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!


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