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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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5 Genealogy Tasks When You're Stuck at Home

Normally an Occasional Genealogist suffers from a complete lack of time for his or her genealogy research.
5 Free Genealogy Ideas

If you're stuck at home, have power and Internet, and are relatively healthy (broken foot? no problem!), you may finally get your chance to RESEARCH.

Here are five free things that take more time than the average Occasional Genealogist has and you can do from home.

  1. Use FamilySearch's digitized microfilm
  2. Plan and execute a "DNA match contact campaign"
  3. Review, summarize, and prepare a specific research project
  4. Research in your filing cabinet
  5. Learn and prep a new digital tool

Use FamilySearch's Digitized Microfilm

So this item is at number one for a reason. Most genealogy records are not digitized and online but of those that are, most are not indexed. That means typing search terms into a search box will not identify that information within a record.

If you're confused, this is just like a book without an index. In a book's index you could find specific names, places, etc. Without an index, you either skip around based on the table of contents or you have to read page by page.

Most genealogy records are the "read page by page" type, online or offline.

Having the time to read these records has always been a challenge for genealogists.

Having access to them at home really helps since you aren't subject to the hours of a repository but you often still have to keep yourself organized because you can't read a 400 page, handwritten book of court minutes from the 1850s in one sitting (you'll fall asleep or go cross-eyed in most cases).

If you're stuck at home and bored, this type of genealogy research is ideal. This is the research that busts brick walls!

To access the bulk of the digitized microfilm, go to the FamilySearch "Catalog," not the "Records" tab.
Not all microfilm can be viewed at home but a lot can (unfortunately where it can be accessed is based on agreements with the record providers, such as a state or archives. That may mean what you need is largely only accessbile at a FamilySearch Center because it mainly comes from one provider).

If what you need can't be used at home, try suggestion number three. Also, there are similar unindexed records at other sites. I know the probate records at Ancestry.com is a large similar collection (a small amount of these are indexed so you may think you've found everything but you haven't). There are also lots of collections from much smaller sites, some free and some by subscription.

This post is about unindexed records if you need to learn a bit more.
This post has 10 suggestions for free online records that take longer to use.

Make sure to check out the state archives and newspaper projects for locations you are interested in (including non-U.S. "state archives" meaning governmental archives for a sub-region of the country or the country's archives site).

If you've never tried the Google News Archive, that really isn't searchable (despite it having searchable options) so you'll need time. It may or may not have newspapers you need but it's free so worth checking out.

Click to get free access to The Occasional Genealogist Resource Library


Get yourself organized, don't forget to set yourself up to take notes and use your research log (or whatever format your tracking system uses). Remember, you may not be able to finish reading all the pages you need to so a log/tracker is absolutely essential. You need to record exactly what you did.

NOTE: FamilySearch has had issues before where the image numbers are not stable (still record the image number as it'll get you close). Make sure you record ALL the parts of a correct citation which means not just the parts to the digital image but the citation to the item that you are looking at (i.e. the page of a book and the original microfilm that has been digitized).

For unpaginated material, you will describe the location to the best of your ability. If the records are in chronological order, you say that and give the date you are at (for example, court minutes are chronological and they are usually by term of court, if possible, include something like "5th page of May Term 1857" or "May Term 1857, records dated 3 June 1857").

Your citation is also supposed to include a description of what you're looking at (not just "court records" but "docket entry for Smith v. Jones"). When you combine all these parts, you should have a unique identifier.

Remember, you don't have to record a formal (i.e. formatted) citation while researching. You want to record all the parts you will need but they can just be written down in your notes or log (as appropriate).

If you don't finish looking at a complete run of records (i.e. all of the minute book), you will need a description of what you did do in your log/tracker but you don't have to enter all the citation parts for every item of interest you find in the log (details for each item found would be in your notes). You'd just put the details for the record (such as the record book) in your log.

When we use indexed records it's usually easy to make separate log entries for each thing we find (and that's appropriate because you'd want to record each search you made).

Remember, we use a record that contains information. We need citation details for the record (the container) in our log and citation details for the information in our notes. It should be clear they belong together and you can decide how much overlap is appropriate based on the format you keep your log in.

You can see that you need time to use these types of records beyond just the time to read them. You may also want or need to abstract, transcribe, correlate, or analyze. You might also need to look up the meaning of unfamiliar terms.

DNA Match Contact Campaign

 This was a hard suggestion to "name." What I'm suggesting is to contact DNA matches but do it in a very organized manner.

First, pick a project.

Next, create a message template with some specifics.

Next, set-up an organized way to keep track of who you want to contact and who you have contacted. (A simple paper list, electronic list, or spreadsheet is just fine, don't NOT do this because you're overcomplicating the organization).

Then do it.

See this post for message template suggestions.

Review, Summarize, and Prepare a Specific Research Project

If you can't research at home or aren't ready, this task is for you.

Since you've got some time and nowhere to go, pick a project to focus on.

Start by gathering what you already have (review).

At this point, if this turns into an organizing project, that's OK. However, that's more suggestion four.

Once you've got your existing information, if you don't have a report or summary on what's already been done, it's time to prepare that.

Next you'll start preparing for the next phase of research. You'll create a research plan.

There's a free template in the Resource Library (you may have others from the Family History Month Collection if you participated in that).

Your summary will start your plan. If you tried the first suggestion and all the records you needed had to be accessed at a FamilyHistory Center, prepare a plan for research you'll do at one AND prepare a plan for how or when you'll visit.

Your nearest FamilyHistory Center might involve travel meaning more planning or it might be nearby and just require you to schedule some time to visit.

If FamilySearch doesn't have what you need, you can research what records exist and where they are. If you need records at a subscription site and you don't have a subscription, look into options for free access at a local library, repository, or FamilySearch Center.

This is why I've said review, summarize, and PREPARE, not PLAN. You are creating a plan but often we have to research how we'll access records (or what exists). Use your extra time to finally do this!

Click to get free access to The Occasional Genealogist Resource Library

Research in Your Filing Cabinet

With this option, you can do suggestion three but your repository is your filing cabinet or you can use this as a more fun way to improve your organization.

I'm not even going to tell you what kind of organizing to do. You know what you've wanted to improve. If you keep avoiding organizing your research, consider it another go at researching, just using what you already have (and don't leave it a mess this time).

You can create summaries/reports for what's already done. Create plans. Digitize your paper copies, whatever you choose.

Of course, if your research is on your dining room table or is already digital but not as organized as it should be (hence you'd discover something new in your files), those options apply as well.

Learn and Prep a New Tool

This is also pretty open-ended based on what you've already wanted to do.

Recently I finally got my Trello boards better organized with Butler for Trello (an amazing automation tool). That was not genealogy specific but it's the type of task I'm talking about.

I had been trying to use Trello more but I had some stumbling areas I believed automation (therefore Butler) could handle. Knowing what tool wasn't enough.

I had to essentially custom design my system. I had looked for suggestions I could just copy but what I needed to do was going to be too unique to me for that to work.

I had to decide what I wanted to do, figure out how to execute it, and essentially finish before I'd forget and leave part of it undone, therefore making the whole thing useless. If I walked away too long (as in days, not literally walking away) I would have to start over because I couldn't be sure what I had done.

You may have a similar tech project like using DNAPainter. You don't have to start over when you come back to DNAPainter but you may not have a clue what you already did which means you will have to start over even though the information is already there. DNAPainter gives you good options to keep track of what you're doing but you have to figure out what you'll do, first.

That essentially means you're doing two projects. One is designing the implementation or system. The other is the actual implementation. The implementation might be fast but pointless without the design.

Another similar option would be starting to use Evernote for genealogy. Without a way to find what you put in Evernote, it's like piling stuff on your dining room table. It's just all thrown in there. You know where it is but it'll take a while to find it.

New tech tools often require us to design our usage before we can effectively use them. If you've got extra time and you're stuck at home, that's a good time to tackle one of these projects.

Also, realize you might need to try and fail, first.

I tried automating Trello a few weeks earlier but didn't have the time to do as much as I wanted. I found what I did first didn't work the way I wanted, anyway.

The second time it took me three of four days (not all day but a few hours each day) to decide what I wanted, based in part on what hadn't worked, and set it up. I've had a few problems that have had to be fixed along the way so if I was so busy I couldn't spend time fixing the problems, I would have been wasting my time even setting this up.

Setting up a tech tool might not require all day but the ability to tweak it over multiple days until things are going smoothly. You may also want to create a "user guide" for yourself or record your screen so you can remind yourself how to do something later on. Setting that up may be part of your initial design time.

So there are five ideas if you're stuck at home and bored. A few will work even if you've got a snow day without power. Genealogy mainly requires two elements. Your mental health is sharp (head colds or anything making you groggy are a problem but physical injuries might not be). And you have time.

Next time you have both of these, even if you're missing money, repository access, or other supposed genealogical necessities, you can do some serious family history.

Leave a comment if you have a favorite site with free online records. Many are location-specific or other specialties so it's hard to know about all of them.

Click to get free access to The Occasional Genealogist Resource Library