card. One theory about Joanna Barrett is that she had Baby Joanna out of wedlock. Barrett may have been a first husband or her maiden name. Inside the description, I added further notes on this theory.

Close up Trello card for  Joanna Barrett

I then added a checklist to mark the progress on this potential theory.

Close up checklist created in Trello card for Joanna Barrett

As you can see, the lists and cards can be customized to suite your needs. Feel free to use the lists I used here or create your own. 

Using Trello To Collaborate With Other Genealogy Researchers

Trello can be used to collaborate with other researchers working on the same project! To invite another person to join you on the Trello board, simply click the “Invite” button at the top and fill in the person’s email address and hit send. 

Trello invite button circled in red to Invite other to collaborate  on a genealogy research plan

Besides collaborating on a genealogy research project, Trello shared boards are a great way to plan a family reunion!

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Trello For On-The-Go Genealogy Research

Don’t forget to download the Trello app to your smartphone. Trello will sync across all of your devices making it perfect for on the go research. I especially love it when I get that bit of research inspiration out of the blue.  I can quickly open Trello on my phone and make a quick note. It’s’ there ready for me when I sit down to research the next time.

Trello list for "Wild Theories" in the genealogy research plan for Joanna Barrett.
Trello On the Go

Have I convinced you to try creating your genealogy plan using Trello!  

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  • Ron Bruner

    Perhaps you have answered this type of question before and I missed it, but …

    Do you have any recommendations for including IDs on a digital photo. I know I could do it in the metadata (but not everyone knows about metadata), or by opening each file in Photoshop and expanding the image’s canvas size to allow room for a caption, but is there an easier way to do this. I’m working on a Mac; I’ve come across something called CaptionPro for PCs, but the reviews have been mixed.

    Thank you for your time …

    Ron Bruner

    • LisaL

      Ron, I use the metadata for this, so I’m not much help to you. I’ll reach out to a photo organizing friend and see what her recommendations are.

  • Judy Dewey

    I love, love, love Trello. I’ve been using it for years. I like your suggestions for family history research — much better than the way I’ve been using it for my research.

    • LisaL

      Yay! Another Trello user! I’m so glad you found the suggestions helpful. I’m constantly experimenting to see what works on different phases of my research.

  • Julie

    Hi, Lisa…I wanted to watch the “quick video” you referenced, but all I see are graphics to pin and there’s no link in the video reference. It’s still early, so maybe the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet, but can you point me in the right direction?

    Thanks so much!

  • alvarose

    I’m going to have to give Trello a try. I see now lots of ways it could work for me. I’m really hooked on the Wild Theories. I have many but usually keep them in my head. I could be much more pro active with them if they were there in my face to refer to. The out of wedlock one really grabbed me. I have a 2 GG who’s middle name is Thomas. Thomas is not a name to popular in that tree. She was born out of wedlock and I’ve always wondered if her father’s first or last name was Thomas.
    If I wrote it down and it was right there to refer I’d remember to keep an eye out for possible Thomases.
    Trello could really “keep me on task”.

  • Sarah

    Thanks so much for detailing how you use Trello for research plans. I recently started using Trello to track my genealogy projects, but I was just using one”Research Projects” board for all of my projects with a list for each surname and adding individual cards for every project that was related to an ancestor with that surname. It hadn’t occured to me to create separate boards each project/question with individual lists like you have shown here. I don’t think I will change that, but I can see creating a new board and following your example when I am ready to tackle one of my research questions.

    This has been very helpful!

  • Sarah

    Thank you for detailing how you are using Trello for genealogy. I started Trello for genealogy a few months ago, but I only have one Research Projects board with a separate list for each Surname and cards under the surnames that describe the particular thing I need to research. I hadn’t thought about having a separate board for each research task. that’s a good idea!

  • Mark Buckley

    Do you have any starter Trello templates for genealogy? I use it with a few clients to help me track things but would love to see a working example that I could build off of?

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