Is Your Research Energy Efficient?

In my house, I’m the thermostat police. I’m constantly turning it down and when the family complains I promptly hand them a sweatshirt. We’ve put plastic over the windows to keep out extra drafts and a rolled up towel sits at the foot of front and back doors to give added support to the weather stripping. And it’s paying off. Despite really cold temps this month, my utilities bill was still lower than last year. Yeah!

I try to keep my family history research “energy efficient” too. A few simple steps can really make a difference and help you get the most out of every precious minute you have to spend with your family history.

Start a To-Do List
Too often I find that I have just fifteen minutes or a half hour between errands and picking up my daughter and I’d like to be able to sneak in a little family history in between. I have a word processing document that I saved to my desktop and whenever I think of a task I need to do, I add it to my document. I keep it free form and I can add notes–where I left off last time I worked on that task, what I’ve tried and failed with, where to look next, etc.

Some of the items are from when I got interrupted midstream. They may say something like “transcribe Joe Dennis’s birth certificate into Family Tree Maker,” or “create a timeline for George Dennis.”

Shorter tasks like the transcription are highlighted, so when I only have a few minutes, I can go right to those items and knock them off. As items are completed, I mark them complete and move them to the bottom of the document. It’s a simple system, but it works for me.

Keep Up with Filing
Although I have the best of intentions, I still struggle with keeping up with filing. I have given in to a certain extent and have a “to be filed” box that I have to empty occasionally. When I get time to tackle the pile, I sort first into a small standing file frame with folders for each surname. Then when that’s done, I pull out a folder at a time and file it into the binder for that family.

Are You Letting Technology Help You?
The tools we use are constantly evolving and sometimes it’s hard to keep up. Add reading Help files or user manuals for the tools you use so that you’re taking advantage of all the features. For Ancestry tools, check the Learning Center to see if there is a webinar that can help. Take online tours wherever they are available. 

Plan Your Research Trips
If you have a research trip coming up, start a separate to-do list for that trip. If you’ll be visiting several repositories, you might want to create a separate list for each one. Use online catalogs to look up film and call numbers ahead of time for the materials you plan to use. Explore the library website for descriptions of the collections and check for any restrictions. Call ahead too to make sure that there are no major unexpected closures. You can enlist the help of fellow genealogists on message boards or mailing lists too. Ask for advice from genealogists on lists or boards for the geographic area you will be visiting. They may share some helpful tips with you that will help you get more from your trip.

Keep a Book in the Car
Since I often find myself waiting in the car for my daughter to get out of some activity, I keep a bag of books and a notepad and pen in my car so that when I’m sitting there waiting, I can catch up on my reading. I jot down notes on things that may be relevant to my research or that I’d like to learn more about. The bag is handy because I can take it in when I have an appointment and know I may have a wait. Now I actually look forward to my “waiting time.” 😉

8 thoughts on “Is Your Research Energy Efficient?

  1. Instead of putting things to be filed into a box, just put them in the surname folder that is in the standup file. I try to use the rule of thumb – handle the paper once – the times you handle it, the less efficient you are.

    Have to admit that I started a “to do” list on my Family Tree Maker but don’t always think to look at it – or update it.

  2. At the bottom of my to do list on my word processing program (which is for everything, not just genealogy), I have “done” and when I finish something it goes there along with the date finished, Unfortunately the additional things to do build up quicker than the ones done! However it is amazing how often the done items get consulted and how much time I save by having that handy.

  3. I use the Family Tree Maker (FTM) program.
    I use a rule in addition to “handling each piece of paper only one time”. It’s “enter every name and source into FTM IMMEDIATELY”. I use FTM as my master source of all information.
    I have my “Companion Notebook” that is a different color, conveniently located on my desk and I always carry whenever I do any research. Included is:
    First, I print a “Report” from FTM of all names in my database, in last name alphabetical order, also listing their date of birth and death. This gives me a quick reference of names that I may encounter in the newspaper or other material I am researching or discussing with a relative. It’s impossible for me to remember every person included in my database.
    Second, I print a “Bibliography of Sources” from FTM which is my master list of every piece of information I have acquired. The longer I am involved in genealogy the harder it is to remember every newspaper article I have, or document I have acquired, or conversation (interview) I have had. As I do research, I know immediately if I have already obtained a particular article or document that I find and this saves a lot of time and eliminates duplication. Also, I do not use standard procedures for entering Sources of Information. I want to be able to print my information in person name order. For example, obituary information is entered: “Obituary. Name, birth, death. Then attitional detail.” Census data is entered: “US Census. Name. Then census year and additional detail.” Death certificate information is entered: “Death Certificate. Name, birth, death. Then additional detail.”
    Third, my “To Do List” is a word document. It is subheaded People, Places, and Newspapers.
    The People list is the name and inquiry I want to make the next time I talk to that person or need to make an appointment with. The Places includes cemeteries, archives, towns etc., that I need to visit and anything I think of that I want to acquire on my next visit. The Newspapers is mainly obituaries, births and marriages, which seems to always be a long list. It’s very easy to make pencil additions to the list and update the computer when there are several changes or just before a research trip.
    Fourth, a pad and several different color pens. On a research trip I use a different pen for notes at each site or person visited. This eliminates a lot of details in my documentations and after entering findings in FTM I can file for future reference.
    These things are “crutches” for my forgetfulness and unorganized, cluttered mind. I am still having problems with properly documenting and archiving tidbits of information obtained in E-mails. If it’s something I need to verify, I add it to the To Do List.

  4. I am about to take my first trip out of town to do library research on my family line. This article and postings was a tremendous help – thank you!

  5. Easier and less time consuming than a “filing” box and then a set of surname folders:

    I purchased an office mail sorter with eight mail slots — two vertical rows of four slots each — you have to set it up yourself (easy), made of heavy double corrugated board — for under $20 at Office Depot. It’s made by the people who make the Bankers Boxes.

    Each slot holds about 300 papers or more. I named each one for a great-grandparent surname. When I have a certificate or a page or I copy something online, I slip it into the slot as the sorter is handy, always on a chair next to my desk.

    When a name slot fills, I file. If I need something from last week (or last month), I know right where it is. If I really feel like filing awhile, I choose the fullest surname. It has worked for me for about nine years!

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