Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tips for Doing Double-Duty Genealogy

This is not my technology bag but a great
travel bag from the Monterey Public Library
Finding the time for genealogical research and exploration can be difficult with our busy lives. Being the mother of a young family makes it even more challenging for me personally.

Last fall Jennifer Shoer over at the Scrappy Genealogist blog did a great job of tackling this subject with her series How She Does It. It's well worth the read.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I manage the find the time to do all things that I do. I thought I'd share some tips for how I get so much done.

1) Turn every activity into an opportunity

The number one reason I get so much done in my life is because I turn every activity into an opportunity. If my son has a soccer game an hour away from home I will check to see what cemeteries exist locally, what libraries or museums are in the area, when the town was founded and whether there may be historic houses in the area.

I will then allocate extra time, perhaps 30 minutes before or after, to take a stroll through the cemetery or to photograph historic houses.  Even when I'm really in a pinch I can still find an extra 10 minutes to at least to do a quick drive-by reconnaissance mission to determine whether to come back for a later visit. And yes, my kids go along for the duration. If they want a ride to their soccer game, then the deal is Mom gets some local time to do her thing as well.

I use this same technique for speaking engagements.  The locals will very likely find me in the oldest cemetery in town either before or after giving a talk.

2) Plan ahead

It is easier to take advantage of opportunities when you plan ahead. You will frustrate yourself trying to find the local cemetery on the fly without advance footwork. I know I have tried many times. It's all a matter of training yourself to think in terms of planning ahead.

First, I determine where my schedule will take me. Next, I immediately check to see what is in the area. I figure out which genealogical activity with fit in best with the time and location constraints of my personal activity.  Then I do the leg work to find out where the cemeteries, libraries or historic streets are located. Next I will print Mapquest directions, check for open times (if applicable) and figure out if it's better to make my visit before or after my other event. Sometimes I even come prepared with extra stops just in case the other options don't work out.  This let me shift gears quickly and not miss an opportunity.

3) Always be prepared

I  always carry a "technology bag" with me at all times. It contains my camera, spare batteries, an audio recorder, a wand scanner and sometime I even toss in my Flip Pal.  If an opportunity arises that I shouldn't miss I am fully prepared to capture the moment.

When I am on long trips and pass unique historic houses I base my decision about stopping on whether I think I will ever pass this way again. If it is an unusual route for me I will likely stop because either I won't remember where the house is or I won't be back again any time soon. If I didn't have my camera with me I would miss the opportunity completely.

Likewise, when visiting family or folks with relevant photos or documents it is always better to be prepared for the unexpected treasures or stories by having a camera, scanner or audio recorder handy.  It's a shame to walk away empty handed because someone wouldn't let you borrow their treasure.  You don't really need the original, you just need to think ahead and be prepared.

4) Turn down time into up time

Turn down time into up time by maximizing time usually wasted in doctor's waiting rooms, on the train/subway or at a sporting practice.  If you have a smartphone you can use that time to catch up on the genealogical mailing lists like APG and TGF and save valuable office time for actual work.  If you don't have a smart phone - no problem!  Just carry a book with you at all times and catch up on some background reading for your latest project.  Likewise, bring a pen and notebook and brainstorm ideas for breaking down brick walls, potential blog post topics, or prioritize your to-do list.

When you really think about it there is a lot of time during the day when you can do double-duty genealogy. It's retraining yourself about how your approach your day.

Photo Credit: Photo by MonteryPublicLibrary and used under the creative commons license.


  1. Great tips! I've been thinking about this a lot lately, trying to make more productive use of my genealogy time. Thanks for the ideas :)

  2. Marian, this is great! It's something I have also been doing for years. I spent lots of time "waiting" - between piano lessons, band practices, swim meets, etc., I had plenty of time to plan around. Both my husband and I have never minded the wait - we keep a "to-go bag" as well. It is stocked with many of the same things you have, in addition to the personal journals we both keep. Our time has never been wasted, and all I've ever had to do is pick up that bag and go. I still do!

  3. Absolutely. You just need to make it a part of your life - all the time. It really relieves stress, it you allow it to. Thanks for great tips and reminders, as usual! ;-)

  4. Great tips, Marian. I used to have a two hour wait twice a week while my girls were at gymnastics practice. I would head to the public library and do obit lookups for RAOGK. It was a great way to kill 90 minutes! And when we go on trips, I'm always reading something while my husband drives.