6 Questions to Help You Smash Your Genealogy Goals

Regularly reviewing your genealogy goals is essential to achieving them. It’s remarkable how quickly a year can fly past. Suddenly 10 months can whizz by and you realise you’ve not even re-looked at your genealogy goals, let alone achieved them. So how do you stay on track? How do you make sure you achieve your genealogy goals?

Firstly, add review dates to your diary. Schedule in a quarterly re-look at your genealogy goals. Keeping them under constant review is the best way to ensure you thoroughly smash them!

diary and pen showing scheduled review dates for looking at your genealogy goals

Once you’ve booked in those review dates, here’s the 6 questions you need to ask yourself to ensure you really hit your genealogy goals.

Table of Contents

1. Have you completed any of your goals?

Completed your research plans? Answered those thorny questions? Blown open that brick-wall? Well done! Give yourself a pat on the back. Finishing your genealogy goals ahead of schedule is a fantastic achievement. But don’t rest on your laurels, set some new smaller objectives to really stretch yourself before 31st December.

For example, perhaps you set yourself the goal to determine an ancestor’s parentage…and you’ve done it! Now think about how useful that information is sat languishing unshared in your family tree software or on an Ancestry tree. Why not set a new goal, to write up that ancestors’ story or your research process?

2. Are your genealogy goals still relevant?

Sometimes our goals become irrelevant. They either cannot be completed, or there is no benefit to us from finishing them. Something has “shifted the goal posts”.

goal posts

Example 1: Your objective was to discover the names of one of your sets of 2x Great-Grandparents. In January you’d clearly defined a research plan and now you’ve executed it to the best of your ability. That research has revealed that your Great-Gran was illegitimate and her father was not named on her birth, baptism or marriage docs. You’ve checked wills, newspapers, local records etc etc. You’ve exhausted all paper options. It’s possible you’ll never discover the name of your 2x Great-Grandfather on that particular line.

You cannot complete your original goal. It’s not “done” but it’s not helpful to leave it on your list “as is”. It needs to be updated. Your new target might be to complete DNA testing to seek answers. Or perhaps you’d rather leave the search for the 2x Great Grandfather and focus on the life and lineage of your 2x Great-Grandmother.

Example 2. You’ve discovered that someone you planned to investigate isn’t actually an ancestor – or maybe they didn’t do the things you thought they had done. Maybe you’ve successfully proven that your ancestor died a young ag-lab and merely shared the same name and birth date as someone whose life seemed particularly interesting. So you no longer need to become a Shakespeare expert because it turns out that Shakespeare is not your Shakespeare!

William Shakespeare

3. Are your genealogy goals still desirable?

Working on your genealogy should be interesting and fun. After all for most people it’s an engaging hobby not a chore or something to endure.

There are always bits that you are going to enjoy less (for me it’s the data entry) but the good should out weigh the bad. If you feel you are consistently internally groaning whenever you decide to work on your goals then STOP. Life is too short. Shelve that goal, or perhaps ask a professional to take it off your hands. Focus on what you love and re-find your genealogy passion. Otherwise you might find you kill it – and we try to stick to just killing off ancestors, not the fun!

4. Are your genealogy goals SMART?

For more information on SMART goals, see here.

Full of the heady optimism of January perhaps you set yourself some ambitious targets. You thought that, with some determination, they’d be achievable. Suddenly it’s 6 months down the line and you’ve not really made the progress you’d expected. It’s easily done, and don’t beat yourself up about it. Making a once a quarter trip to that local archive may have felt reasonable at the beginning of the year. You weren’t to know that you’d be up half the night with a teething baby or facing that hip operation, or taking on more hours at work. Real life sometimes just gets in the way and it can’t be helped.

A man in a smart suit representing your smart genealogy goals

Or perhaps you made what you thought was a SMART goal, but now reading it again, you realise you weren’t actually as specific as you should have been?

The beauty of regularly reviewing your genealogy goals is that you still have time to adjust and achieve them.

Alternatively, maybe SMART goals aren’t working for you. We are all different after all. If your feeling straight jacketed rather than energised then re-think your approach. Would you be better creating a set of guidelines or ethos to try for the year ahead?

5. Have you been sticking to plan?

Sometimes you have to be really honest with yourself. Having re-examined your goals, you may decide that actually yes they are still SMART, and yes you are still interested in them. However, you’ve been letting yourself get side-tracked. That’s fine. We all do that. Take this opportunity to think about the habits you need to set in order to achieve your genealogy goals and to stay focused. For some expert help on habit setting, check out James Clear’s Atomic Habits.

Alternatively incorporate whatever is distracting you into your goals. If you find yourself repeatedly looking at the village of X, perhaps what you really want to do is a one-place study? Or do you find yourself often preoccupied by persons of a certain surname? Maybe you should be doing a one-name study?

6. Are you missing something?

After completing the above list, it may occur to you that your goals didn’t take into account something which you are now really excited about. This could be the release of a new data-set. Or maybe you’ve uncovered a maiden name and you are itching to find out about this new line. Maybe you really enjoyed attending a family history show and are now determined to go to more? Or you keep thinking about how much you’d love to blog about your ancestors?

Your goals are not set in stone. We often feel beholden to our targets, especially if they are written down – or shared publicly in the form of a blog, or Facebook post. BUT if you’d like to add extra goals, or swap some out – or even smash up the lot and replace them with something new – then have the courage to go for it. After all you’ve still got half a year to achieve those targets and it’s so much easier to hit the goals that fill us with joy and passion.

Writing Your Family History

Writing your family history has to be one of the most common genealogy goals. But doing it all by yourself can be tricky. Even before you start putting pen to paper there’s lots of questions to answer. Which ancestors should you focus on? What style and format should your writing take? Which facts will be included? Will you put extra research material in footnotes or appendixes or include everything in the body of the narrative?

Once you actually start writing more difficulties crop up. It’s really hard to keep editing your own work because eventually you become blind to errors..and with no one to give you feedback on your work, how do you know that you’ve successfully written something that others will enjoy reading? 

Don’t panic! All these reasons are exactly why I started the Curious Descendants Club. A membership club dedicated to helping you to write your family history. You can check it out here:

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