04 January 2022

Keep Genealogy Exciting With This One List

I abandoned my annual genealogy goals in the year of the plague—2020. It seemed pointless to be so disciplined when it felt like the end of the world.

Did I give up on my family tree research? Just the opposite. I've become more productive at building my family tree. Even before I retired from my job three months ago, I was spending time on genealogy every single day. Now that I am retired, my family tree is my full-time job.

Do you ever worry about becoming bored with your genealogy research? I don't. The research routine I've settled into keeps me engaged and entertained. Every day!

The secret is to (a) have a list of tasks you can work on, and (b) do whatever you're in the mood to do. On any given day, I may pick a task and go at it, or jump from task to task, or let my findings lead me where they want to go.

Create a list of genealogy research tasks for yourself, and you can always do what makes you happy on any given day. Let me explain my list, and you can think about what to put on yours.

Steady progress on your family tree is entertaining when you have tasks to suit your mood.
Steady progress on your family tree is always entertaining when you have tasks to suit your mood.

My list revolves around my ultimate goal for my family tree. This is not for everyone, but I know I've inspired some of you. My goal is to connect everyone from my ancestral hometowns in one massive family tree.

While researching a town in Italy, I found connections between everyone in town. All my ancestral hometowns are rural and isolated. Everyone married someone else in town or from a neighboring town. And all my hometowns are neighboring towns.

My towns' vital records are available online. After finding as many of my direct ancestors as possible, I wanted to fill out each individual family. Who did my direct ancestors' siblings marry? Who were their children? I can answer those questions, limited only by the years for which vital records are available.

In trying to connect everyone from my towns, I have an enormous family tree with well over 34,000 people. Lately, by doing whatever makes me happy, I've been adding an average of 100 people a day to my tree.

Here are my favorite genealogy tasks. Each day I start working on whichever one will make me happy at that moment.

Task 1. Research people with approximate birth dates.

There are lots of people in my tree without an exact birth date. For many of them, all I need to do is search for the right document.

My favorite task right now is finding a date of birth for everyone possible.
My favorite task right now is finding a date of birth for everyone possible.

First I sort everyone in my Family Tree Maker file by birth date. I began this task with people born in the 1780s. Italian civil records begin in 1809, but the early marriage records can include a birth date.

I'm up to people born in 1827. When I find someone's birth record, I add their parents. Then I search for all their siblings and see who each one married. I find each couple's children and the families of each spouse. The people add up fast, which is why I'm averaging 100 people a day.

Task 2. Fill in missing facts in my document tracker.

When I add a genealogy document to my family tree, I record it in a single spreadsheet I call my document tracker. I sort the 5,000+ lines by last name with one line per person.

One year my genealogy goal was to search for missing U.S. census records for the people in my document tracker. Now I'm going line-by-line finding missing vital records for every Italian.

If I find a birth, marriage, and death record for someone, I color the line green so I know I've found everything. If any dates are outside the range of available vital records, I note that and color the line blue. That tells me I've done all I can.

Task 3. Fit everyone from my Colle Sannita spreadsheet into my tree.

One of my 2019 goals was to transcribe the 1809–1813 birth records from my Italian towns in a spreadsheet. Now I'm focusing on my Grandpa Iamarino's hometown of Colle Sannita. I'm working to fit every single baby from these years into my tree.

The spreadsheet tells me the baby's name and birth date, and the parents' names and ages. Sometimes I find that the parents are already in my tree, so all I have to do is add the baby.

Other times I need to find out who the baby grew up to marry, and then see if I have that family in my tree. One way or another, I can fit almost everyone in. I'm currently down to line 145 in the spreadsheet, and there are only seven babies I can't place in my family tree. Yet.

Task 4. Download and label more Italian vital records.

My 2nd great grandmother was born in Santa Paolina. I find that many people from that town married someone from the next town, Tufo. Now I'm downloading Tufo record images from the Antenati website. Finding the Tufo birth, marriage, or death records I need to complete a family is so satisfying.

Each time I download a vital record, I rename it so the people are searchable on my computer. For example, one two-page record image from 1821 is on my computer as:

18 Michele Pasquale Romano di Giovanni & 19 Giovanni Raffaele Grosso di Domenico.jpg

The "di" tells me the name of the baby's father. This makes it easy for me to quickly find every child born to one couple. I can search my computer for "romano di giovanni" and check each result to see the mother's name.

I'm including the record numbers so a collection of files is in chronological order. I may need #18 Michele now, but later on, I'll probably need #19 Giovanni. When I do, I'll find his record easily.

I love viewing all the vital records and renaming them. It helps me get familiar with the last names from any given town. I can usually spot an out-of-towner by their unfamiliar last name.

Find a genealogy task you really enjoy. Then work on it whenever the mood strikes you.
Find a genealogy task you really enjoy. Then work on it whenever the mood strikes you.

Task 5. Reduce the size of huge document images.

Last year I learned a better way to save files in Photoshop to reduce their file size. (I'll explain this if anyone is interested.) My family tree has tons of bloated census pages, immigration records, and more. When the mood strikes me, I search for the fattest files and resave them. Then I replace the image in my tree. This helps reduce the overall size of my massive family tree file.

Task 6. Follow up on leads in my research notebook.

I have a text file I work in every single day called notebook.txt. It has my to-do list, information I need to keep handy, and it tells me where I left off on all the tasks above.

The file also contains leads and project ideas I've added over the years. One project revolves around photos I took in Italy. They are photos of monuments to the young men from three towns who died in World War I and II. My project is to fit each one of the men into my family tree.

My text file also has notes about some of my DNA matches, where I left off with genealogy hunches, and more. It even has a daily schedule of what I want my retirement to look like. I love to be productive, and my family tree is more than enough to keep me active and happy for the rest of my life.

What are you doing to keep up your genealogy research momentum?


  1. DiAnn, this post has me excited and confused. I have 1765 people in my tree. I was thinking that I should start with an Excel document tracking chart with what I currently have in my FTM file. So I thought the best was way to do that was to export a GEDCOM file and import to Excel.
    Problem started right away with the birth date. Of course I have dates before 1900. And while some are single dates, some are ranges, or year only, or even some dates I do not know, etc.
    Before I go further, can you suggest how I might be going wrong or a better way to proceed?

    Thanks, Steve

    1. Steve, you should absolutely try Family Tree Analyzer! It's a free program that automatically puts all your data into a table format you can output to Excel...or just analyze it in the program. Take a look at one of my articles about it: https://family-tree-advice.blogspot.com/2017/04/why-you-should-be-using-free-family.html