The 15-minute genealogist

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17 April 2018
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Build a little family history research into your daily routine and you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve, writes Paul Chiddicks in his latest blog.

Build a little family history research into your daily routine and you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve, writes Paul Chiddicks in his latest blog.

So, you’ve decided to take up researching your family history as a hobby and you have carried out the initial researches and started compiling a detailed tree.

The temptation at the start is too always dive off on numerous searches, follow every line possible and exhaust all families back to 1837 using the various large commercial sites that are available online.

As fantastic as it is, to have all these various records online and immediately available to research at your fingertips, the danger is that you can become a “lazy researcher”.

So let’s look at the skills you need to become better organised, become a better genealogist and more importantly not waste any of your precious time.

Let’s get organised!

Most of us will have time constraints of one type or another, work, home life, young family, old family to care for, whatever your situation, you need to maximise any spare time that you have and put it to good use. What is the point of carrying out the same failed searches for an ancestor that you have previously carried out, only a few months ago?

So it’s time to get organised. To quote a couple of famous people:

“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail”

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

A few simple tips and ideas now will help you to get organised, help maximise your available research time and will ultimately save you time.

Plan ahead

Plan, plan, and plan! It’s better to use a spare half hour today to plan a future research period, for another time, rather than to dive in bouncing ancestor searches off right, left and centre. There is nothing worse than aimless searching.

My top tip is to keep a small notebook to hand at all times, keep it with you and take it everywhere you go, at work, on the train, in your pocket, by your bedside at night. Then it’s available to note things down, as and when you think of them. A genealogist never sleeps, remember!

I find sometimes that a “light bulb” moment occurs when you least expect it, so be ready to capture that moment of inspiration and write it down in your “little black book”.

Concentrate on what you do and don’t know

Writing down what you don’t know is equally important as what you do know, so make a list of the relevant gaps in your tree, generation by generation, so you can see where the obvious missing information is.

Remember 15 minutes a day, equates to 105 minutes a week, but it’s how you use that time that time that counts. Quality not quantity. This is where the plan and the “to do” list are the essential tools for the time constrained genealogist. So what things can we consider adding to our “to do” list.

If you have one eye on the clock it is absolutely critical that you note down all your unsuccessful searches, as well as any successes. You might spend a fruitless 30 minutes looking for one ancestor which you might consider time wasted. This is in fact time spent successfully, because you will have already eliminated certain information from future searches, but only if you note these failed searched down in your book! Failure to make a note of these failed searches will then lead to unnecessary duplicated searches next time and that would be precious time wasted.

One ancestor at a time…

Stick to researching for one ancestor at a time and don’t be tempted to deviate from your set plan, don’t be tempted by seeing a common name that you think “might be on your tree”. Make a note of it and add it to your list, distractions can lead again, to time wasted.

You could use your time to back up your data, a very important task that we all tend to put off as we would rather be researching than doing things like this. The consequences of not backing up don’t bear thinking about, so a quick session backing up your data is time well spent, including backing up to portable storage or a cloud device. Does your family tree software need updating? Consider doing this as soon as time allows.

Keep on top of your email replies and messages, either on a daily basis or weekly basis. Even if you are busy, a quick acknowledgement of another researchers email to say that you have received it and will answer it shortly, will at least let them know that you have received it and are looking into it.

If you get the quiet time on your commute to work, why not consider taking Family Tree magazine along for a read.

The little black book

Make sure your “little black book” is also with you to jot down any important details or websites.

Why not spend some time filing away any documents that you have accumulated? Whatever paper system you choose, there will always be papers to file. This can be a daunting task if you let it build up too much like I do sometimes. It then becomes a full day job, so keep on top of things and file away regularly.

I am sure that there are plenty of other things that you can think of that can be achieved in a short space of time, but always remember to, plan, organise, structure and record what you do every time. A make sure you take that “little black book” everywhere you go.

Follow Paul on Twitter and his blog.

Researching the names: Chiddicks in Essex; Daniels in Dublin; Keyes in Prittlewell; Wootton in Herefordshire and London; Jack in Scotland.