Setting SMART Genealogy Research Goals for the New Year
With the start of each new year, many of us think about and set new goals to accomplish, to live by, to achieve. It is never too late in life to set these goals and look to better our lives and those of our families. Each new day presents new opportunities to reach these goals, and if we fall short one day, we can always strive to do better the next. With the new year upon us, you have likely considered goals you would like to achieve, but have you considered including genealogy research-related goals you would like to work on?
The term SMART goals was first known in November of 1981, and have been used by both businesses and individuals ever since. Over time they have changed slightly, but the principles are still the same. What does SMART stand for?
S – Specific, or significant, stretching, stimulating, simple, self-owned, strategic, sensible.
M – Measurable, or meaningful, motivating, manageable, maintainable.
A – Achievable, or attainable, action-oriented, appropriate, assignable, ambitious, accepted, audacious.
R – Relevant, or rewarding, results-oriented, realistic, resourced, recorded, reviewable, robust.
T – Time based or time-bound, time-lined, trackable.
As you think about including family history and genealogy research as part of your goals for the new year, how can you make this work for you?
S – Specific
Extending all your family lines as far as records will allow is an admirable goal, but is not realistic to set as a single goal, or to expect to accomplish in one year. With each generation, the number of family lines in our tree doubles. As we explain in our article, Genealogy by the Numbers, your two parents quickly turn into 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 great-great grandparents, 32 3x great grandparents, 64 4x great grandparents, 128…, 256…, and so on. Assuming an average of 25 years, going back 6 generations is only 150 years but there will be 64 family lines that can be pursued.
Setting a specific goal would be to research and extend one family line this year, as far back as time and records/documentation can be found. Another might be to overcome your “brick wall” and locate documents detailing the life of the last ancestor in your tree, with the goal to locate their parents.
M – Meaningful
What goal are you trying to achieve? Are you looking for names and dates only, or are you trying to locate as much information about your family in context with the time and place they lived in as you can find? This is a very personal decision, but it does affect they way you’ll conduct your research, so you should decide ahead of time which route you’ll take with your research. Our article, Putting the “Story” Back in Family History may help you as you make your decision, but remember, there is no right or wrong answer to how you pursue your family history goals.
Within my own family I have a cousin who has taken the original grandfather dating back to the early 1500s and over a period of many years has written a book for each of his 5 sons and all of the descendants of each. Very little is presented on the individuals themselves except their names, dates, spouses, children and occasionally their occupations. There is not much else that needs to be written for many of his readers that still live in Finland. Through the last 500 years, many of the family still lives within a 50-mile radius from where the first ancestors lived, so they know the geographic area, traditions, and many of the relatives firsthand.
However, for me, personally, I’m looking for that connection of who they were, what they looked like, how did they live? These books that have been written are treasures to me, but I want to add the documents, history, and photos of the area where they lived, and connections with family who knew some of these ancestors. This is an on-going portion of my family history goal, and one that has given me a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction.
Remember, there is no right or wrong answer here. Your goal this year might be to locate the names and dates of your ancestors on one family line, and then next year you can learn more about them. Whatever works best for you is just fine – just make it specific and meaningful to YOU!
A – Action Oriented, Assignable
Create a list of specific steps that will help you accomplish your goal in the coming year. List specifically what family line you are trying to extend. Are you starting from scratch or trying to overcome a “brick wall” that you have been working on for years? Is this goal one you want to (and feel like you can) accomplish yourself, or one you are going to need help with? What information are you missing? What documents do you hope to find? What location(s) do you plan to look for this information?
R – Recorded, Reviewable, Robust
This is my favorite part of setting a genealogical goal, but it can also be the most time-consuming! If you have done any genealogical research at all, I’m sure you have come across numerous trees that list names and connections that have no sources or documentation to back them up. How do you know these trees are accurate? The simple answer is, you don’t! While you strive to create your family tree and extend your family lines, don’t forget to take the time to document your family members’ lives and add sources to each individual in your tree, assuring future generations that your tree is correct, and if you publicly share your tree, to let current distant family members know that your information is accurate.
T – Time-based
This one can be a bit tricky. In the context of setting a yearly goal you might make your goal one that extends for the entire year. Or possibly you want to research one family line per month. Maybe you are trying to build time into your busy schedule, so instead of setting a goal of how far back you hope to go, your goal migth be to work on your family history so many hours per day, week, month, or year.
The goal(s) you make for the coming year will work together to help you learn more about your family history. They may include researching a family member or a family line, digitizing photographs to share with your family members, or maybe writing a family or individual history for yourself or your family members to preserve precious details about their lives.
As you decide what your family history goal(s) will be for the coming year, we wish you great success in setting and accomplishing these goals! If your goal is one that needs outside help, we would love to assist you. Our team of professional genealogists and worldwide onsite agents can help you with any family history goal you might have. Contact us today to discuss our project options.