Professional Genealogy, PPS Review Part 2: Front Matter and Chapter 1


2001 Version: by James L. Hansen, FASG–1 page

2018 Version: by Angela Packer Mcghie, CG–1 page plus 1 small paragraph (McGhie is founder of the ProGen Study Group program)

Comparison: Where the 2001 describes the reason for the book’s existence, the 2018 foreward explains why a new and separate edition exists.

Content: Neither contains any reference material that one might necessarily deem crucial to a genealogy program of instruction, though readers deciding whether or not to purchase the book will want to read these before purchasing (especially if Amazon preview feature is enabled)


2002 Version: by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG

2018 Version: Does not contain a preface

Content: This preface, while not necessarily required reading for a genealogy education course, is a valuable reference for genealogy consumers because of the rich context it provides for the book. It recounts both the book’s history as well as a list of underwriters and sponsors of the project that spurred its publication. From this preface, a clear pattern emerges that explains the disparity between author credentials described in this blog’s first comparison-review post. The author of this blog earned a genealogy degree in 2002, the year after this book’s publication, in the classrooms of genealogy scholars with terminal degrees, genealogy credentials, and multiple scholarly publications to their name (i.e., Kathryn M. Daynes, Kip Sperry, George Ryskamp, and Gerald Haslam), while attending weekend conferences with the likes of Kory Meyerink, Arlene Eakle, and David Rencher. These scholars received some mention in the acknowledgments of the 2001 ProGen text as reviewers, but they did not write for the 2001 book, despite being professors of America’s only accredited university program of genealogy at the time. The 2001 book’s preface is recommended reading because it gives readers a better understanding as to why the doctoral-level, credentialed, multi-published genealogy professors at America’s only accredited university program of genealogy (at the time) were not included in the Professional Genealogy text.

Chapter 1: Defining Professionalism

2001 Version: by Donn Devine, J.D., CG, CGI–divided into three sections that discuss three aspects of professionalism. First section has four brief bullet points, then moves on to the next section. Second section has six sub-sections (Knowledge, Experience, Communication, Conventions, Credentials, Professional Memberships, and Standards), each expanding on its aspect of the profession. Two of those sub-sections have either a few bulleted points or a few additional sub-sections, but nothing so weighty as to lose the reader. The last section contains three brief paragraphs. Writing is tight, clear, and to the point–entire chapter is only seven pages long. Concrete, specific examples, applicable to genealogist’s craft, are offered throughout. Language is eloquent, and author of this blog has used several quotes from this chapter in presentations/lectures as a result. Donn Devine mentions APG and BCG’s postnomials, but omits those of ICAPGen. Conclusion consists of one very small paragraph, followed by 1.5 pages of citations, plus a “Further Study” section, one paragraph in length.

2018 Version: by Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, GCL, FASG–Divided into two topics, which are then further divided into many sub-topics and sub-sub topics across a span of twenty pages. Careful study of the font makes discerning categories from sub-categories possible, for although font sizes are very similar, caps versus lower case is the best way to determine at which level of the hierarchy one is reading.

First article topic–Individual Professionalism–contains five bullets (Attributes of Professionalism), followed by a category (Expertise) containing five bullets and two more sub-categories with four bullets (the GPS) and seven bullets in two separate sub-sub sections (about citations) apiece, two more sub-categories (bullet-free), and then another category (Integrity) with two sub-categories and four longer bulleted lists discussing the four groups to whom professionals are accountable. The next category (Other Personal Traits) has five rather brief categories (spanning two pages), only one of which has seven equally brief bullets (genealogist’s practices). The next category (Other Personal Traits) contains five equally brief sub-categories, spans about two and a half pages, and contains no bullets or sub-sub categories.

The second topic of the article–on group professionalism–starts off with a bulleted list (characteristics of professions), followed by a category with two brief sub-categories about why professions are necessary (spans about a page and a half). The next category (Why Have a Profession?) contains two long sub-categories; the longest composed of ten paragraph-length bullets with multi-bullet discussions in between.

The category that follows (Genealogy’s Professionalism) is comprised of three sub-categories roughly a page apiece, one of which contains a six-bullet list. The conclusion that follows is one page in length, capped off by a little less two and a half pages of citations.

Comparison: the 2001 version is cleaner, tighter, crisply written seven-page reference work. The 2018 chapter spends twenty pages not only revisiting the same bullet points in the 2001 version, but also reiterates multiple points already covered extensively in the BCG’s Genealogy Standards manual. Readers who already own both the 2001 ProGen text and Genealogy Standards will likely find this chapter redundant. The 2001 chapter contains genealogy-specific content that readers will likely refer back to as a reference from time to time as part of their workday, whereas the 2018 chapter contains mostly lengthy exposition that is neither reference material nor of practical work-day use for a professional genealogist.

Content: In the 2001 chapter, aspiring and professional genealogists alike won’t want to miss the section that lays out the average number of years that researchers have under their proverbial belts before successfully earning certification, as well as the average years of experience among the body of CGs in general, both before and after they earned their credential. This is extremely helpful data for those preparing to earn a credential. The section on date and calendar usage in the 2001 chapter also constitutes a helpful reference for researchers unfamiliar with how the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendars affect research in different countries, a section that readers will want to revisit often before dating certain kinds of reports. The “Further Reading” section at the end can also be referred to frequently by readers/researchers. The 2018 chapter, while devoid of content to refer back to, proffers quotes about management and professionalism in general, expounds on the GPS, citations, and multiple other sections of the BCG’s Genealogy Standards manual. It also quotes a 1955 management theory text and dedicated almost ten pages to the theory of professions. Towards the end of the 2018 chapter, that chapter’s author writes about why it is necessary to professionalize the field of genealogy (page 40), a topic that would make an excellent chapter in and of itself, albeit with specific examples to guide the reader (the author of this blog used to list the different characteristics distinguishing hobbyist genealogy from professional genealogy for university students, because delineating those boundaries helps give aspiring professionals more clear-cut objectives as they set research and education goals).


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Professional Genealogy Text Review/Comparison


The release of Genealogical Publishing Company’s new Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards coincided with my serving as mentor to a ProGen group (ProGen 36), so I’ve been re-reading the original Professional Genealogy (2001) text regularly since last October. As a ProGen graduate, ProGen mentor, former university adjunct of genealogy, and practicing professional genealogist, I feel obligated to review this new 2018 ProGen book for researchers and potential readers out there who might be wondering whether they should buy the 2018 version if they already own the 2001 text, or if they want to know how much it differs from the original 2001 text before buying what appears to be the same book (I certainly want to know, too).

I’ve heard lots of questions in this regard. Should they skip the 2001 text now that this new volume has been released, or do they need both? Certainly, at $50 apiece, purchasing both would be a steep price to pay if there was too much overlap between the two, but if buying the new and eschewing the older title meant missing out on valuable wisdom from great minds of the past, that would be a shame, too. Therefore, I will be offering a side-by-side review to help genealogy consumers/aspiring professionals in our field get a better sense of how these two titles might fit into their genealogy libraries and career preparation. I will do so in a series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts.

To kick off this series of review-posts, I’ll start with a look at the books themselves. I begin with this overview that I made of the books’ contents:

Most Notable Format Changes:

–This newer book offers fewer chapters by fewer authors with not as much of a diversity of credentials. Total author credentials are about equal (37 credentials in the 2001 text, with 38 credentials featured in the 2018 version), but my table shows that one credential dominated the rest, as if that credentialing body had produced the book, and that there are no authors with MLS or MLIS degrees, nor any FUGA, FBGS, or FNGS titles among the ranks of either book’s authors.

–As far as author diversity goes, I am not well enough acquainted with the names of the 2018 book’s authors to know the identity of all who penned those chapters, but it is hopefully safe to assume that our industry is socially conscious enough to have ensured that this slate of authors was diverse and inclusive–that perhaps one of the reasons for updating to this newer text was to give the guide greater relevance among our globally minded profession.

–The 2001 book has more chapters, but the 2018 book has more pages. Note the page lengths that I included in my chart.

–Page numbers varied widely in the 2001 version, while they hover almost religiously at the 20-25 page mark in the 2018 text (see page counts on my inventory). One gets the impression, from these differences, that authors in the first version were simply sharing what they wanted to say in the time that it naturally took them to say it, then stopped when they were done. Some took 10 pages to say it, while others took up to 30 pages. With the 2018 version, there is more of an impression of everybody trying to arrive at an assigned page count (20-25 pages, to be exact–with only a couple of exceptions), which gives the 2001 text a more organic vibe and the 2018 version a more forced, overly-structured feel.

–The number of “Career Management” chapters is reduced by half in the 2018 edition, while there are two more Professional Research Skills chapters in the newer edition. “Time Management” and “Marketing” chapters were eliminated from the 2018 text, both of which are ProGen Study Group assignment chapters.

–The 2018 version now features research skills chapters on forensic genealogy, genetics, and lineage research specialties. (Adoption research is notably absent). This is surprising because genetics research/technology is always updating; one might easily predict multiple new editions of this 2018 book in the future as things change in the field of genetic research, depending on how specific/detailed that chapter turns out to be (stay tuned!)

–A chapter category was eliminated. Where the 2001 text had six chapters in the “Writing and Composition” category plus three chapters in a separate”Editing and Publishing” category, the 2018 PPS text now has seven chapters under the heading of “Writing, Editing, and Publishing.”

My next posts will review, contrast, and compare the chapters within the books. What I learned from them, how they applied to my genealogy business over the years, and what I think of this new book. Stay tuned!


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© Jenny Tonks, 2009-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Why I Deleted All My Social Media – Permanently

If a blog post emerges in the blogosphere without any social media account to promote it, does it make a sound?

I’m about to find out!

That’s right–I permanently deleted my Twitter account (which had almost 1,400 followers) as well as my Instagram and Facebook accounts, which included the page for this site and its nearly 1000 followers, as you can see in this screenshot I took of my sidebar badge just before deleting it:

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 7.00.49 PM

This site has only five or six followers outside of social media, so this post won’t make much of a dent in the ‘Net without social media. Do I care? NOPE. I’ll explain below.

I have discovered that I value saving time and peace of mind more than that I value gaining followers for my blog. And it hasn’t negatively impacted my business, either. Read on to find out why/how:

(Actually, I kept my LinkedIn page, but since I don’t ever *do* anything on LinkedIn, I don’t consider it a social network, but more of the page where I maintain my resume. I suppose I could share this post on LinkedIn, since it has a newsfeed, but still, the posts in that newsfeed are always several days old, even though I have twice as many LinkedIn connections as I did Facebook friends, so there just isn’t much traffic on that site. Which is a good thing, as this post will show)

Here is why I gave up social media:

–It is bad for mental health, experts warn:

–It is designed to be addictive for profit’s sake, to the extent that executives who work for social media giants won’t even let their children use it:

–Foreign powers use social to manipulate users:

–Social media giants let **scientists use social to manipulate users’ emotions for scientific studies without their consent or knowledge:

–It took up too much of my time (checking in on all my friends and family, near and far, was just too irresistible when I had other things I needed to be doing!)

–Most of what I saw there was negative (nobody needs more negativity in their lives!)

–The benefits to my business were absolutely nil; I get all of my client referrals from the Association of Professional Genealogists website. Genealogy clients today all find me, almost universally, from my APG directory page and not via social media, so I don’t need a social media presence.

–I do, however, still get the occasional referral from LinkedIn, and that site is neither  addicting, time-wasting, negative, nor manipulated by foreign powers or sociology professors (that I know of–or if it were, I don’t linger in their newsfeed anyway, so it can’t affect me), so I don’t mind keeping my resume posted there, as I consider it more of an online resume than a social network.

**Regarding the “negative newsfeed” scientific experiments conducted on Facebook users without their knowledge/consent: when my husband was working on his doctorate, it took him YEARS to find a site to conduct his study because he wanted to conduct a *brief* survey. It took him years to get his small survey approved because he was administering a survey to humans, and there are all sorts of federal laws that must be honored when studying humans (human subject studies law is a huge thing–you can Google it!) and the places where he wanted to conduct his survey kept turning down his proposal because they didn’t have the manpower to jump through all the legal/federal hoops required to monitor his survey and make sure it met with federal human subject testing laws. And this was for one tiny survey. Now consider how Facebook just let a professor bypass all those federal laws and inundate users with negativity as part of a science experiment with zero consequences–who is responsible for that? Is Facebook now liable for any suicides or murders that occurred in the days and months after they fed their users all of that negativity? Are they responsible for the depression and divorces that might have resulted? THIS is why we have federal laws on the books about using humans for psychological studies, yet Facebook and other social media sites flout federal law when it comes to treatment of human subjects.

And don’t even get me started on the way some users treat each other on those sites. That proof is already in the pudding (and life is much sweeter without it!).

I have taken breaks from Facebook before (my longest stretch was 3 months) but those were always temporary deactivations when life got busy. I always came back later, and I always had Twitter or Instagram as backup drugs for my social media high. I was especially sentimental about staying because my youngest sister, who passed away, has a memorial page on Facebook, and I enjoy posting to it on the anniversary of her death or on her birthday. But one day it hit me: she isn’t there. I know where she really is. And if I am missing her, I will send a letter or care package to her children or donate to a charity in her name. That’s something that  *really* matters.

Since going cold turkey with these permanent deletions, I must say that my mind didn’t feel as peaceful and zen as I thought it would. At first, it was troubled! Every time I sat down, I’d pick up my phone–out of sheer habit! Only now, there was no longer anything to DO on my phone. I had a few good kindle books I could be reading, but I like to read when I have time to really get into the narrative. I typically only have 5 minutes or so of phone-checking time in one stretch (such is life at my house!) and those were the times when I’d hop on to social media. Ditto for standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for water to boil, whatever–I’d grab my phone and see what my friends or followers had to say or had posted that day.

So at first, I was a bit lost. What to do with myself during those tiny snatches of time when I would usually check in with my friends/followers, but I don’t have enough time to say, read emails or a Kindle book? I was frustrated and fiddled with my phone a lot in those first weeks. I tossed it around in my hands nervously. My husband used to watch me and laugh, saying, “I see you fidgeting with that phone with nothing to do on it!” (Note: I refuse to use video games. I’ve seen what gaming does to a person, and I refuse to go down that road, either!).

But with time, I calmed down, and soon stopped picking up the phone at all. It stays in my purse now, or on my desk, nearly forgotten. Now, in those chunks of time in between tasks, or other moments of downtime, I am more likely to gaze out the window and think. Or I look around me at the people in the room and strike up a conversation. I ask them about their day. Hey, I gotta do SOMETHING–I have just been cut off to my only outlet for socializing with my friends, so I am suddenly much more chatty with my kids and husband. My husband isn’t much of a talker, but I can tell that my kids like it. And the times when I am alone? Well, looking out at the trees and just thinking has proved very beneficial for my mind, my soul, and my creative processes. Ideas, solutions, and inspiration flow more freely, now that I am not looking down at a device like I used to.

Best of all: I have more TIME creeping in to my post-work hours now. Time for my own ancestors, time with family, time to read. It really adds up, the time I used to spend on social media. I hadn’t realized just how much time I spent on it until I eliminated it, but all the articles that social media posts linked to, the videos they took me to, the conversations I was having–they all added up to TIME away from other things I could be doing. Now I am finally doing those things. And I am happier now that I am doing them. The social media-free life has turned out to be a much happier life for me. Might not be this way for everybody, but this is how it is for me.

I am really, really glad that I gave up social media. I do not miss it, not in the slightest, and I don’t ever, ever plan to go back to it.




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© Jenny Tonks, 2009-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

My Top Ten Genealogy Books

This week, the ProGen study group I am mentoring asked me to share my top ten genealogy books. Below is a snapshot and a breakdown of my answer.

*Keep in mind, these are my top ten GENERAL genealogy books, not my top ten books for genealogy professionals, which would be a different list (for another day!).

In order of importance:

    1. The Source, by Lou Szucs: my genealogy professors assigned this as required reading, starting at my first genealogy courses, and it was a staple textbook in several genealogy courses throughout my time as a genealogy undergrad. I found it to be an *extremely* helpful resource, and I consider it a must-read for anybody who wants to learn genealogy.
    2. Complete Idiot’s Guide to Genealogy by Christine Rose and Kay Ingalls: don’t be put off by the goofy title; this book is more comprehensive and informative than some books that teach advanced genealogy research techniques, plus it refers to/quotes all the foundational genealogy works any serious researcher should own, which will help them to build their library as they go, which many those other guides don’t do. The authors are also credentialed and renowned authorities on the subject.
    3. The Family Tree Problem Solver by Marsha Hoffman Rising. I already touted my reliance on this text in a previous post; it is one of the secrets to my pushing through those “brick walls” when I get stuck on a research project, because Rising presents every possible solution in this book. I can’t recommend it enough.
    4. Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills: this book is required reading by the Board for Certification of Genealogists–your citations must be formatted in accordance with the style in this book or you cannot become board-certified, nor will your work be in accordance with the Genealogy Standards (manual) which they also require. (Note: ICAPGen does accept other citation formats, so Accredited Genealogist® applicants can use other citation styles–for example applicants from other countries who are accustomed to styles used in their homeland are welcome to keep using them.)
    5. Courthouse Research for Family Historians by Christine Rose, recommended because Rose is a consummate scholar who teaches about the record types that hobbyists often overlook, and because anybody wanting to undertake serious genealogy needs to leave their desk and hit the courthouses. Hobbyists are desk jockeys, but serious genealogists know how to go out and find offline records.
    6. Black’s Law Dictionary is a must-own because researchers can’t adequately understand the records they find in the courthouses mentioned above ^ unless they have a reference guide to the laws behind those records. Black’s Law is that reference work. Be sure to get the older editions, because newer editions won’t cover the laws from your ancestors’ time periods. I found it cheapest to get multiple editions on CD-ROM.
    7. Elements of Genealogical Analysis by Robert Charles Anderson. The “genealogical proof standard” (GPS) for proving one’s family history is a big buzzword in genealogy these days, but the rules of the GPS don’t include any standards/methods for sequencing/connecting the dots when identifying ancestors, nor for presenting findings. This book does–it maps out how researchers can logically prove ancestors’ identities via linkages and other helpful strategies.
    8. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val Greenwood. This work isn’t as crucial or as comprehensive as The Source (above), but Greenwood imparts a lot of valuable knowledge about the census and other record-types, making this book a staple for American researchers.
    9. The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy. DNA testing is an integral part of genealogy research today, and this book is my preferred guide to learning the ropes.
    10. Mastering Genealogical Proof, by Thomas Jones. This book teaches readers how to master the Genealogical Proof Standard, which I mentioned with book #7.


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© Jenny Tonks, 2009-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Free Printable for Ancestor Thanksgiving Placemats Craft

A few years ago, I was in charge of the craft for our family reunion, and my ancestral dinner placemats were such a hit that I’m sharing them with you now as a fab idea for Thanksgiving!

I used a free printable from the Internet. The one I used has since been taken down, but here is an even better one:

I printed it off and had all the kids glue it to wide colored cardstock, then I handed out paper copies of ancestral photos for them to glue to the trees. An aunt who is a teacher with a laminator ran quickly ran these through a laminator after they were finished and they were ready in time for dinner!

Note the captions and life span dates at the bottom of each photo, to help relatives who were assisting children to more easily identify each ancestor. I also made pedigree charts with photos available at the craft tables, so that adults helping me with the activity could help children put photos in their proper place–we didn’t want anybody going home with an incorrect pedigree!

I took these pictures after my own kids’ placemats sustained a few years of use, but this craft makes a great Thanksgiving activity for the kids–and adults, too!–because it gives everyone something to do while other relatives are busy making dinner!

These homemade visuals of the family tree also provided excellent dinner conversation (steering everyone away from politics–yay!), giving us a chance to teach the younger generations about their ancestors while they waited for someone to pass the rolls at dinner! 🙂

Other ideas for including your ancestors in family gatherings like Thanksgiving :

  • Skip that “everyone list what you’re thankful for” go-’round-the-table game and introduce the “unseen guests” at your dinner table instead. Hand each family member a card that introduces that unseen “ancestor guests” (ie-“We’d like to welcome Mary Johanssen, from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Mary was born in 1859 and married at fifteen to Paul Onstadt. They had twenty children, but seven of them died as babies. Mary is your great-great grandmother. As we eat our dinner, let us be mindful of all that Mary suffered during the great famine of . . . ) then go around the table, having each family member read their card aloud.
  • Family Bingo: Distribute blank bingo cards. Players must fill in the blanks with the names of all the ancestors/relatives that come to mind.  The bingo-caller then draws family names from a jar; five names in a row wins a small gift.
  • Story Circle Game: Frame a topic, where the participants will relate a life story or memory of dearly departed relatives. One question might be, “What things were rationed in World War II and how did you deal with it?” You might ask the question, “What is your favorite memory of growing up in Grandma’s hometown?” Before commencing the actual storytelling, you should let the people in story circle know that you want to gather their stories for posterity. Be prepared to capture the stories manually in the event that anyone objects to audio- or videotaping. Remember that the information you collect should be documented with the name of the person who tells the story, the date and location of the story circle, and any dates and places the person relates. You never can tell what research leads you will pick up in the process.
  • Table Teams: While waiting for dinner to be ready, cover each dining table with a disposable white plastic tablecloth (this plastic comes in a roll especially for such occasions). Put a few markers on each table top, then invite family members to draw their family’s family tree on the plastic cloth with the magic marker. Full names, birth dates (and death dates in some instances), marriage dates, spouses’ names, and children can be brainstormed while everyone is waiting for the dinner to start (beats watching television!
  • Who Wants to be a Millionaire” trivia about family members and ancestors.   The fastest finger ones also deal with the family. For example, “Put the following family members in the order of their birth.” “Which person was not a nurse?”  Be sure to include persons who have married into the family, too.
  • Create a centerpiece with family mementos. Using photos, heirlooms, or handed-down ornaments, you can create a visually stimulating centerpiece that may spark up the conversation you have been waiting for.
  • Heirloom Show & Tell: Have everyone bring in a family object (clothing, a book, a work tool, a knickknack) with a history. Display the items and, later, make time for a storytelling session.

For the techies in the family, you can also take turns at the computer, making digital family tree keepsakes like these (click on the image to view instructions):

I wish you–and your families and ancestor-guests!–the happiest Thanksgiving this week! 🙂



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© Jenny Tonks, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The Intentional Genealogist

~ Good Vibrations

Any experienced genealogist will tell you how often our ancestral discoveries are helped by incredibly serendipitous occurrences–how often we miraculously stumble across random scraps of paper embedded in ledgers that we opened by mistake (when we meant to open the one beside it), or chance encounters with a person who holds the answers we’ve been seeking for years, but whom we met only as the result of some bizarre incident.

Ancestral kismet happens so often to genealogy researchers, in fact, that Geoff Rasumussen–the host of Legacy Family Tree webinars–recently published a book about such experiences, though the stories I have heard from my fellow researchers and genealogy students could fill several volumes more:

In my daily work as a professional genealogist, I have noticed that this special genealogical mojo ebbs and flows. When I have it, my projects unfold smoothly and all goes well, but when I don’t have it, I hit the proverbial “brick wall” and can’t find the information I’m looking for.

~ Tips for Good Genealogy Mojo

When I feel my progress on a family history project begin to lag, I’ve found that it is usually because my life is out of balance. When I restore that balance, the mojo returns and I usually find what I am looking for. I call this living the spiritual life, or what some might call, in secular terms, being “an intentional genealogist.” This might sound silly, but let me give an example of what it looks like:

When unable to find information on an ancestor, I will typically stop and take a look at my day or my week. Is my life out of balance? For example, am I so focused on genealogy that I am neglecting my family or other people who need me? If the answer is yes, then I stop what I am doing and put living people first. I feel very deeply that those who have passed on care about the living (we genealogists have a sixth sense for these kinds of things) and that they don’t like it when I focus on the dearly departed while neglecting those who are still with me. That neglect brings a sort of bad karma, bad mojo to my workspace, and blocks my ability to progress professionally.

~ How I Discovered This Phenomenon

One night, in the throes of a busy evening of research, I almost told my kids to eat “whatever was in the fridge,” because I was so excited about my client’s research project that I didn’t want to stop. My kids typically just ate cold cereal on nights like that. I was researching the life of an Italian American woman who gave birth fifteen times, but lost the majority of her children in infancy to various illnesses or stillbirth. But as was about to send my children to fend for themselves in the kitchen, I suddenly felt this strong impression that the Italian mother I’d been focusing on all night would NOT approve of my children eating cold cereal for dinner while I traced her family tree, because Italian mammas love to make sure that their families are well fed! So I stopped what I was doing and made sure that my kids had a hot meal and were tucked into bed with songs and stories. Once I had done so, my research project went more smoothly than ever, and I made a few bonus discoveries that night once the kids were asleep. I felt very strongly afterwards that this mamma was intentionally NOT letting me find her famiglia earlier, while I had been neglecting my children. Call me crazy if you will, but the impression overwhelmed me to the point of tears as the records practically fell into my lap only after I had lavished that love and attention on my children.

I now try to make a phone call, sit and talk with a child about their day, send someone an email of appreciation, or send out a thank you note–take care of any good deed FOR THE LIVING left undone–before I sit down to do my research work.

The result of these efforts has been pretty consistent over the years: the more good deeds I do for the living, the more good mojo I have for uncovering the secrets of the dead. I now aspire to be a consistently intentional genealogist.

~ Intentional Genealogists

I believe that when we work hard to do more good deeds for the living, we will see more good come back to us in the form of questions answered, discoveries made, and mysteries solved in our genealogy research. It is just a theory, but I invite everyone to put it to the test and tell me what they discover! 🙂

Here is an infographic I made for some of my students about intentional genealogy and how it might fit into a research strategy. It is just one idea; you will find your own as you learn how to work an live intentionally:



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© Jenny Tonks, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

***COMMENT RULES: I only press “allow” on comments that are positive and friendly in tone. Genealogy is a labor of love, and we genealogists are a friendly bunch who love meeting kindred spirits! 🙂

My Genealogy Time Management Technique

Actually, I have several genealogy time management techniques, but this particular technique is the overarching, macro-level time management strategy governing my other activities (for which I utilize other time management techniques that I’ll discuss later).

~ The Technique & Background

I call my macro time management technique my “Hat Days.”

Have you ever seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon called “Bugs’ Bonnets” where the characters keep acting in accordance to the hat that falls atop their head? If not, you will need to watch it for context (I grew up watching that episode over and over on Saturday mornings; it inspired me to create this technique!).

Genealogists can probably all relate to my need for the technique, I am sure: it arose from a need to stay more focused while researching.

Sometimes, while working on one project, I’d discover a cool hack that helped me uncover a record, or I’d find a new resource online that hadn’t been digitized before, and next thing I knew, I’d be entering names from several projects (clients, my family, etc) into that database, or applying the hack to several projects. This behavior became a big time-waster and cause for inefficiency as I found myself with several open files, dozens of open windows on my desktop. That sort of chaos can only result in lost information or rookie mistakes like going back to fetch data for citations.

(Can any of you out there relate to such feverish activity when the thrill of the hunt takes hold?)

~ How The Technique Works

My “hat days” solved this dilemma by forcing me to wear only specified “hats” on their assigned days. I now only perform client work on certain days (and only for certain clients on their allotted day); I can only work on my own ancestors on Sunday. Each day (or some activities get a half-day) I wear a certain hat ONLY, and I am not allowed to engage in any other activity until I officially switch hats. All hats have their time slot, and their scheduled times must be honored each week. I only swap for emergencies (like cancelled trips to archives due to weather, construction, etc).

Genealogical studies also have their own “hat” that I can only “wear” on a specified half-day, because such studies have a HUGE tendency to send me fishing around on the laptop;  genealogy journals always show me new techniques I hadn’t considered, record groups I haven’t thought of in ages or heard of before, etc, which makes me want to hit the laptop or a few courthouses and do some helter-skelter digging for every name on my list. Instead, I take good notes (and my to-do lists handy!) as I study, keeping my study hat on and my client work hat far away, or more chaos and inefficiency can result.

In my early years as a budding genealogist, my hat days were also used to separate my studies–I was learning about California genealogy, European genealogy, and more subjects. To keep myself from working myself into a dither with a document-laden desk (and desktop!), I wore my “California Genealogist-in-training” hat on one day, my “Italian genealogist-in-training hat on another,” and forced myself to stick to those topics on those days.

~ What This Looks Like

Whenever I am wearing my client research hat, because it is one of the days assigned to client research, for example, my “hat days” rule requires me to quickly jot down any other ideas/urges pertaining to other hats in to-do lists (I use the Getting Things Done time management system for my to-do lists, FYI). Then I go back to focusing exclusively on the duties associated with whatever hat I am wearing that day.

If I am supposed to be focusing on my clients, I keep my focus on them. If it is family time and I am supposed to be baking, cleaning, tending to church duties, or serving in the community, or working on  my own ancestors, then I keep my sights on them–whatever hat I am wearing (mother, community servant, baker, chef, family genealogist of professional genealogist), it stays firmly in place. Gone are the days when I let myself get so carried away that I emerged all frazzled from a sea of papers and twenty open windows on my desktop.

(Confession: I still walk the line on busy days when I am hot on the trail of a great find and I am pumping out entries, analyses, citations, and paragraphs left and right, I will admit. Especially when I am on the road and time at a repository is limited. Let’s face it, genealogy is passion so great that self discipline takes constant WORK).

~ How I Keep Track

Clients come and go, and projects start and finish. PLus, many half-day and quarter-day hats means that I wear a LOT of hats!

I keep track of them in the heart of my planner, via Franklin Covey’s planner bookmarks, which can be filled with bookmark cards. These inserts come as perforated planner pages (two to a page) so I keep extras in the back of my planner that I can easily punch out and re-write when it is time to jot down a new list of hats with their assigned days (or half days/quarter days) whenever new clients need to be listed:

planner bookmarks

This technique might not work for or be necessary for others with different working styles, but it has really helped me. If it happens to help anybody who reads this, I hope that you will let me know! 🙂



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