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07 January 2016

Three Genealogy Shortcuts That Aren't Cheats

3 genealogy shortcuts that aren't cheats. Try these research shortcuts online, at home, or at a repository.There really aren't any shortcuts in genealogy.

Most of the "shortcuts" come in organizing, filing, and using technology--rather than record usage.

It's really about being efficient.

That being said, it's Thursday which for this blog is "Time-saving Thursday" so here are three suggestions to save time while still doing great genealogy.

If you haven't been doing some of the things mentioned (like creating a research plan and keeping a research log) because you're trying to save time, you're not taking a shortcut, you're cheating.

It'll come back to bite you in the end.

1. Start your citations before you start to research.


If you're heading to a repository, start your citations at home. Complete them as much as possible before you ever get to the repository. Enter them in your research log.


If you are doing online research at home, you can probably copy and paste most of the citation parts but get a head start by knowing what parts you need.

  • You can post a cheat sheet next to your computer. 
  • I made macros in Word that create my most common types of citations (fully formatted for client reports, some even create the short, subsequent footnote at the same time). 
  • If you're working in genealogy software, have it set-up to take the citation parts the way you want. Don't rely on the templates in software to ask for all the parts you need. Some are quite good and some are quite bad. Citations require human intervention.

Here's a bonus time-saver.

You don't have to format your citations.

They don't have to be formatted until you are going to publish them. For my client work, I try to get them as close to formatted as possible because I will be "publishing" them via the report to the client.

If you don't have plans to share or publish your research anytime soon (or if formatting your citations just takes you a very long time), don't format them when you research.

You need to record all the necessary parts plus the parts that will never be published but will help you understand or analyze the record.

That's right, you need more than the formal citation parts, anyway.

  • Don't get in a tizzy about commas and semi-colons at the repository. 
  • Don't spend your limited research time on italics and parenthesis. 
You need to cite your sources; you don't have to format them instantly.

Psst... Over here, are you thinking a better shortcut would be not citing any sources? Find out why that's a cheat, here. There's a link back to this post at the end, so check out "Sight My What?," now.

RELATED POST: Stick a Label On It (this is also a related post for suggestion 2)

2. Create a research plan.


This will save you time in the long run.

You can take it even farther if you are working on a computer while researching.

  • Create a digital research plan and then use it to take your notes. 
  • If you want to preserve a copy of just the plan, simply save a copy before you start researching.
You need the same information with your notes as you do in a plan so this easily puts it all in one place.


You need to know:

  • the goal of the research, 
  • where you are researching, and 
  • the sources you plan to consult. 
There may be additional details depending on the complexity of the problem. 

The day of the research, simply date the plan and begin under the first source you consult (I'd cut and paste so they are in the order you research if they aren't already). You can add additional citation parts (you followed number one above, right?). Then start your notes, positive and negative.



Look at that, I've created a digital plan to notes form you can download for personal use! Get it in the Resource Library (instructions are in this post).



Don't forget to keep a research log.

The research log is a summary of all research. I've tried just using a format similar to this suggested "plan to notes" but you won't easily be able to review all sources for a certain problem. Since this is digital, you can easily cut and paste the relevant parts from your plan/notes into a digital log.


You should have one document per goal/per day. So if you don't finish, create a header indicating which sources you didn't get to. You can then cut and paste those sources into a new plan or make a note that you no longer need to check those sources (due to results from today's research).

I also recommend...

  • a section for ideas that come up while researching. This can be questions about the record or ideas for future research. Once again, you can cut and paste to a new plan or to whatever document is appropriate. 
  • a section summarizing the day's findings. You'll want this summary when you come back to review these notes. I'd add it above the actual notes, so you read it before reading the notes in future.

If you work on more than one goal on the same day, create separate notes for each goal. If you use the same source over multiple days, you will have a document/file for each day. This last item is negotiable, one goal per document/file is not.

A single electronic file will become unwieldy if you try to use it for too many days. You can do it successfully but you are wasting some time using a single file. This post is about shortcuts and this blog is called "The Occasional Genealogist" so I assume you are interested in saving time if you're reading this.

Try to only include multiple days if you use the same source and only if it is for the same goal, not if you come back to that source for another reason. Once again, it's important for one set of notes to be for one goal but you can be flexible if one set of notes is for one day or several.

Bonus time-saver: from your digital research log, make a link to your plan/notes. If you take a laptop where your documents are permanently stored (or you are lucky enough to be able to work from the cloud) you can create the link(s) when you create the plan. Otherwise, add them after you electronically file your notes.

I also enter the file name into my research log in case anything gets rearranged or unlinked. Then you can easily search for the stray file.

RELATED POSTS: How to Speed Up Your Online Research with Five-minute Prep Sessions
Freebie Friday: Evernote Research Plan with Analysis
Freebie Friday: Goal Setting Worksheet for Future Research Planning

3. Create lists of surname variations and wildcard variations.


This is another online research suggestion. Keep these near your computer. You might have a need for them at some repositories so consider making them easily portable.

You don't have to do this for every surname. I don't really need a list of variations for Miller as online search engines do a pretty good job with it, and it is misspelled less often than many surnames.

Lately, though, I've been fighting with the surname "Dalie." There are several variations. I don't have too much trouble on Ancestry.com, soundex, sounds like, and similar catches most of them. Most newspaper sites don't offer any of those options. The same is true for Google searches.

Many sites allow you to use wildcards so on your list, list the wildcard spellings. Different sites use different wildcards but most are just different symbols for the same options.

For example, on Ancestry.com,

  • "*" means any number of characters (including 0) are wild, 
  • "?" means one character (but not 0) is wild. 
Ancestry.com also has some limitations but this isn't the place to discuss that.

Pick a wildcard system you are familiar with. It can be Ancestry.com's system, or Google's (which is very similar with fewer restrictions), or another you know well. If you don't know one, use the one for the website you search the most.

Make a key if you won't remember the wildcard meanings.

Now list the surname with all the wildcard variations you need. You can also list the spelling variations. When you use a website that uses a different wildcard system, you can still use your list, just substitute that site's wildcard symbols.

As a note, on Ancestry.com, you can use the spelling variation choices along with the wildcards but I find this creates too many results and most are irrelevant. I use the "exact" search when I use wildcards. You may find a situation where the variations along with wildcards are useful. Soundex doesn't use vowels so that may be a good way to double up without getting too many results, especially if you are using "?" for one consonant.

As examples, Dalie, Daley, Daly, Daily, Dailey are the most common spellings. Some wildcard variations are Dal* or Dal*y, Da*ly, Da?l*y or Da*l*y, Da*l*e. You might prefer Dail*. Once you have a list, you can choose whether or not to use all the options. I would probably try "Dal*" but if the results were numerous, I wouldn't check them but refine my search instead.

Additionally, if you are searching OCR text, such as many newspaper sites use, you might want to create "looks like" options. OCR can create all kinds of strange variations but once you see a few results, you might come up with a few reasonable variations.

Try these three shortcuts to do great genealogy in less time. You might even manage to avoid the interruptions.

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