Blog post by John

The end of the calendar year is a great time for every genealogist to take stock in their research efforts. Think back to a year ago and make a note, if only a mental one, of what new discoveries you made this past year. What new ancestors have you found? What brick walls have you broken down? What new books have you read? What new websites or record groups have you discovered? What new DNA matches have you made? What classes have you taken either in person or online, and what new research techniques have you mastered?
Every year we should make it a goal as a kind of New Year’s resolution to up our game as researchers – to get better at what we do. Learning new research skills and both finding and understanding new record groups are key to making that upward trajectory. The end of the year is a great time to lay out the genealogical problems you continue to face, examine the sources and methods you have studied thus far, and think of new ways to approach those problems.

Have you applied the FAN club principle to your research? FAN stands for friends, neighbors, and associates of your ancestor – the people who lived next door or within several households of your ancestor on the census, who witnessed their deeds and wills, and who served as godparents to their children in church records. Who were these associates exactly and why were they important to your family? Have you traced their families and migration patterns to see if they can lead you to clues about your own ancestors?

What have you written this past year? I believe that the act of writing a genealogical summary and both documenting and evaluating the sources you have examined so far is a great way to reboot your research and get you mentally in the groove for continuing the search. Indeed, this step is so helpful that you should do it even if you don’t plan to publish your findings right now. Keep Word files under different surnames on your computer devoted to each of your ancestral families. Try to assemble each family in a genealogical summary and list all of the census schedules, deed records, wills, and other sources you have found that tell the story. The act of organizing will make you a better genealogist – I guarantee it. A year from now, if you maintained your focus, you can look back at all of the new discoveries you made in the coming year. Let’s all raise a glass on New Year’s Eve to making ourselves more skilled at what we do.