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06 January 2016

Speed Up Your Online Research with Five-minute Prep Sessions

Once you're done reading this post, you should feel like this was the most obvious suggestion in the world. If you're not doing this, someone needs to tell you to try it.

Take 5 minutes now and you can speed up your online research when you finally find time.



Spend some time as often as you can on this (daily would be great, weekly almost as good, but monthly is better than nothing).


The World's Easiest Prep Session

Go to the genealogy research sites you use and read the list of new/updated collections. Yup, that's it.

The more often you do this, the less time it takes. Rarely are a lot of new collections released at once. If you can get in the habit, you could absolutely do this daily, no matter how busy you are.

It can be done while standing in line (or riding in an elevator if your phone gets a signal). Some days you may not find any new collections so I think this very realistically takes less than five minutes a day.


Take It Up a Notch

Here's how to take this to the next level and really get the most from it. Sit down and do this task and take notes. It's beneficial just to read the list of new/updated collections so when you're ready to research, you think "didn't I see a collection of that kind of record?" I can't tell you how much time this saves me as a professional. I never know what kind of records I'll need for a client so keeping up with what is available puts me ahead before I even get a contract signed.


Mini-Planning Session Dos and Don'ts

But back to sitting down to do this. Have a mini-planning session. To do this, you will need a ready receptacle for your "plan." There are many ways to do this. This post is not meant to be about preparing that receptacle or even your myriad of options.

So you're sitting down for five minutes to check out the new/updated collections on your favorite research sites. When you see a collection of interest, make yourself a note to check it out. DO NOT put this on the back of an envelope, a sticky note, a napkin, or anything else that is just laying around. Have a place to keep such information, your receptacle. Otherwise, you could have done this standing up in the elevator.


Some Quick Ideas for a Receptacle

This post isn't meant to give details on methods you could use. Hopefully, I'll come back and discuss those later. Here are a few suggestions just to get you going. You only need to find the one that works for you.
  • Electronic research log in a spreadsheet
  • Evernote
  • Index cards
  • Paper research log
  • Binder dedicated to logs, notes, and/or ideas

Shouldn't I Create a Research Plan?

You're only supposed to be spending five minutes on this so you aren't going to write a research plan. You are just making a note to check out collections of interest. This is one of the issues for Occasional Genealogists. Yes, you should create a research plan. They are fantastic. They will take your research to another level if you haven't been using them. But if you honestly do not have time to create one, a mini-planning session is better than nothing. Also, you could create a research plan later based on these notes/ideas. There is nothing that says you have to create a full research plan when you see a record you want to check out later. If you see it, make a note. You may forget if you don't make a note, but if you remember and have to go back for the details, you are duplicating work unnecessarily.

One More Don't and a Do

If you really do intend to only spend five minutes, do not open the collection or attempt to search it. Set a timer if necessary.

Where's the Time Savings?

By knowing what collections are out there, you can get straight to researching once you have time. It's sort of like pulling books at the library and having them ready at your table. The actual research won't go any faster but you'll skip wandering the stacks.

If you are thinking that this sounds like a waste of time because you're going to use the online search form at Ancestry.com. You're seriously missing out. Most online genealogy records are not searchable. Even those that are have huge flaws in the indexing. This is also a topic for a different post. In fact, I wrote one back in 2013 on my blog for J.P. Dondero Genealogy. You can read it here. Most of it is still relevant although FamilySearch's homepage has changed a little. Similarly, don't trust that all relevant records will come up on Ancestry.com (or any site) just because they are "indexed." If a collection is of particular interest to your research, search it directly or browse it to make sure you aren't missing anything.

Suggestions for Sites to Check

I recommend you regularly check Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. Even if you don't have a subscription to Ancestry.com, they have so many records and so many libraries offer free access, it's worth investigating. If you don't know, FamilySearch is free. FREE. I also check Fold3 less frequently. My personal research is all southern (and pretty much all Georgia) so I don't keep up with AmericanAncestors or the sites specializing in non-U.S. records. You should check the sites that are appropriate to you. I do use additional sites, I just don't check their new collections regularly. I do occasionally check the Georgia Archive's Virtual Vault. When I think of it I check the newspaper websites (GenealogyBank, NewspaperArchive, Newspapers.com, and Google's historic newspapers). The newspapers have so much variation in the available dates, you really can't have a general idea of everything that is available. You're going to have to check newspapers when you have a specific problem. The links to Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, and Fold3 above should take you to either their list of all collections or the recent collections.

Your To-do List

  • Create a list of sites to check
  • Create a schedule
  • Create/prepare a receptacle
  • Get started with five-minute prep sessions

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