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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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Always Be Prepared, even if you're an Occasional Genealogist!

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Today is the anniversary of the founding of the Boy Scouts of America. By chance I have a post ready that's all about being prepared. No really, it's by chance.

This post suggests a system I've been thinking about. I haven't implemented it, yet. It'll take some planning on my part to get it to become reality. I do intend to share it.
Be ready to research next time you have free time!

I've been wanting to share this idea but was originally planning to implement it, first. Since I haven't done that, I'd love for you to leave a comment with ideas or questions (or you can email me). I think this idea could be a game-changer for many Occasional Genealogists (I hope it is for me).

I want you to know this isn't a tested system, just a suggestion. I've been thinking about this for awhile, maybe even a year.

Once you're done reading, think about how this fits into your life and what changes you'd make to get a perfect fit. Then you'll be ready to go once I implement and share the printables and specifics.

Yes, printables. If you've read much of this blog you know I love digital. I have reasons for going with printables. Here's what I've identified as my problem doing research for myself (i.e. what I need, to do research, in the time I have). My problem is having a quick reference for the project(s) I want to work on.


What's the Problem?

I have an organizational system and it works (although I certainly could update older projects). It doesn't work for the short amounts of time I have, though. It takes too long to get everything "out" and "put it back."

My system is still between paper and digital so for some projects I'm only opening electronic files and some still involve paper. Keeping things neat and quickly accessing them is the issue in either format.


After much thinking, I've decided what I need to do is pick a small number of projects I want to work on (choosing and defining these are the first step). For those projects, I need to completely update everything so I can see the background I have and create a summary to stand in for any missing reports.

That's when I realized I needed a different system. I've worked on updating projects but they are "out of sight, out of mind" when they're in my filing cabinet (digital or physical).

I don't want to look at file folders in an organizer, that doesn't work for me (it might work fine for you). I need a solution that fits my organizational style. The first question, though, is where will I use this solution?

Think About Where

I can't really accomplish "research" on my phone. I can't even really accomplish anything on my tablet when I'm waiting. I don't have to wait that long OR I have to be fully watching my kids (both pre-schoolers, they can get into so much trouble!).

That means I will mainly research at home and probably on my desktop (once again, otherwise I'm probably actively watching my kids or doing something like cooking dinner).

Your situation will be different so think about "where" you'll research when you think about adapting this system. My specific solution is very much driven by where I will research.

Quick Access System

I've decided the solution for me is a "baby-proof" quick access system. That means it needs to be printed (printing allows me to see things at a glance without constantly flipping between computer windows) but not easily scattered. To me, that screams "three-ring binder."

I hate three-ring binders as a general organizing system. They take up a ton of room for storage and most repositories I visit don't allow them (so I'd have to take things in and out too much). Other people LOVE a binder system, it's a personal choice.

I just want to point out that this is a specific use of binders, for a specific case. If you don't like binders, this is not your typical binder set-up. It still may not work for you but realize you don't need to convert file folders to binders or invest in dozens of binders with this solution.

I want ONE binder on my desk that I can grab when I have time for personal research. I can also take that binder out of my office if I can research while watching the kids.

I want all the projects (that handful I mentioned) in the one binder. Whoa! Sound like a lot in one place? This is a quick access system, I don't want my complete file in the binder. I want the minimum amount to allow me to work on the project.

Quick access.

Project Sections

Currently, this is what I'm thinking will be in each section (each section represents an independent project).

  • Goal refining printable---this is to help me narrow down to a specific research question.

This is a pre-project step and probably the only "working" printable I'll use ('cause I still want to stay as digital as possible). I can quickly jot down an additional goal refinement on a paper page while I wait for an image to load or something else where my computer is hung up on something.

Once I have a goal narrowed to a research question, it gets put on...

  • a plan that I'll type and then print for quick access. This is not a working printable, it's a reference page.

Part of planning is...

  • summarizing the background. This will also be printed. 
For some projects, the background will be a paragraph, for some it might be a few pages. I also want...

  • the most recent report or a summary of past research (this might be instead of background, it depends on the project). 
I don't want a lot of reports, quick access, remember.

I will do all my work digitally. That means my research log and notes will be electronic. This is part of why I want my background/plan/references printed. My computer will be busy with records I'm using AND the documents where I'm recording the research findings. Items I just need to look at will be just fine printed and it's like having another monitor (I already have two and I'd happily use five, paper will have to do for now).

I'll also have an electronic report template ready and waiting. I usually use my plan as the starting point for my report which is why it's important I type my plan and print it. If I hand write it, I will have to type almost the same information for my report.

Typing a plan happens before research starts. It is very easy to forget to have a report prepped and ready before you start researching if it has to be independently created (instead of being created from a plan). I know this is one of the top areas where Occasional Genealogists struggle.

When you're considering if this works for you, make sure you allow for reporting. It makes a huge difference in your long term genealogy success. Also, when considering the whole process, it doesn't have to be all or nothing with paper versus digital. Some items can be paper and some digital, as long as you can find everything later.

So that's it. Not too involved, hopefully. The hardest part for me to implement is selecting and prepping the actual projects.

That's why I don't do more research. I don't have projects ready to go. I'm not prepared to research (in the time I have). This wasn't such a big deal before I had kids because I'd do research in larger blocks of time so there was time to pull out material. If you're finding this is an issue, consider this system.

I know this was a lot of details. The point is for you to consider what you need and what will address your issues. I've tried to describe the issues I foresee, and my solutions to those issues.

I don't think anyone will have exactly the same needs/issues as me which is why I found this worthwhile to share before I try it. Also, by telling you about it, hopefully I'll make it happen. As I said, I may have been thinking about this for a year. Time to do something!

When it seems appropriate, I'll post an update. I don't want to provide coverage of every little success or change along the way. I'll wait until there's enough to warrant a full post.

If you have questions, you can post a comment or email me.

Select printables or other forms will be provided in the Resource Library.