Got a New Year's resolution for getting into shape? How about some plans for your genealogy research in 2017? Why not put the two together? Every day during January, the editors of Family Tree Magazine will share a new way you can whip your genealogy into shape, with 31 prompts that will help you organize, digitize, simplify and strengthen your genealogy research. You can find each day's prompt on this page and on our homepage.
Follow along with us on Facebook and Twitter, and use the hashtag #FamilyHistoryFitnessMonth to share your progress with other genealogists. You can also check out our past challenges from November (family history writing prompts) and December (family holiday recipes).
Day 20: Download the Surname Variants Chart worksheet from FamilyTreeMagazine.com and record all the variations you can think of for three surnames you’re currently working on. Do any previously unconsidered spellings pop up? Revisit online databases and search for any variants you haven’t tried before.
Day 19: Set up a time to interview a relative, and use your questions from yesterday's prompt. You never know what kind of family history information even a distant family member might have!
Day 18: Identify a relative (living or dead) who you’d like to interview about your family’s history, and prepare a handful of questions you’d like to ask. You can use our list of interview questions as a starting point.
Day 17: Make a timeline for one of your ancestors. Be sure to include major life events (birth, baptism, marriage, birth of children, death, burial, etc.) as well as information that’s come from year-specific directories and federal or state censuses. Visually mapping your ancestor’s life will help you identify gaps in your research as well as aid you in evaluating new information you might discover.
Day 16: Make sure all the birth, marriage and death dates in your family tree are formatted consistently. Having all these data points in the same format will make it easier for you to compare them and identify errors.
Day 15: Create a checklist of possible records you still need to research for an ancestor. As you work, check off the records you’ve found. Bonus: Document the folder where you’ve placed it or link to the URL so you can find it again. For more tips on organizing your genealogy and setting goals, check out our workshop.
Day 14: Set a goal that you’ve been holding onto and break it down into smaller parts. By establishing a research plan, you’ll give yourself a guide to future research. Check out this video for more ideas.
Day 13: Write a paragraph or two that includes everything you know about an ancestor. Writing out that person’s information can help you identify gaps in your research.
Day 12: Select one ancestor and research any of his or her siblings that you know about but haven’t previously studied. This “collateral” research can help you uncover information about your direct-line ancestors, such as parents’ names or birthplaces.
Day 11: Select one kind of record (census record, birth record, marriage certificate, Social Security death index entry, etc.) and ensure you’ve found a record of that type for all your relatives back to a certain generation. If a relative who should have that kind of record doesn’t have one, go find it. Make sure you save a copy of the record, and be sure to cite your sources.
Day 10: Choose a specific problem in your research, such as identifying your great-grandmother’s parents, finding when your second-great-grandfather immigrated, or locating your great-aunt after she was widowed and remarried. Write a plan to research that problem, and list your question, the information you already know, a hypothesis and some records to check. Check out a sample plan.
Day 9: Branch out and pick a genealogy website you haven’t used much (perhaps FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage, Findmypast, Access Genealogy, Genealogy Today or Olive Tree Genealogy). Spend at least 15 minutes perusing its offerings. Look for a content listing, how-to articles, resource listings and more. You might discover a new favorite website!.
Day 8: Search a digitized newspaper collection for names on your family tree on the Library of Congress’ free Chronicling America website.
Day 7: Choose a town your ancestors lived in and search the FamilySearch online catalog for it. Browse records the FHL has on microfilm and note any that might apply to your research. You might even find links to digitized versions on the FamilySearch website.
Day 6: If you’ve taken a DNA test, look at your DNA matches (not just the ethnicity results) and review the match information for any fourth cousin or closer. Also check for messages from any matches who’ve contacted you (and respond to them).
Day 5: Find your local FamilySearch Center. Have you ever visited one? These branches of the Family History Library (FHL) have helpful volunteers, local resources, and computers with access to genealogy websites. From a FamilySearch Center, you can also rent microfilmed records from the FHL. Search for the nearest one, and call to check the hours.
Day 4: Set up a file-naming convention, and make sure all your documents follow it. This will simplify your filing and help you quickly find the information you need.
Day 3: Create a source citation workflow so that you—and anyone who sees your research—will know where you got your information.
Day 2: Back up your genealogy data using an external hard drive or a cloud service. If you don’t currently use a backup system like Dropbox or Backblaze, take some time to learn about them.
Day 1: Sync your desktop software and online family trees to make sure you have the latest version of your work in both places. If you don’t use desktop software, download a GEDCOM of your online tree instead. If you don’t have genealogy software or an online family tree, consider starting an online tree to help you organize your research.