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A Forwards-Looking Genealogist

I have been rather neglectful of my blog, my last entry was around the time I moved from France to England, so I'm going to firmly blame the move for the lack of posts for the past 7 months.

There, blame shifted nicely.

This is a blog, so it needs a nice reflective writer-type-picture and thoughtful caption.
I have continued my studies with the University of Strathclyde, and am now onto the Postgraduate Diploma year. Unlike the Certificate year, the Diploma focuses on a mix of learning modules and smaller assignments with larger etudes and an over-arching research project at the end. The idea is to move as seamlessly as possible from "classroom" learning to academic research - something which is essential for those of us planning on progressing to the MSc year, which is exclusively based on a dissertation.

One thing which I have noted this year, as my circumstances have changed and I am no longer working full time, is this - I HAVE NO IDEA HOW PEOPLE WHO WORK FULL TIME DO THIS!

Is it down to my time management? Or the fact that I go over things with a fine-tooth comb before submitting and then fret about the quality of the work? I feel I am spending almost all of my time working on this course and yet, I am not going to an office every day. I am amazed at the people who are managing to do the course whilst working full time and wonder if perhaps I am somehow cheating a bit. Will it be as much of an achievement if I have (nearly) all the time in the world with which to complete all the work? We genealogists spend our time looking backwards, but we really need to make sure we also look forwards.

My current assignment (a client report) has got me thinking more on the topic of time management - specifically, time management as a genealogist and how we can be restrict ourselves to working on what has been agreed with a client.

I may not have the waistcoat or pocketwatch but this is a pretty accurate representation of me when stressed.

Case in point: my assignment is a client report in which I have to research the family of someone not related to me. I have agreed on a topic or area of research with my client and am limited to 21 hours research time (outside of initial consultation and report write-up). This may sound like a lot of time and what on earth are you worried about, Erin? Yeah, well, 21 hours at my current rate of working on university stuff = 4 days of work at 5 hours a day. Those of you who are fully in the clutches of genealogy's talons will know that 5 hours can go by in a flash and that you can have Not A Lot™ to show for it.

So how best to optimise my work to ensure that I get the best results? I could go and look at other blogs or sites on how to best optimise my research. They will undoubtedly be full of good advice like "Be sure you know precisely what you're looking for" and "Look at the right site for the information you want, don't waste time browsing". Yes, yes, all well and good but what are "successful" genealogists doing?

Looking into it a bit further, and reflecting on my own ways of working I've found that my research method always works out being the same when I am looking at primary sources (secondary source research tends to be a bit different).

  1. Gather the basic details of the person in a table, include columns of info I have and want to learn;
  2. Input already known information into relevant cells. Highlight green;
  3. List possible repositories for unknown information. Highlight yellow;
  4. Unknown information for which I don't have an idea of where to look is also listed. Highlight red;
  5. As the research progresses, fill in cells with basic information and change highlights to relevant colours - green for complete, yellow for incomplete but resources identified (you can even include links to these so you just have to click to access), red for incomplete and resources unknown;
  6. Continue until you have a board of green, baby!

Obvs you'd end up with more info than this but it's just an example.
It's kind of like a checklist but more visual and helps me keep everything organised and centralised.

In general when it comes to thinking about my research, I think the best pieces of advice I can give myself (and anyone else in my situation who may be wondering how best to streamline (ugh, that word) their work) are:

  1. Stop writing blogs about it and get on with it. You know what you need to do so go and do it.
  2. Don't try to reinvent the wheel. You know what works for you. You know what research methods work. 
  3. Comparing yourself to other, "better" genealogists is pointless. Your successes are and will always be your own. By all means learn from others, but don't think they're the be-all and end-all. Your ideas and methods are just as good and there'll be someone out there inspired by you.

You can download my Excel template here. It includes a mock-up of how it can be used.

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