5 New Year’s Resolutions Every Genealogist Should Set


This is a guest post by Lorine McGinnis Schulze of Olive Tree Genealogy. Lorine is a Canadian genealogist who has been involved in genealogy and history for over 30 years. Find her on Twitter (@LorineMS), Pinterest (lorinems), and at her Olive Tree Genealogy YouTube channel. She is also the author of many published genealogical and historical articles and books here.

New Year’s always seems like a good time to make resolutions for doing better in our personal or business lives, or for accomplishing goals in the year ahead. But how many resolutions should we make? How many are we going to realistically keep?

Enthusiasm for change runs high in January. We are full of renewed energy. It’s a new year with the opportunity for new beginnings, and it is easy to become caught up in the fervor. But February and March often bring different emotions and our enthusiasm for the work that lies ahead can wane or drop off completely.

We genealogists often get carried away with our resolutions. There are so many ancestors to find, and so many sources to cite! We need to find great-grandma’s maiden name. We need to organize our files. We desperately want to find the names of 2nd great-grandpa’s parents. And where or who did 3rd great-grandpa marry? The list of wants is endless.

Rather than getting caught up in a frenzy of good intentions, I prefer to look at what I accomplished the previous year and think about what still needs to be done and what I might do better. Then I prioritize, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I can’t do it all. I’d rather set fewer goals, goals that are achievable, than have dozens of goals and not meet any of them.

Here are my five suggestions for your New Year’s Genealogy Resolutions:

  1. Review Previous Resolutions
    Look at last year’s genealogy resolutions. Evaluate them honestly. How did you do? If you didn’t accomplish some, decide if any are important enough to try again. You may want to revise resolutions to make them more achievable. If you missed meeting most of your resolutions it may be time for serious rethinking of how many you made or what your goals were.
  2. Try Again
    It is okay to set the same resolution if you didn’t achieve it the year before. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss a few. They may just need a little fine-tuning. Last year I resolved to publish the genealogy mystery novel I have been working on for several years now. My beta readers have returned it with comments and it requires one last edit. Thus it seemed realistic to set it as a goal for 2015. But life got in the way and that goal was not reached. Since this is an important goal and I still believe it is realistic, it will be my number one resolution for 2016.
  3. Set Realistic and Achievable Resolutions
    Achievable goals are those that you have a reasonable expectation of meeting in the time frame of one year. Setting a realistic goal means you have more chance of success. For example, I have been searching for my 2nd great-grandfather Joseph McGinnis’ birth location in Ireland for over 15 years. An unrealistic goal would be to say I plan to find that information in 2016. It’s too open-ended a goal and basically wishful thinking. While we should challenge ourselves in life, we need to balance that with logic. A realistic goal would be to look over what sources I have consulted in the past 15 years, and then make my goal more source specific. So my resolution might be to find out if there are church records available for a specific location that I have not yet searched, and then consult them.
  4. Prioritize Your Resolutions
    What do you most want to find out about that elusive ancestor? In my case, it is where my Irish McGinnis family comes from. Sure I want to find Joseph McGinnis’ parents’ names, his date of birth, when and where he married his wife, when and where their first child was born and exactly when he left Ireland for Canada. But I am starting with finding the family’s location in Ireland. Genealogy research is like building a tower of blocks. I need to start with the base, then add the rest. It would be foolish to start searching for his birth record in every county in Ireland when I don’t have a more precise location. My other questions will fall into place naturally once I have narrowed the location of my searches.
  5. How Many Resolutions are Too Many?
    I never make more than five resolutions and I try to keep them to three. I suggest you try to estimate how long it might take you to achieve each goal, so you don’t take on too many. If you set too many resolutions they may seem overwhelming later in the year. I have seen wonderful New Year’s Resolution lists from genealogists with resolutions similar to these below:
  • Visit an older relative
  • Backup your data weekly
  • Organize, scan and share your photos with relatives
  • Review your sources and documents.
  • Write your own memories
  • Join Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, and look for other genealogists
  • Listen to a webinar or a podcast
  • Join a Google+ Hangout
  • Start using the Cloud
  • Publish a family memory book
  • Take a DNA test
  • Join your local genealogy society

Those are all great resolutions. But can any of us realistically work on or complete all of them? Life gets in the way of the best of intentions. I would almost certainly choose a only few of the most important to me personally.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to back-up my data or listen to a webinar at some point in the New Year ,for example, but I want to be realistic about what I can achieve in the coming year. And I want to leave time to continue my genealogy research!

Whatever resolutions you decide on, and no matter how few or how many you decide may suit you, just do it. Have fun, keep your goals in mind and enjoy whatever the New Year brings your way.

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  • Janice Harshbarger

    December 31, 2015

    I think the most important recommendation in this worthy post is “Have fun.” If it’s not fun, then we need to loosen up and maybe let go of one or more goals. There is more than enough good stuff to be found, that doesn’t require grinding one’s teeth or spinning our wheels repeatedly. We certainly won’t get the younger generation interested if we’re not having fun ourselves!

  • Colleen

    January 12, 2016

    Many good points here. I am still working on some resolutions from 2014! Guess mine need to be more attainable. Whatever I do, it is fun.

  • Don Perrie

    January 27, 2016

    Absolutely——–if it is not fun, don’t do it

  • Bonnie Jakama

    January 28, 2016

    What is life without dreamers?? Inquisitive Minds can’t help themselves..Wishing all if us A wondrous year ahead.Smiles