“Done” With Genealogy!

“Done” With Genealogy!

Maybe this is as a new of concept for you as it was for me… but, when do you determine you are “done” with a particular task in the research process? Are you “done” when you find a record? Or are you “done” when it has been scanned and filed? Are you “done” when you have source citations are sited in your genealogy software program? What does “done” mean to you?
For years, I would find the document or record and think done. Then stick the record in a file pile and then at some later date I would pick it up again as I go through the file/pile and scan like crazy, then pick it up again at some other future time and put the information with citations into my genealogy program, or I would put into the software program first and then put it back into the pile to be “filed” another day. I had no consistent process from start to finish.
Thinking you are “done” before you actually finished every step in the process can cause needless duplication of time and effort. This discovery has helped me realize that I needed to create a discovery process from start to finish. Starting from step one of “determine what information you are searching for” to the final steps of analyze, write research summary, record and file.
I have been doing genealogy research for over 20 years, mostly as a hobbyist – by the way, I not saying that to brag. I just want you to imagine the incredible amount of papers I have collected over the years! During those years I was also raising children and moving 12 times across the country. Ever have “professional movers” before? For some reason they will bubble wrap the hammer and then put it in the same box as fine china, or pack a full garbage can or a half empty paint can with a box of your clothes. This same “professional” will then dump your once perfectly organized files, take them out and spread them out into several totally unrelated boxes and label the box “Tools” or “Misc.” …now do this12 times, and picture many stacks of unpacked boxes from the last move in the basement that have yet to be gone through.
Our US-REC Study Group’s first assignment is to organize your research. Time to stop putting it off and eat the elephant. Here are some tips that might help.
7 Tips for Creating an Organizing System (based on a list in “It’s Hard to Make a Difference When you Can’t Find Your Keys” by Marilyn Paul):

  1. It has to make sense to you. If you are a file cabinet, binder gal – stick with that. If you are a digital guy – go with that. You don’t have to explain it or excuse it if it works for you.
  2. Your system has to produce results. A system works when you can find what you want in under 2 minutes. Anything else needs to be revamped.
  3. Systems should be as simple as possible. SIMPLE is key.
  4. Systems should be accessible.
  5. Systems should be low-maintenance.
  6. Systems should build on your strengths. Are you a visual person? Make your system visually appealing. Are you techno-savvy? Use the latest programs to tag, index and use the cloud.
  7. Consider how to manage the flow of information from start to finish. You aren’t done until you are really finished.

Now here comes the important part “THERE IS NO PERFECT SYSTEM!” Done is better than perfect! It is easy to find an excuse when you are looking for one and believe as I have looked at this HUGE project before me I have found many reasons to delay and evade. Just get started and tweak as you go.
Final words: “Motivation will get you started. But habit will see you through.”


  1. Nice post! I like the “7 Tips…” i wonder about #3, however. My experience would suggest the the simplest system are often very complex but, over time, as access and retrieval are refined, they begin to appear simple. That has been my experience with the development of my Research Wiki. Raely on it seemed (was) very comples. Now it seems much simpler. One other comment… We are obviously never “done” with genealogy, only transitioning to other tasks. The only way to be done is to die and join the ranks of ancestors, or to quit.

  2. I agree in genealogy we are never done researching. But, we can finish a task. I like the satisfactory feeling that comes when I can check something off my list. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Valerie, I totally understand where you are! I too have moved several times and have genealogy papers in boxes and folders everywhere. Some of the information got recorded, some didn’t,and lots of it didn’t get filed. The thrill of the hunt always wins out against the drudgery of the data entry and filing. Discipline is the key. We have to be sure we have truly finished the task before checking it off the list. I’m working on developing better habits! As well as trying to digitize as much as possible….

  4. Oh, Valerie, it’s hard to imagine the mess you could have after 17 experiences with movers! I think it would make me want to give up!

    The seven tips are excellent and it’s always reassuring to read that we can do it our own way. (I do anyway, or it wouldn’t get done, but it’s nice to read.)

    I like your quote at the end. I also like this one my daughter posted for me on my bulletin board: “Stick to a task till it sticks to you. Beginners many and finishers few.”

    Best wishes for your success!

  5. Great points that I can totally relate to. How many times have I worked with a document and thought I was done only to realize I had three more tasks still to do!

  6. Denise that is soooo true about the thrill of the hunt and then having to do the boring stuff like recording and filing!
    Nancy I love the quote, I will add it to my collection.
    Michelle that was what I was finding, I was too quick to say done. Doing the mental shift to wait until I am really done is making a difference! Thanks all for the comments.

  7. One of the better articles I’ve read on the topic! I really appreciate the ending the best, “There is no perfect system. Done is better than perfect!” Amen.

  8. Beautiful job, Valerie! I’ve a few moves under my belt as well and am still amazed at what I find in the “two moves ago” boxes. You’ve given me a nudge to get back to the processing and organizing. It is overwhelming, but needs to be tackled.

    And Nancy, fabulous quote from your daughter. It’s going on my bulletin board too!

  9. I really struggle with the organization thing. It’s monumental and I have to think about the saying all the time “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” and go with that. This was a helpful post and it’s good to know that I’m in LOTS of good company!

  10. Valerie,
    Thank you for the great piece! I am truly beginning to think I have adult ADD, or maybe I like the search better then the clean up! Every time I start “eating the elephant”….I always ending up seeing what more I can find!
    I think I will write down your list and see if I can get at it 😀 Keep up the good work!

  11. Maybe that’s my problem, Valerie. I was told one was never “done”. I think that type of thinking has even crossed the divide and shown up in my research.

    I also forgot about the many moves that we have made…and although it wasn’t with professional movers, I am afraid that I was not very organized with that, either. More for me to ponder.

  12. Great post Valerie.

    I don’t think we are ever “done” with records. As new information is located it often begs for re-evaluation of information previously collected and it sometimes challenges us to change our previous conclusions as well.

    Organization of all we collect, paper records, photographs, other heirlooms can be a real challenge and I appreciate your suggestions. You are right on the money when you say that one size definitely does not fit all!

    Having moved even more times than you, I can commiserate with you on the disorganized packing of “professional” movers. It is often a challenge to locate everything with each move.

    Now back to the re-evaluation after the last interesting tidbits I’ve found!

  13. I love your organising system.

    I will never be ‘done’ with a document. Going back and looking at old documents armed with knowledge gained from new research gives further insights and enables me to get more value from the old documents.

  14. Thanks everyone for the comments. I am glad to know I am not alone in the struggle for organizational nirvana! I do get the whole never being done in genealogy thing. But, I am also a big cross-things-off-my-list person and I have to feel like I making progress. So for example, I can cross obtaining a Marriage Certificate off my list after I analyze it, record it, etc. When I say it is done, I mean it done being processed though it doesn’t been I am done ever reviewing it again at a later date for further information. The key here is that I will be able to FIND it again because I took the time to finish the job right and make it easily accessible when I need it. Thank so much for all the great comments and helping me solidify my organizational goals and purpose!

  15. I’m catching up in my Google Reader, so just read this tonight & totally love it! I too struggle with when you can actually check something off.My solution has been (unfortunately) to take each step and put in on a to-do list & check off when done. Later I put the next step on a to-do list (you get the idea). I like the idea of making a master “chain process sheet” for each document that I can just print off & have in my research binder as my reminder until all is done. Thank you for planting the ideas I needed, especially since I just spent 2 days at a Kentucky courthouse.

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