Unclutter your life and unclutter your genealogy work space. It is essential to allocate time for research, which also means cleaning up files, putting papers in files and preparing a research plan. Whether it is fifteen minutes a day or several hours, add genealogy clean-up and preparation to your daily schedule. If each day is too busy, find time at least once a week. You will be surprised at how much you will accomplish if it is on your schedule.
Clean-up is never fun, but it can make a difference in how you do your research. Working in a messy room or office is less productive, at least for me, than having a cleared desk space for that fresh approach to research. If you have failed to file papers and documents, quit digging through the piles and start filing. Whether you are making use of the dining room table for a desk or have a spacious genealogy room, preparation is necessary.
How cluttered is the desktop of your computer? Files saved and left without proper labels or files? Make a plan for your genealogy files so you can easily retrieve them. This might be folders for specific family surnames, locations or topics. While you are at it, take a look at all the bookmarks or favorites you have on your Internet browser. Are they all mish-mashed together? Folders make it easier to locate specific links thus saving time when you are on Internet. They can be by topics or locations, such as Genealogy Societies, Land Records, Search Engines ... or you can have folders for family web pages, and specific locations.
Now that you have a proper place for everything on and off the computer, it is time to make a list of what you wish to accomplish. What has been left undone for months? What can you accomplish with research before thoughts turn to the winter holidays? A goal accomplished is better than several goals that bring frustration. Keep your goal(s) simple and within a time frame that is in keeping with your schedule. Particularly with computerized genealogy records and access to Internet, it is easy to wander from one surname to another. That is why it is important to not only set a goal, but to develop a research plan.
What could you accomplish in two months working either on Internet or doing on-site research, at least three hours a week? That's easy! You can accomplish more on Internet. However, it might be more fun and challenging to do on-site research. Using a sheet of paper for research planning on Internet, select one family unit that you need to research. Write down what you wish to locate or accomplishment. This might be date of birth, location of marriage, place where buried. Beside each jot down where you might look for these items on Internet. Leave a space to show when you did look for it on Internet and the results. Before you dive into research on Internet, print out the charts (family group sheet and ancestral) that pertain to the family unit you are researching.
Once all of this is done, start looking for the needed information on Internet. Are you effectively using search engines? Which ones work best for you. For more ideas check out the Best Search Tools Chart at http://infopeople.org/search/chart.html. Keep in mind that not everything on Internet will appear on any one search engine. Examples of this are the large databases. Sometimes it is a challenge to query each one properly to obtain the best results. While memberships to access large databases such as Ancestry.com may not be in your budget, start browsing Internet for web sites that contain free information. An example is Online Searchable Death Indexes, Records & Obituaries at http://www.deathindexes.com/index.html. Cyndi's List at http://www.cyndislist.com contains thousands of links to genealogy web pages. If you are searching for cemetery records, check out her topic listing, or refine it further by location. Learn how to use the search engines that are available on her web page.
How much did you accomplish on Internet? Did you get sidetracked? It is easy to do and particularly when web pages contain links to other interesting web pages. Before you know it, the goal is still waiting on paper and you have accomplished very little. That is why you need to develop the research plan and stick with it. If you happen across an interesting web page, make note of it, but move on in the direction your research is taking you.
Chances are you did not find everything to accomplish your goal on Internet. Perhaps you will need to write letters, seek help from a genealogist or make a research trip. When it comes to writing letters, it is okay to send e-mail. However, if your e-mail is not answered, you may need to send a postal letter or make a phone call.
Look at your research plan with another sheet of paper and the family charts beside you. Because all was not found on Internet, how will you accomplish your goal? Perhaps the courthouse has a birth record that will help you. There are ways to locate that without going too far from home. You can always write, e-mail or call the courthouse where you think a record is located. To assure that you have the right place, use some of the resource books such as Red Book American State, County and Town Sources, 3rd edition, edited by Alice Eichholz, published by Ancestry in 2004. There are other similar books available and some may be in your local library's genealogy section.
There are web pages that provide helpful information on state boundaries as well as the location of courthouses. These include:
Evolution of United States County Boundaries http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~stephan/Animation/us.html
NACo/Find a County
Before aggressively seeking a record from the courthouse, you might also consider what is available on microfilm from the Family History Library (LDS) at one of their many Family History Centers. Their catalog can be found online at
http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHLC/frameset_fhlc.asp. To locate a Family History Center near you, go to http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHC/frameset_fhc.asp.
Sometimes the brickwall becomes even higher when you encounter uncooperative courthouse personnel or you discover there is no microfilm at the Family History Library for a specific county. This may force you into a situation of locating a volunteer genealogist or hiring a genealogist. If the courthouse is uncooperative, ask if there are genealogists in their town who might be willing to do the look-up for you. You can also contact the library in the town and ask about genealogists or a local/area genealogy society. Another option is to use volunteers listed at Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, http://www.raogk.org/index.html.
Professional genealogists can be found in various locations and with various levels of expertise. There are no set rates as they establish their own criteria for that as well as compensations. If that brickwall appears to be too high, keep them in mind. Perhaps your family will share in the expense as a holiday gift for you. If this is an option, check out the Associtation of Professional Genealogists web page at http://www.apgen.org/index.html. Here you will discover not only a directory of professional genealogists, but information on hiring a professional. Be sure to also check out the Board for Certification of Genealogists web page at http://www.bcgcertification.org/. Do not be afraid to dialogue with a professional genealogist and ask questions about your personal research needs. It is important that they know what research you have accomplished, both negative and positive, as well as what you wish to accomplish ... that goal you established back at the beginning.
If you opt for a research trip, keep in mind the goal, take your research plan sheets as well as your family group sheets and charts. Plan your trip wisely by determining the hours of the institution, such as the library and/or courthouse. What is available to make your trip productive? You might want to include a trip to the cemetery or newspaper office. Have your brief case or tote ready to go by making a lists of supplies you think will be beneficial to onsite research.
The biggest downfall of genealogists is procrastination. The second is despair at not finding all positive answers. A good motto is "I will do it and I will not despair." I am going to take my advise to heart once I get moved and settled into my new home, just in time to watch the leaves fall and prepare those research goals.