4 Useful Tips for Creating Successful Genealogy New Years Resolutions

It’s that time of year again…Santa has come and gone, all the presents have been opened, I’ve probably gained 5 pounds, and all eyes are now on the new year and the goals we want to accomplish. 

Before you create a list of goals or resolutions that you will either break or forget about by February 28th, check out the tips below to make the most of your new year:

1. The “Rule of 3.” 

A few years ago a business professor and United States Marine shared with me a valuable lesson he learned from his military service that he uses to teach students about strategic planning — but that I will apply to goal setting.

Marines are known for toughness. They boast that they are the few, the proud, and likely the first in and the last out of a battle. Their organization has adopted the “rule of 3” to improve organizational efficiency and decision making.

The “rule of 3” basically is that a marine (whatever their rank may be) is essentially in charge of three things or people. No matter what chaos, stress, or environment is going on around them, a marine can take care of those three things. From what I’ve read, this teaching has been very successful for the Marine Corps.

Our lives are chaotic. Many times, genealogy is just a hobby that competes for the free time we have left over from our important adult responsibilities (work, family, etc.). Applying the “rule of 3” to your genealogical New Years resolutions or goals means that you only pick three projects or goals that you want to accomplish for the year (for starters). When you complete them, you can add more. But, you shouldn’t have more than three active goals going at a given time.

Applying the “rule of 3” will keep you focused and increase your capacity to achieve your goals. I believe it will help keep you from not feeling overwhelmed about all the various projects you could choose from). I invite you to try it out this year.

2. Create “SMART” goals. 

“SMART” is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable,  Actionable, Realistic, and Time-based. A lot of people set goals that lack one of these pieces. Doing so, sets a person up for failure from the start. 

A bad example of a non-“SMART” genealogy goal would be “to find all that I can about my direct ancestors seven generations back.” Although a noble pursuit, this goal is trouble. I see burnout or abandonment written all over this goal’s future. 

A good example of a “SMART” genealogy goal would be to digitize grandma’s shoebox of pictures (157 photos) by December 31, 2017. Notice that it meets the “SMART” criteria. It’s specific (one project or task). It’s measurable (either you get the 157 photos scanned or you don’t). It’s actionable (you can definitely take action and get it done). It’s very realistic (you would have to scan about 3 photos per week to accomplish it). The goal is also time based (you either complete it by December 31st or you don’t).

I invite you to make your goals “SMART” this year.

3. Make written step-by-step plan to accomplish your goal. 

A goal without a plan is just a wish — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

To do this, make a list of all steps needing to be taken to finish the goal or project and what order they need to be accomplished in. This helps you break things down into smaller pieces to help avoid getting overwhelmed. Create  tasks or dates to serve as milestones or “check in” points to follow up on how you are doing with your goal (and help you know if you need to allocate more resources to be successful).

I invite you to make specific step by step plans to achieve your goals this year.

4. Get an “Accountability Partner” or Coach to keep you on track with your goals.

This person could be a close friend, spouse, parent, or anyone who cares about you really. Share what goals or projects you want to accomplish, your plans to accomplish them, and your milestones or dates you would like them to check in with you. I really think this step is the “secret ingredient” to creating a successful goal because after you commit to this person, you can’t just forget about your goal. Your goal is now a real thing (it’s out of your mind and verbalized to another person) and you now have somebody watching to make sure you succeed at what you said you wanted to do.

I invite you to find an accountability partner or coach this year to help keep you on track.

I wish you all a happy New Year and great success with whatever it is you would like to accomplish in the coming year!


A New Generation of Local FamilySearch Centers?

Over the past few years, I’ve heard a fairly significant amount of chatter in the genealogical community regarding the future of local family history centers and libraries operated by FamilySearch and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

From the locations I have visited, the primary purpose of the family history center’s were to serve as a place that people could go to order and view microfilm, use subscription-based genealogy sites for free to do research, and serve as a repository for rare genealogical books. 

As more genealogical records become digitized and indexed, the demand for microfilm orders from the Salt Lake Family History Library and local microfilm readers has decreased and will continue to gradually decrease as patrons are able to access more online resources from home (I’m not sure northern Davis county was ready to abruptly lose all their readers though). The need to view traditional genealogical books will also decrease as these are more increasingly available online for free.

Some of these developments may have led to concern among patrons and other genealogy enthusiasts about what would become of these family history centers? Would FamilySearch continue to pour money and resources into the centers or find a better way to reach out to people?

I was able to recently tour the new FamilySearch Discovery Center in Layton, UT and think this new “class” or “generation” of family history centers that will provide the most value to patrons (offering them resources and help they can’t readily get at home in the current wave of the digital age).

Here are some of the highlights from the tour and pretty amazing features of the facility:

1. Scanning area. This facility had one of the coolest photo scanners I have ever seen. In fact, you could place stack of family photos on the scanner and they all would be digitized in a matter of minutes (it would have taken me days or weeks if I tried to do it with my home scanner). They also have a large bed scanner for bigger documents (which some of the old centers did not have).

2. Family friendliness. The new Layton Discovery Center is very family friendly. It has a kid’s center and “family room” parents or grandparents can reserve to work on projects. The room is equipped with a TV where kids can watch a movie and plenty of space where kids can play, draw, or color. I think these features added to this center will help attract a new generation or demographic to genealogy — which is important to preserve and perpetuate our own research.

3. VHS to DVD converter. The center offers “do it your selfers” the ability to bring in family movies on VHS tapes and convert them to DVDs. 

4. Recording studio. I thought this  part of the center was by far the coolest room patrons can use at the center. You can record audio or video of you (or a group of people) telling family stories or reminiscing about days gone by. The room reminds me of a living room with space for several people. The room features a commercial grade microphone and camera. If you’re not sure what you want to talk about, a computer screen can prompt you with questions or an image that you upload.

5. Discovery center. This is a pretty cool station where you can bring family and friends not familiar with genealogy or their own family tree. Using very easy interfaces, they can learn a lot more about themselves and families. It’s a great way to give someone an introduction to their own family tree.

6. A Kitchen. You now will only need to leave your genealogy addiction in order to sleep (just kidding). But in all seriousness, a place to store and warm up food is a very nice and welcome addition the FamilySearch centers.

7. Large computer labs. All the subscription based genealogy sites available at the old Family History Centers are still available for free.

8. State of the art classrooms. The center includes three classrooms with state of the art technology and student computers.

I understand that this type of center is the first of its kind outside of the Temple Square in Salt Lake City. If this is any indication of where FamilySearch is headed with the rest of their centers nationwide, I think this type of center will be very valuable to seasoned genealogists as well as attract new people to the field. Overall, great job FamilySearch!

18 Genealogy Projects You Need to Try and Accomplish


Genealogy is an amazing and versatile hobby.  There are so many things you can do and different areas that you can try out (it’s hard to get bored).  Listed below are 18 projects that you could try (organized by difficulty/skill level).  The list isn’t comprehensive, it’s just meant to get your mind racing a bit.  So, browse the list below and try a project out for your next genealogy project!

Genealogy Basics

1. Research and fill out a five generation pedigree chart of your direct ancestors (this will have you researching back to your 16 great-great grandparents).

2. Write a life history for yourself to this point of one of your relatives.  I recommend choosing among your oldest living relatives that may not be around much longer.

3. Ensure that your vital genealogical statistics are recorded (birth, marriage, death dates) for you and your spouse, your children, and any grandchildren.

4. Ensure that your vital genealogical statistics are recorded (birth, marriage, death dates) for you and your parents and siblings.

5. Start writing a journal about your life and experiences.

6. Gather all the historical documents and photos you currently physically have into one location.

7. Trace an ancestor’s journey across the United States and document their route on a map.

    Beginner Level

    8. Digitize any photos you have for yourself, spouse, children, and grandchildren.

    9. Start a Facebook group for one of your ancestors and their spouse.  Add as many relatives as you can to be members of the group.  You can then share your research findings, photos, etc. with your cousins.

    10. Record an interview with a relative (asking them questions about their life experiences).

      Intermediate Level

      11. Create a shadow box for a relative’s military service (you can include a flag, unit patches, awards, medals, etc.).

      12. On Google Earth, map out where each of your ancestors were born, resided during a given census, and died.

      13. Find birth, marriage, death and census records for each of your grandparents and great-grandparents.

      14. Determine which of your ancestors immigrated.  I mark information like this off on an oversized fan chart that I have hanging in my basement.

        Advanced Level

        15. For your five generation org chart, research what religion each of your ancestors belonged to.

        16. Join a lineage society (Daughters of the American Revolution, General Society of Mayflower descendants.

        17. Become a certified genealogist

        18. Research and fill out an eight generation pedigree chart of your direct ancestors and their families. 

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        Audiovisual Resources Available at FamilySearch Libraries for Genealogy

        I recently found out that some of the FamilySearch has added some new audiovisual services available for free to the public to help preserve your genealogical assets. These resources can no doubt help enhance your genealogical research and preserve  family memories.

        With the holidays fast approaching,  you could easily create an heirloom for a loved one in your family (that could be cherished for generations) using these resources.

        Some of these audiovisual resources include the ability to:

        • Scan documents and photos.
        • Digitze old slides.
        • Convert VHS tapes to DVDs.
        • Use the sound recording/studio equipment to record stories, memories, interviews, histories, etc.

        If you have an audiovisual genealogical project you’ve been wanting to complete for awhile, consider visiting a FamilySearch library near you (I would suggest contacting the location first though to ensure they have the equipment you’re needing).

        There are hundreds of FamilySearch libraries and family history centers located throughout the world. You can find a location near you at https://familysearch.org/locations.

        For more information about other free resources available at a FamilySearch library (or Family History Center), check out my other post at https://latterdaygenealogist.com/2016/09/04/4-things-you-can-do-at-a-familysearch-library/.

        7 Must Have Tools to Become a More Productive and Organized Genealogist

        Have you ever gotten overwhelmed with everything you could possibly do while researching your family tree? Do you love doing genealogy, but ever feel like you aren’t accomplishing a whole lot or that you are jumping around from project to project?

        If so, try out these seven tools to better help organize you and your genealogical research. Any output you come up with for each tool should be written down.

        1. A genealogical “mission statement.” I know mission statements may seem overused or cliche, but mission statements are important because they focus, clarify, and remind you why you are spending your time and money on your genealogy endeavors. It answers the question of “why do I do genealogy and family history work?” If you get overwhelmed with all the possible projects you can focus on, it can also serve as a measuring stick to figure out  if something is within the scope you’ve defined.

        This statement need not be long. It really could just be a sentence answering the “why statement” mentioned above. But of course, you can make it as long or as detailed as you would like.

        2. A Vision or “End in Mind” Statement.  This statement will describe what your genealogical research will look like in the future and will likely become a blueprint for your projects and goals. It will provide you with direction for whatever you want to accomplish.

        To come up with this statement, take out a piece of paper and jot down the answers to the following questions. In 5 or 10 years:

        • What projects have you accomplished?
        • Where are you with your research?
        • How is your research stored. What does that look like?

        I went out a little further than 5-10 years (mine was a a few decades and involved a 90 year old me imagining what my research looks like).

          3. A triage/idea capture list. This list is used to capture ideas for projects, goals, and things you want to do in the future, etc. It is a temporary holding place for things until you can properly process items and categorize them to the appropriate list when you’re ready.

          4. A prioritized “Master Project” list. This is your list of every single genealogical project you want to accomplish. Your list should be prioritized in some way. I like following the Stephen R. Covey time management method of prioritizing your projects by importance and urgency. This list is not the same as a “to-do” list (as I will explain later on in the post).

          5. A list of “SMART” Goals. Generally everybody knows what the definition of a goal is. This tool is a list of things you want to accomplish within a specific timeframe. Usually they are top priorities (projects or to-do list items).  To be “Smart,” the goal needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time based. 

          6A to-do list. This tool is a list of tasks or next actions that need to be done in order to eventually complete a project or accomplish a goal. Each item is one specific action or step. For example, “verify sources on first 5 generations of my pedigree chart” would not be a next action or task (it sounds more like a project to me). “Check the accuracy of Grandpa Smith’s marriage record attached in the FamilySearch Family Tree” would be more of a true task. Or, “call great aunt Josephine and ask her what it was like growing up with a horse and buggy.” I first learned about this type of to-do list in a book called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.

            7. A “Research Organization” Journal. Ever felt like your research is going around in circles?   This tool records where you have been in your genealogical journey, questions that came up while researching something, or items you want to follow up on in the future.

            In conclusion, I’ve heard and read a lot about performing genealogical research. Many professionals or organizations will say to start your research with a specific question. I have found it’s hard to find out which questions to ask without orienting yourself first by creating and using these tools/resources. I hope these tools help you in your research!

              4 Genealogical Records You Should Try to Find for Each Ancestor

              One of the biggest mistakes a genealogist starting out can make is they implicitly trust information found in online public family trees (whether that be a FamilySearch tree, an Ancestry tree, or what have you). Many people come across this information based on “hints” that their genealogy software provides. The information may or may not be the truth of how events occurred in your relative’s life (and you often don’t know who is providing it too or where they got their information).

              Finding sources and records will give you proof and credibility behind the dates you enter in your family tree (in case you share your information through your online tree and others stumble upon it). The records that you really want and need to go after for your research are “primary source” records. Primary source records are records that were physically produced during your ancestor’s lifetime.

              Here are the four fundamental records (and hopefully you can find one that is a “primary source”) that you should find and keep for each of your ancestors:

              1. Birth Records:  Depending on the time and place where your ancestor lived, these records can be hard to find at times.  However, usually a record can be found showing an estimated birth date and location for the person. Primary source records to look for: Birth certificates, church records, other government records (birth index, census or death records).
              2. Marriage Records: For each marriage (and divorce if applicable) your ancestor had, you are going to want to find proof that it actually happened. Primary source records to look for: Marriage certificate, church record, court record/decree, or other government record.
              3. Death Record: These records tend to be the easiest to find (because of the long held tradition of grave markers). Primary source records to look for: Death certificates, grave markers, obituaries, church records, wills, and other government records (military, probate, court records, etc.).
              4. Census Records: For each census year that my ancestor was alive, I strive to find their census record. These are great snapshots (in 10 year increments) of their lives and give great insight into what their life story was when looked at all together.

              For American research, my “holy grail” records for an ancestor are the birth certificate, marriage certificate, and the death certificate. And I want the actual images of these documents (not just the dates from an index)!

              Now it needs to be said that not all primary source records you find will be 100% accurate. But having multiple primary source documents will, a lot of times, help you distinguish between truth and error in your research.
              Primary source documents are so important to genealogical research! If you or your family hasn’t started to collect these sources, I strongly encourage you to do so. Happy researching!

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              5 Common Myths or Misconceptions About Mormons and Genealogy

              Having been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and involved in geneaology, I’ve heard several misconceptions over the years about genealogy and the related subject of Mormon temple work. Hopefully this article will help clarify some of these items for non-church member readers of the blog.

              Myth 1: “Baptism for the Dead” means Mormons dig up dead people and baptize them in our temples.

              I thought that I would start out with the most eccentric of rumors about why Mormons are so into genealogy and what we use genealogical information for: “baptism for the dead.”

              Many have no doubt wondered if Mormons disturb the final resting places of deceased persons to somehow baptize them. This is 100% not the case. In temples, only the name of a deceased individual is used by the proxy individual standing in their place to be baptized (nothing more). For more information about this subject, please visit the church’s website about the subject.

              Myth 2: Mormons do temple work because they believe that when temple work is done for a person, they automatically become Mormon and are saved in the afterlife.

              One very fundamental and core doctrine to Mormonism is a person’s “agency.” According to LDS.org, agency is defined as:

              The ability and privilege God gives us to choose and to act for ourselves.

              When a person’s name is submitted to the temple and they are baptized, they do not automatically become a member of the LDS Church. 

              The best way I have heard it described is that the person receives an offer to join the church. The decision is always theirs to make whether they want to accept or reject it. After they have accepted missionaries to teach them in the world of spirits and understand the doctrine enough to understand the importance of what was done for them by proxy, they have the opportunity accept the ordinance. A person’s right to choose is never infringed.

              Entering your relatives information into FamilySearch does not automatically submit them for temple work. In fact, it is the LDS Church’s policy that you need to be related to a deceased person before you can submit them for temple work to be done. 

              It is also important to note that the data entered into FamilySearch is completely separate from the membership record database. You can think of the temple databases like a list of people who received offers to accept the LDS Church (here or in the Spirit World) and the membership record database list those people who decided to join the church during their lives.

              Myth 3: Mormons pray to or worship their ancestors.

              The only entities worshipped by the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. We pray only to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ.

              We reverence and respect our ancestors and family who have died and moved on in their existence, but do not worship them. Salvation comes only in and through the sacrifice and atoning blood of Jesus Christ.

              Myth 4: The genealogical data Mormons collect are just for their own use.

              FamilySearch is free to use and open to anybody wanting to know more about their families. For more information about the mission and vision of FamilySearch, you can visit: https://familysearch.org/about.

              Myth 5: If I use free Mormon genealogical resources, there will be strings attached (an obligation to submit your research, have Mormon missionaries visit your home, etc.)

                There are seriously no strings attached for using the resources available at FamilySearch (whether you’re searching online or visiting a LDS Family History Center.) Nobody will ask you for money (other than maybe a nominal fee for printouts depending on the location). Someone could invite you to learn more about the teachings of the church. If you’re not interested, just politely decline — we would still love to help you with your genealogy though! Also, you are under no obligation to submit any of your information or research to the LDS Church or to FamilySearch at any time. Let us help you with your research

                In conclusion, I sometime sense a bit of a rift between some LDS and non-LDS genealogists for whatever reason. I strive to be a friend, respectful,  and as inclusive as possible to all. A united and amicable genealogical community is a strong and healthy community. After all, isn’t genealogy and family history all about family and collaboration? Understanding others and their beliefs is often the first step.

                Please feel free to reach out to me if you have further questions or would like clarification about a subject.