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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill - 12/29/2004

Things to do in 2005

The end of a year means another one is headed in. With that in mind, our last "Beyond the Index" column in 2004 contains a list of things to do in 2005.

Contact Offline Relatives
Recent work on two of my families has reminded me that a significant number of my relatives do not have e-mail or cannot be initially be contacted electronically. As several of these individuals may hold the key to additional generations of ancestry, they will have to be contacted. One of my goals in 2005 is to write letters to these individuals in an attempt to gain family history information. Are there relatives you have not contacted in your search for family history information? Are any of these relatives "offline?" Hesitating to contact them may result in them being permanently unavailable when you "get around to it."

Identify People in Pictures
This is something I almost always mention when giving a lecture or a workshop, because I believe it is one thing that almost every genealogist probably needs to do. Even though I have gone through my pictures many times, I still have a few pictures that include people who cannot be identified. My first priority in 2005 is to talk to those individuals who are most likely to know the people in the pictures. And of course, I will write on the cardboard backing of these photographs with a media that is archive safe, not a ball-point pen.

Tie up Loose Ends
I have several files, ancestors, and e-mails where a lead or a loose end has been left dangling. Life does get in the way. Before I forget completely or start work on additional projects, I will follow these leads. Who knows, perhaps the answers to my questions will lead to even more information than I expected?

Enter Data
There are stacks of copies and documents in my files that have yet to be entered into my computer database. I know there are few people in this situation (grin!). Before I spend hours or days accumulating new information it would be a good idea to incorporate this un-entered data into my computer files. In the case of some of the non-English speaking families I was working on, I have actually wasted time by not entering the data shortly after I obtained it. While working with the Swedish and Belgian records discussed in some of this year's earlier columns, I became reasonably adept at translating simple church records. I have lost that skill in the interim and will have to re-learn before entering the information into my database. Wasted time is lost time and we never get it back.

Write a Biography
While I have long known that this is an excellent organizational tool and a great way to share and preserve information, I have been lax in composing biographical information on my ancestors. To create less work and less confusion, the first biography will be for an ancestor I'm already working on. Starting an additional project will only mean one more thing that does not get finished!

Learn about the Language
Incorrect spellings of names and locations present a significant hindrance to the researcher. This problem is exacerbated when the ancestral family does not speak the language in which the records are written. I think there may be a few cases where I would have better chance of success if I were more familiar with how words were pronounced in the native language of my ancestors, particularly their names and the village or town in which they were born. Foreign language dictionaries and texts are one place to learn this information.

Read More Local and Regional History
Learning about the area where an ancestral family lives always offers the researcher insight into the day-to-day lives of our family members. This knowledge also can help to solve difficult research problems. One goal in 2005 is to read and learn more about some of the eras and locations in which my various families lived.

Review Old Problems
Regular readers of the Ancestry Daily News know that I have a few old problems that have plagued me for years. As 2005 begins, I will look some of these problems. In certain cases it may be a good idea for me to “restart” my work on these lines, beginning from scratch as much as possible. If I have not already done so, I should consider creating chronologies, maps, and timelines for the people and families involved in these problems. I should reread research guides to the locations where these people lived and see if any new materials have been published or developed that might be applicable to the problem.

Stay Focused
Working on too many lines at one time will only confuse me. A better approach is to work on one location or ethnic group at a time. If I decide to focus on my wife's Swedish lineage, I would be better served by doing the Swedish data entry, the Swedish research, the reading about Swedish culture and history, and the learning about Swedish pronunciations at the same time. It can be terribly confusing working on several lines at the same time and the problem is only compounded when the families under study were living in different times in different places and speaking different languages.

Do Something Non-Genealogical
There is a world outside of genealogy. Sometimes this world includes our living family members. Reading a non-genealogy book, keeping in touch with other family members, and pursuing non-genealogical activities will make your family history search seem like less of a job and reduce your “genealogy stress level.” And the less stressed we are while researching, the more effective and the happier we are. And isn't that what it is all about!

Happy Hunting in 2005!

Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at or visit his website at, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2004,
Used by the author on his website with permission.
Other Genealogy Articles by Michael John Neill