Family history research is one of the most popular hobbies on earth, and one of the most enjoyable. Most of us look forward to those special moments when we can finally sit down and focus on our trees, adding new records and facts, discovering a new line, or solving whatever the mystery of the month is.
But it’s also easy to get overwhelmed by everything you’ve collected – wondering if you remembered to add a certain record to the right ancestor or if you were too hasty when reviewing that collection you found last week. Maybe you’re even stressing a bit about files and photos you’ve been meaning to digitize by haven’t.
While it’s inevitable that we’ll all feel like this now and then, it’s good to know that there are clear reasons why – and even clearer ways to tackle this occasional (or even persistent!) feeling.
Here are 5 reasons why you might be feeling like “it’s a bit too much,” and what you can do to fix it.
1. Your Research Isn’t Organized
This is, by far, the number one reason that genealogists begin to feel overwhelm with their research, and why it persists. In the beginning, it’s a great deal of fun to dive right in and just start adding names and facts and line after line. Before you know it, you’ve amassed hundreds of records – some of which you’ve added to your tree, some of which you haven’t.
If you’re lucky, you’ve also collected some photos and probably have a list of places you’d like to search in the future. Floating around in the back of your head are missing details you know you need to find, or ones you’ve collected that need to go in the right place in your tree. Perhaps there’s a family mystery or two you’ve tried to solve but haven’t quite figured out yet.
This is where being organized, really organized, comes in handy. While it may seem like a tedious step, it’s actually quite fun and very illuminating. The process of organization frees us from all those little things we mean to do but don’t, helps us to accomplish tasks more easily, uncovers details in records we missed and could use, and makes our future research much easier and more enjoyable.
Just imagine knowing exactly where everything is, how to find it, having a clear picture of what you’re missing and a focused idea of where to find it!
Perhaps you’ve tried to get organized in the past, or haven’t yet reached that step. But you can do it! And, we promise, the process will be rewarding. There are many resources online to help, and it might be as simple as trying out a useful, online organization tool.
Family History Daily’s fun, self-paced Organization for Family Historians course, which is part of our learning center, offers a step-by-step way to work through this process. Our online lessons are designed to teach you everything you need to analyze your tree and records, discover new tools and get squared away once and for all. However you go about it, this isn’t a move you’ll regret.
2. You’re Spending a Lot of Time Adding Names and Not Enough Time Sourcing
One of the biggest mistakes people make in their research is adding facts and promising themselves they will source them later. This may mean collecting a piece of information and expecting that you’ll search out the record it came from at another time, or having the record on hand but not actually adding it to your tree.
We know, sourcing can be boring. But it’s so needed and will absolutely help you feel like you’re staying organized and on track. Start by going back and citing sources for every single fact in your tree, no matter how long it takes, and then make a pact with yourself to always add these resources in the future.
If that’s too much to handle, chose to add sources to one ancestor every time you sit down to research, before you start on anything new. Here’s some help for doing this correctly.
Not only will this help ease those nagging parts of your brain, you’ll likely discover more information than you had before (we promise) AND have a tree to really show off. After all, not enough people take the time to give their research the attention it deserves and this leads to incorrect assumptions, missed facts, the spreading of misinformation and much confusion later on.
3. You’re Not Using Research Forms
From the ever-important research log to a family group sheet, research forms are something many people just never find the time to explore. But they are a tool used by professionals for a reason. They help you stay on task, cover the basics, highlight facts you’re missing and help you discover the information you need to add new (and correct!) lines to your tree.
Family History Daily offers free articles on using some of these forms (see the links above) as well as a dedicated digital workbook that includes the most important ones in a convenient online fillable format (or print). You can get this as part of our Complete Course Package or with our Organization Course, which also offers detailed help for using them in your own research.
If you would prefer to search them out individually, you can also do a google search and find many of these forms online that you can print out. Here’s are some of our favorites.
- Research Log
- Family Group Sheet
- Ancestor Timeline
- Name Variation Tracker
- Email Correspondence Form
Start by giving at least one of these a try and see how it helps you tackle your overwhelm.
4. You’re Only Doing the Fun Stuff
So, you like to spend the less than ideal amount of time you get for family history research doing something fun? You’re not alone. We all want to do this. And there’s nothing wrong with spending most of your genealogy hours really enjoying what you’re doing.
But there is also an important time and place for doing the stuff you don’t care for as much. This may mean those things we’ve already discussed, like organization and record sourcing, but can include a number of other tasks that get pushed aside in favor of digging into something more exciting.
Take a look at the list below and see which ones you’ve been skipping. Checking off even a couple of these could be just what you need to lighten your mind and stop feeling like your research is starting to get away from you.
- Not running error checks on your tree to make sure everything is accurate
- Not responding to that message you got from someone that could really help you
- Not backing up your research somewhere safe (files do get destroyed!)
- Not adding old photos or records you’ve collected to the correct ancestor
- Choosing to ignore a fact or two you suspect to be incorrect or incorrectly documented
- Doing the research but not updating your actual tree
- Not asking a relative who may have information for help
- Doing too much. Research is not a race. Take it slow and enjoy the process.
Do any of these sound familiar? If so, pick one and tackle it. It could make all the difference.
5. You Don’t Have Enough Information
Finally, many genealogists get stuck inside a research bubble. After all, it’s easy and tempting to keep doing what we know how to do and ignore the rest. Researching on the same sites over and over again, not trying out new programs or tools, and not having the help you need to overcome obstacles can lead to a tree that is just not growing the way you like.
Luckily there are thousands of helpful articles online from a wide variety of wonderful sources (like FamilySearch’s wiki database) that will help you step outside of this bubble and expand your mind. Family History Daily alone has hundreds of free pages of help and we also offer online courses that will take you all the way from the basics (and the overlooked basics) to advanced, expert research tricks.
So get out there and learn! Every time you do, you’ll be able to take steps to improve your research methods AND your tree – all while feeling more empowered and in control.
We’re so glad you share our love of family history research – if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed we hope this article will help you overcome it so you can enjoy this hobby for many years to come.
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