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As you put away holiday decorations and look to the year ahead, consider adding these tasks to your January to-do list.
1. Define Your Research Goals
List your highest genealogical priorities, then come up with a strategy for achieving them. You won’t accomplish much this year if you’re trying to do everything, so try to narrow your focus to a handful of tasks that you’d like to complete.
SMART goals (goals that are specific, measurable, achievable/attainable, relevant/realistic, and timely) can provide a useful framework. “Finding more ancestors” doesn’t pass muster because it’s neither specific nor truly achievable; you don’t specify which ancestors you want to find, and you can never truly complete that goal because you have a near-infinite number of ancestors.
Here are some more-specific goals that are closer to the SMART ideal:
- Document the names and birth dates of all 16 great-grandparents
- Find an elusive maiden name
- Collect records for each great-grandparent in every federal census taken in his or her lifetime
You might choose bigger-picture goals for the whole year, and smaller, sub-goals for the quarter or month. Then put together a research plan for achieving them. What records or tools will you need to access? How much time or money will you need to set aside?
2. Go Back to the Basics
- Have you started with yourself and worked back in time generation by generation, fully documenting yourself and your parents?
- Are your sources cited?
- Does your research include data errors?
- Did you overly rely on one source, or have you consulted a variety of records?
- Is your research backed up?
You can find Family Tree‘s best articles for getting started in genealogy here.
You may need to return to basics for other reasons, such as if your genealogy goals involve a different time or place than you’ve previously researched. The FamilySearch Research Wiki contains thousands of how-to articles that can guide you to the fundamentals of researching times, places and record sets.
3. Set Your Genealogy Budget
“Saving money” is a New Year’s resolution for many. Review last year’s expenses to see if and how much you spent on family history. Consider:
- Subscription fees to genealogy websites (Ancestry.com, MyHeritage, etc.) or tools (Microsoft Office, Trello, etc.)
- Tech purchases, such as new software programs, scanners, or laptops/tablets
- Record-request fees
- Genealogy travel-related expenses: airfare, lodging, etc.
- Archiving or office supplies such as acid-free folders
Once you’ve done that, determine how much you can afford to spend on genealogy this year. Find ways of cutting back on your genealogy expenses: taking advantage of website free trials, prioritizing free collections on subscription websites, and so on. You could also plan to subscribe to a genealogy website for just one month, setting aside time to take full advantage of its resources before you unsubscribe.
4. Sign Up for Conferences and Webinars
With your new budget in hand, consider signing up for educational opportunities. These will teach you valuable research skills and connect you with experts and fellow genealogists. And with so many online options these days, you may not even need to leave the comfort of your own home to take advantage of them.
Consult ConferenceKeeper, which maintains an extensive list of genealogy events. Some (such as the virtual portion of RootsTech) are entirely free, while others cost an attendance fee or are available only to paid members. Popular options include:
- Family Tree University online courses and webinars
- The National Genealogical Society’s annual conference
- The Virtual Genealogical Association‘s events
- Research-intensive institutes such as the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh
- Legacy Family Tree Webinars
5. Get Organized
Getting (and staying!) organized is more of a state of mind than it is a once-and-done project. But this month, take some time to set up an organization system that works for your research. Sorting your data and documents as you go throughout the year will save you time in the long run, even if you have just one day to organize your genealogy.
Think about all the materials generated by your research. What papers, records, photos, and heirlooms do you need to organize? Consider both physical and digital items, and look for ways to reduce the amount of paper in your collection. Learn what’s worth keeping in your research, and what you can confidently throw away.
Last updated, December 2023.