I thought for a long time about what I wanted to write about this month, and I decided that I couldn't just write about one aspect of what makes me a productive family history researcher. It's a combination of several choices I make and habits that I employ to give me time and make me efficient.
1.) Schedule research time. If you want to make genealogy research a priority in your busy life, you need to schedule it. And I don't just mean saying to yourself, "I'm going to do some research this Saturday." I'm talking about setting aside actual blocks of time each week to focus on research. I really believe the key to making research happen is to physically write down those blocks of time on a calendar or in a personal planner that you look at every single day. And once you get into a groove of doing this regularly, you can get more detailed in your scheduling. Instead of just writing down genealogy research, you will be able to write down each week genealogy research <surname> or genealogy research <county> history.
So, get a good planner and take stock of possible research times during your week. Believe it or not, I started genealogy research in earnest when my kids were babies/toddlers. I would regularly research during nap times and in the evenings after the kids went to sleep. And I was still able to accomplish housework, playdates, and other necessary errands, because I became efficient at managing my time well.
2.) Get organized. Another key to my success while I was doubling as a young mother and beginning researcher was to get and stay organized. Because I was usually only able to research in 30 min-2 hour intervals, I learned right away that I needed an organization system that would allow me to easily and quickly find individual ancestors and records. Genealogy software can help you do this, but, in my opinion, it's not a must for beginners (and it usually takes time to learn it - time that you may not have. I'm a pen-and-paper kind of gal, so, for me, getting organized meant creating a binder system, which you can read more about here. I've also taken great care to organize my digital family history folders on my computer's hard drive, so that it's easy for me to find the family and/or person I am looking for. The key to organizing is to find a system that works for YOU, so that you stick with it. Whatever organizational system you use, I do recommend building a family tree on Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org. Not only can this help you visualize your tree better, but you may discover extended family who are researching the same ancestors!
3.) Keep a research log. *Sigh* Keeping a research log was one thing that I did NOT do as a beginner genealogist and not doing so caused me to waste time in my research. Why? Because I found myself going back through the same record sets looking for the same ancestors. Research logs also help you keep track of your sources, which is also helpful for conserving time. Again, there is no one 'right' way to do a research log. Some people use Excel or Evernote, but, especially when I'm researching at the Family History Library or other archive, I am happy with my old-fashioned steno notebooks to keep track of what I am looking for, where I have looked, what I've found, and what I haven't found. Keeping a research log is definitely not a fun aspect of genealogy research, but it's necessary, especially if you are all about saving time in the long run. FamilySearch has a nice wiki page on keeping research logs.
4.) Let the kids to be 'bored.' I feel the need to preface this tip with 'I am not advocating that you neglect your children.' However, when kids get to be a certain age, you do not have to devote your every waking moment to their care and entertainment. Every child is different developmentally, but once my children reached preschool age, we set up some daily quiet time during which they had to play independently. And I would sometimes use that independent play time to squeeze in some research. Once kids reach Kindergarten, they are usually old enough to understand mom or dad's need to 'do their own thing.' And I think it's important for kids to observe their parents engaged in personal endeavors that bring enjoyment and growth as an adult.
5.) Ask your spouse or parent for a day without the kids to focus solely on research. My genealogy research is important to me on several levels. I see it as a gift I'm giving my extended family members and children. Researching keeps my mind sharp and teaches me new skills. Interacting with other genealogists through social media and local groups has helped me feel less isolated as a stay-at-home parent. My husband knows how important family history is to me. On numerous occasions, he has been willing to spend his Saturday either taking the kids out of the house for the day, or entertaining them at home while I head to the library. (A 'Day of Kid-Free Research' is also a great birthday, anniversary, or holiday gift idea for the parent family history researcher in your family.)
I can't wait to read other parents' tips for getting the most out of the little research time we do get in our busy lives. Check out all the posts at this link, or click on the image below.