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I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.

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Genealogy Lists for Occasional Genealogists (i.e. the Bullet Journal concept)

Can a bullet journal help your genealogy? Maybe the general concepts of a collection of lists is just what an Occasional Genealogist needs!

I finally clicked one of the myriad "bullet journal" pins I kept seeing on Pinterest. I was starting to think it might be a good system to incorporate some genealogy but needed to learn a bit more. After learning a bit, I'm still not interested in a formal bullet journal. I'm giving the general idea a try, though. Here's what I think will work for me (and any Occasional Genealogist).

  • A collection of lists
  • One "repository" for everything (all those lists and more)
  • Simplicity

Since coming back from my last maternity leave about a year ago, I've decided that digital just works for me. But that doesn't mean it's always the fastest option.

So why a paper journal if I love digital?

Sometimes it takes too long to get to the "right" digital place to enter information. I need an organized notebook I can have beside me for when an idea strikes (because all my best blog ideas come while I'm doing something else).

Since I have dedicated digital locations for certain information, it's not that hard for me to digitize a handwritten idea, later. I just can't manage multiple analog locations in addition to the multiple digital locations (which I can manage).

Read on to learn a little more about how these same features of a bullet journal can help an Occasional Genealogist. (if you want to skip to the descriptions for the genealogy collections on the infographic, that's in this post).

Bullet Journal Solutions for Genealogists

The description of the purpose for a "Bullet Journal" (in caps), aligns with what I see as the problem for Occasional Genealogists in general. Obviously, the central problem is a lack of time but the main way that causes problems with genealogy is with organizing.

I've also described this as a problem of memory. OGs can't get away with sloppy organization like frequent genealogists. Frequent genealogists can get away with more because they can rely on their memory (and here's my usual caveat, but they shouldn't).

No matter how often you research, you will be more successful if you are well organized (or good at project management which is the same issue).

The Bullet Journal addresses your lack of time and organization/memory struggles but for your life. As a very oversimplified description, a Bullet Journal saves time by using bullet points instead of full narrative.

It's meant to be used for any- and everything. This also saves time, only one place to look. Obviously writing things down addresses the issue of memory. The formal system addresses finding information within the journal, which is vital.

Overall, I think a similar approach to genealogy, for Occasional Genealogists in particular, is a good idea.

Your Bullet Journal and Understanding Court Record Issues

As a side note, if you're keeping a bullet journal and are a genealogist, you should use the indexing as an exercise in better understanding old court records.

You're doing what the court clerk used to have to do. He had a big book to hand write the information in. It might be a blank book or a book with a section for an index and page numbers pre-printed.

Do you start to understand some of the struggles the clerk had and maybe some of the quirks you will find? Do you start to see how some of those bare-bones entries are much like a bullet journal?

You've Got Time for a List

So aside from sympathizing with the county clerk, how can a bullet journal, or a collection of lists (for those not interested in a "Bullet Journal"), help an Occasional Genealogist?

Some genealogy information can be kept in a simple list. Probably not notes, logs, and definitely not reports. But OGs rarely work on those.

What OGs usually can find time for are things that appropriately go in a list. At the bottom of the post is a handy infographic of types of genealogy lists (called "Collections" for bullet journals).

Consider starting some lists (somewhere you can find them again) to help you do little bits of genealogy in the little time you have. The infographic just provides a few starter ideas.


Make sure you don't inappropriately use the bullet journal concepts for genealogy.

I've seen people try the bullet journal concept on genealogical data. This is great as an exercise but it shouldn't be your primary "notes" or replace a report.

It's a good way to remove the fluff, avoid writer's block, and summarize.

The Magic of the GPS

The final step of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) requires a coherently written conclusion. If you've never done this, it's like magic (really, I did it for the millionth time yesterday and I'm still amazed what a difference it makes).

The bullet journal is like an outline. Writing the full sentences is when you start to see you have problems OR you have actually solved your problem (for me, I find the latter most often. I don't think I've solved something, and when I start writing, in complete sentences, I find I have, magic!).

The magic doesn't happen with a bare-bones outline.

In summary, just be mindful of what you're doing. Genealogists use all kinds of tools and techniques to solve problems, usually a mix of them. Just using a shorthand system can be a problem, using it as one tool of many can be an advantage.

Tomorrow I'll have a post that gives
a brief description of these genealogy lists. Hopefully, it will help you think of lists of your own in addition to these.