Finding Your Focus

by Christine Sievers

This month, we will be working on getting our research organized. Then, I will show you how you can decide on a plan of action. When you first start, and even later, it is easy to get everything all mixed up. If you have already dived into your family research, I suggest that you step back a moment and see if you have everything in order.

If you haven't already started putting your family information onto family group sheets, now is the time to do it. You can get these free online. Cyndi's List, at, under Charts & Forms to Print or Download provides a number of places where you can find them. Even if you are entering your data into a genealogy program, the family group sheets can be a great visual help. As you fill them out, you will be able to see what is missing.

As you enter your data, devise a simple system for marking where you got each bit of information. It will save you a lot of confusion later. I put a number by each bit of data, that matches a master sheet. For instance, 1- is for personal knowledge (the dates of my children's birth and my mothers name), 2- may be for information that I was told by a family member, 3- may be for a document, such as a birth certificate, and so on (each document would have its own number).

As you pile up family group sheets, you will need a filing system. Keep it simple and expandable. The two easiest methods are three ring binders, and hanging files. I use a combination of both. As your family information grows, there are some good articles on filing systems; but that is for later.

Remember that genealogy goes in two directions, the past and the future. You will find yourself not only looking for information on dead relatives, but also keeping track of family births, etc.

Once the information is down, take a look close look at the sheets. Find the family line that seems the most accessible by asking yourself some simple questions. What line do you have the most information on? What clues have you gotten from other family members? Which line will be easiest to trace geographically? What relatives do you keep in contact with? They may be able to give you information or clues.

Pick a family line to follow. Set a goal. For instance, tracing the line back to the point of immigration. I would save the search into the old country for later, when you have more experience. This will keep you from getting frustrated.

You may find that you will run into a brick wall before you reach your goal. There are two things you can do at that point. One, research corollary lines, like great aunts and uncles. Or, put it aside for awhile and work on another line. Your decision will depend on where you have gotten before you got stuck.

As you work, follow the two simple rules of genealogical research. Start from the present and work backwards. Work on one line at a time. This will keep you organized and moving forward with a plan of action.

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