The beginning of the year is always a good time to reassess and track progress in genealogy.
Below, I offer a checklist of questions that you can apply to any line of your family. My hope is that this list can help frame some of the goals for your research this year.
1. What are the research questions you still want to answer for this branch of your family? Write down your specific research questions, so that you can plan the research needed in order to answer them. Questions help to focus your time and effort.
2. Have you fully researched all the known siblings in each generation? There is no time like the present to pick a sibling line and begin the process of deep research into each one.
3. Do you have each of your families documented in every census during their lifetime? If not, go back and spend more time trying to find them in the missing censuses using a wider variety of search strategies.
4. For ancestors who had children in the 1940 census, have you tried to find any living descendants? Go back and use obituaries, Facebook, and Internet searches on sites like Whitepages to try to find those living descendants. They will always have information not available in any library or database.
5. Have you interviewed all the elders and older cousins in your family? If not, schedule an interview now. Software like Zoom makes it easy to interview, especially with its recording ability. If not a video interview, a phone call works just fine.
Whatever your method, don’t wait. More than a few of my relatives have passed away before I got a chance to interview them, and I really regret that.
6. If you have already interviewed elders, did you make a rough transcript (i.e., not every word but by topic) of the conversation? If you didn’t, that information will stay buried inside the interview! I got this tip from genealogist Tony Burroughs some years ago, and he was absolutely right.
I spent a lot of time while I was home during the early days of COVID transcribing interviews I’d done more than a decade ago and guess what? There was tons of information in those interviews I had just plain forgotten.
7. Do you have a solid back up plan for your genealogical records and photographs? If not, purchase an external hard drive and explore cloud storage options (such as Backblaze) so that if the worst happens, your research will survive.
Put a plan together now, and while you are at it, think about who in your family you can leave your records and research to.
8. What events in your research do you have a derivative source such as this:
and not the original source such as this?
Almost every month, I send requests off by mail to a court house or vital records repository (usually) for an original marriage or death record. Don’t trust anyone else’s analysis of the record except your own.
Read the post I wrote some years ago to understand why you should make it your practice to have as many original sources as possible. Many of these records are not online.
When you can’t find something online, don’t interpret that as meaning that the record does not exist.
9. Have you ever read any of the many excellent genealogy books that have been published? If not, make a goal this year to read at least one. I often re-read some of the core books I have in my library and I almost always come away with something useful I needed to better understand.
Reading published genealogical books will improve your research skills and make you a more efficient researcher. Take a look at my list of favorites for some suggestions.
10. Make a prioritized list of repositories to visit in-person. As I said above, information about your ancestors will never all be online. Some of the most unique jewels, like this one, can only be viewed onsite at archives and libraries.
Now is also a great time to search the online catalog of that repository and have a written list of records ready for your visit. I currently have research lists ready for the National Archives in D.C. and NARA II in College Park.
What you’ve read above are the questions that are constantly coursing through my mind as I research my family.
Each year of family history research brings more exciting discoveries, but also more questions and more roads to explore.
I hope this checklist gave you some ideas you can apply this year as you continue along your genealogical journey.
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.