about me
blog author
Meet the Author
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.

Read These Posts First

Posts contain affiliate links. See my disclosures page for details.


5-Minute Prep for Faster Online Research

Are you asking yourself, "how do I make my family history research faster?" 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." (our Digital Dashboard was created just to be such a receptacle).
  • 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.

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. This was the entire idea behind the original Occasional Genealogist Planner. I knew Occasional Genealogists had these quick ideas they needed to store and find later when they had time to use them. Today, most of us are working digitally which makes this even easier by using a Digital Dashboard with links to all the notes, logs, spreadsheets, and even documents we struggle to keep organized.

RELATED POST: Genealogy Research Planning

You can 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're using the research planning template you created from the instructions in this post, you can't create an entire plan in five minutes. You can start prepping the information you'll need for a plan in multiple 5-minute sessions, though).

If you see a source you're interested in, 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 and FamilySearch.

Even if you don't have a subscription to Ancestry, 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 (and as an update to this update, there's no also the "Images" search and the "Full-text search" that's in Labs at the moment). There is not a convenient way to stay on top of what is new. There is actually too much to do this the way I originally described. Instead, you'll need to focus on a specific location and see what is newly digitized for it.

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." (Yes, there are still records that are not digitized, copyright is always going to be an issue with books).

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.

These links to Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, and Fold3 should take you to either their list of all collections or the recent collections.

Tip: If you're a U.S./Colonial American researcher in particular, another source you should check, but doesn't get updated frequently, is the Genealogical.com subscription. This is called the "My GPC Library." It provides online access to many of their ebooks. Books have always been a faster way to first use the records those books abstracted.

Because this subscription doesn't include the same volume of records as other sites, you want to first see what it includes (instructions on how to do this are in the "Description" on the subscription sign-up page and seeing what is included is free, so you can periodically see if this subscription will help you). If you find some titles of interest but not enough to motivate you to subscribe, take notes as described in this post and check back again later. 

You can get a three, six, or twelve month subscription so there are different price options. Even without new records, if you are working on a project that could benefit from two or more of the books included, the 3-month subscription might suddenly become worth the cost.

Related: Check out our post about budgeting for genealogy. You can save money and time with a good budget.

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