Genealogy Do-Over: Slow Down, You Move Too Fast!

Things are moving so quickly with the Genealogy Do-Over that many of us are already overwhelmed! What we all need is a slow down - Thomas MacEntee shows us why.

As we get closer to the official launch date for the Genealogy Do-Over, here is what I’m seeing over at the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook Group as well as on blog posts and in social media:

  • Some are already worrying about whether or not they have to evaluate genealogy software choices and pick a new one.
  • Others are concerned about how they name their files and how they’ll organize their data.
  • Still others want to know if they have to cite their sources or not.

These are all valid concerns, but to be honest, they are a bit premature. Let’s stop a minute, take a collective breath, and think . . .

This is Exactly How Many of Us Research: We Get Ahead of Ourselves

One of the concerns I had about posting the Genealogy Do-Over topics too far in advance was exactly what seems to be happening: people either over-analyzing topics (“analysis paralysis”) or simply skimming over topics (“skimming”). This is exactly how I used to research.

I say “used to” because I developed the Genealogy Do-Over so I could share my insights into what has worked for me in the past year. One of the major bad habits I had to break? Getting ahead of myself and working too quickly! Here’s what I tweaked in my research habits and an area we’ll focus on over the course of the next 13 weeks:

  • Capture everything and save for later. This means using apps like Evernote to “clip and save” articles, links to new databases and even digitized documents and photos for closer inspection when time permits.
  • Build a good research toolbox and keeping adding to it. Use those capturing skills above, but know add the art of curating content to create a set of resources that can greatly advance your genealogy research.
  • Create to-do lists. When I start researching a specific branch of my family, I always have a document open and available – a text file, a Word document, a spreadsheet or even a pen and paper – for writing down those nagging “I have to remember to do THIS” thoughts. Example: As I research my great-grandfather John Ralph Austin, I determine that his birth date means he would have been the right age for being drafted during World War I. So I enter on my to do list: “Locate World War I draft registration for John Ralph Austin.”
  • Pay no attention to that bright and shiny object. Note how in the example above, I didn’t stop everything and look for that draft registration card right then and there. Why? There is an evil rabbit at the end of that rabbit hole where I think the draft registration card lives. Mr. Rabbit likes nothing better than to rob me of time and to distract me. If I don’t place the task on a to-do list as it pops into my head, I will then go out in search of the draft registration card. And guess what? I find out that on the reverse it says “missing half of index finger on left hand” and then I go off trying to find out how he lost the finger and then . . . and then . . . And then it is 3:00 am and I have not accomplished ANY considerable research. And let’s not talk about all my research goals I had for that night.

According to “fallible mom” and blogger Katy McKenna, “You can’t make up with speed what you lack in direction” which applies to so many things including genealogy research.

The fact is that I didn’t even know I was working too fast and most of us don’t realize it. I just happen to think it is one of the ways (or curses) of modern life. We might be working during one of Ancestry.com’s freebie weekends and want to get the most out of that research time. Or we’re working at the Family History Library and worry that we won’t cross everything off of our ambitious research check list.

To be honest, what good is working quickly if it gets you where you are right now: doing your research over for a second (or third, or fourth) time?

Technology and Social Media to the Rescue

One of the benefits of the Genealogy Do-Over and doing it in 2015 is that we have so many more tools via technology and the Internet than we did 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. We’ll be discussing tools such as Evernote, Pinterest and others throughout the next 13 weeks and showing you how they might be able to help slow down your research and keep you in the moment.

To set a good example I’ve set up a Genealogy Do-Over board on Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/geneabloggers/genealogy-do-overtm/) where I’m collecting blog posts related to this project and also resources that others are sharing over in the Facebook group. I personally use Pinterest to capture research goodies I want to remember and review later (this is a good use of Pinterest’s Secret Boards function).

And finally, if you are at your wits end trying to remember the upcoming Genealogy Do-Over topics or that neat tool that someone posted on Facebook last week, there’s help. The Genealogy Do-Over mailing list (http://www.geneabloggers.com/gendo-over-emails) has been created; sign up and each Friday you’ll receive a list of the new Genealogy Do-Over topics as well as a recap of resources and goodies shared during the previous week.

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So between now and January 2nd when the Genealogy Do-Over officially beings, think about slowing down and putting the advice above into action. Create your own “to do list” for the Genealogy Do-Over. Start to collect resources. By doing so you’ll get a head start on building good research habits and you’ll already be working smarter.

Remember . . . you’ve got to make the moment last – that research moment. And get the most out of that moment. You may never pass that way again; you might not get a “do-over” again.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

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7 thoughts on “Genealogy Do-Over: Slow Down, You Move Too Fast!

  1. Thank you. I have started to enter just names in dates into my software. Only 3 generations, since that is is what I have personal knowledge of. I know myself, parents and grandparents existed.
    I’ve started listed the documents I do have, birth, death, marriage certificates (all that I purchased). I’m looking the books I have that have info on those generations. My maternal grandmother belonged to a local historical society that published books on the families that lived in their town, great info to start with, but must prove the facts.

  2. What a timely post. I started reading what some of the people were doing on the Facebook Do-Over Group and groaned. I’m not close to doing that yet. Was I falling behind before the Do-Over even started???? !!!! Yikes! It doesn’t help either that I’m going to be out-of-pocket (that’s another term for not having Internet access available for most of 30 days RIGHT when Do-Over starts). But I’m determined I’m going to participate. Somehow. Some way.

  3. Good advice – loved the story about the rabbit hole and the registration card. 🙂 Keeping a to do list is indeed essential, as is taking the time to write through WHY you came to a conclusion about someone’s parentage especially if the records don’t make it obvious. That can save so much trouble down the road.

  4. I am so glad that I read this article because I was getting frantic trying to think of what I should be doing before the 2nd when we start. Now I know that I just have to decide where I want to start. And that will be getting a notebook where I can list what information that I need for my grandfather, sure beats scraps of paper. Since I have no living relatives except a younger brother who wasn’t born while my grandfather was alive I have to rely on research only for the information which is why after over 20 years of research I have not gotten across the pond yet. So I am really looking forward to learning some new techniques.

  5. Pingback: Genealogy Do-Over 2015: Slow Down, You Move Too Fast! | Leaves of my Family Tree

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