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5-Minute Prep for Faster Online Research

Are you asking yourself, "how do I make my family history research faster?" Sadly, family history research (genealogy) takes time. Think how long it took to create! But, there are ways to be more efficient and efficient means faster.

One caveat. With genealogy, you want efficient, not just fast. Fast today can mean completely stuck tomorrow!

So, I have a genealogy hack for you that can make your future online genealogy research faster.


here's a genealogy hack for you if you're looking to speed up your online family history research


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.


Easy Research Prep, But Better

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."
  • a pencil, pen, fingers (for typing), or voice (for recording/dictation)
Seriously, you can gather those materials, it doesn't get any easier.

There are many ways to do this. This post is not meant to be about preparing that receptacle or even your myriad of options but I'll cover ideas in a moment.

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.


Suggestions for Where to Store Your Research Ideas

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
RELATED: See all my Evernote posts here (several are related to planning or keeping information)

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.

RELATED POST: Genealogy Research Planning

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. Do 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.

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.

UPDATE: Since I first wrote this post, FamilySearch has started an initiative to eliminate microfilm (by digitizing it). What this means for this technique is significant.

There are now more record collections available through the "Catalog" than the "Records" tab. There is not a convenient way to stay on top of what is available in the Catalog.

It's so massive you couldn't keep up. What you will now do with your prep session is keep up-to-date on what is searchable (what is in the "Records" tab).

When you are going to use FamilySearch for research, you need to start with the "Catalog" tab and search for the specific project you are working on.

A variation of the technique I'm describing in this post, just for the FamilySearch catalog, is to do your mini-prep session with a research goal in mind. This is like starting a research plan, and you will need to later create a research plan.

If you are short on time, you can absolutely see what exists from the Family History Library and make notes on what is microfilm, books, digitized, or digitized but only available at a Family History Center.

Later you can "process" this information to create a research plan you can use at home, at a Family History Center, or that requires hiring someone at the Family History Library or visiting yourself.


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, MyHeritage, FindMyPast or other sites specializing in other geographic areas.

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 above to Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, and Fold3 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


How do you like to prepare for "fast" online research? Leave a comment!

Need a genealogy hack to research faster? Here's an idea so your next online research session gets going faster. Get full details in the post from The Occasional Genealogist.com. This hack easily takes less than five minutes a day and can fit anyone's schedule! #genealogy #familyhistory

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