Genealogy Resolution for the New Year: Make a ‘To-Do’ List

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena settles on one New Year’s genealogy resolution for 2016 that she’s determined to follow.

Yikes! Where did 2015 go? I feel like another year has flown by and I’m still not where I want to be with the genealogy goals I wrote down in December 2014. I don’t know about you but I’m just not a New Year’s resolution person. Sure, I have great intentions. I feel motivated on January 1st and still fairly committed by the end of the month. But then February comes and goes and then March and I start justifying my continuing procrastination with promises that “I’ll accomplish that stuff during the summer when it’s not as busy.” Oh, sure I will. Life gets busy, stuff happens, and then pretty soon it’s December 31st again.

So if you’re like me, try sticking to just one New Year’s genealogy resolution: make a to-do list for those moments when you can say “I have an hour to work on my genealogy.” By creating a family history research to-do list you can refer back to it when you’re ready, and not feel the pressure and disappointment that will inevitably come on December 31st when you realize you never tackled a long list of New Year’s genealogy resolutions.

Photo: New Year’s resolutions postcards from the early 20th century

Photo: New Year’s resolutions postcards from the early 20th century. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

As I spent some time looking over my genealogy database recently I realized I could do a better job adding information from newspapers, such as those in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. The following ideas from my 2016 genealogy to-do list might be some you could incorporate into your own.

Go Back and Utilize Name Variations

I’ve talked about it before and believe me, I have been guilty of not heeding my own advice. I’ve noticed that when I’ve missed newspaper articles about the person I was researching it’s often because I didn’t take into consideration name variations, misspellings, and use of initials. For example, one of the women I am researching was married twice, went by a name other than her given first name, used her first husband’s surname even when married to her second husband because that was her “professional” name, and used her initials instead of her first name! Because of all this, here are some of the name variations I have to take into consideration when searching for Eleanore G. Burdick Stetson Dederick:

  • G. Stetson
  • E. G. Stetson
  • Louis Dederick
  • Eleanore Dederick
  • Ella Burdick
  • Eleanore Stetson
article about registered hotel guests, Daily Inter Ocean newspaper article 6 August 1895

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 6 August 1895, page 2

One of the first things I do when researching an individual is create a list of name variations, including initials substituting for first and middle name, and all the possible alternative spellings of their name. I add to this list as I come across other misspellings or variations. Each time I research I use this list to guide my search. By being flexible about how you search for a person, you are more likely to find them.

Fill in Your 20th Century Blanks

It’s easy to get side tracked when looking at newspapers – let’s face it, there are some great articles that can be found about our ancestors’ lives from very long ago. But I know I need to go back and concentrate on finding some of the basics for my more recent generations. Sometimes in our quest to trace our family back as far as we can, we fail to gather information on those family members that may have lived in the 20th century. My plan is to gather those newspaper articles to fill in the timelines for my great-great-grandparents and successive generations.

For example, this 1954 obituary for Betty Chatham filled in some gaps in my family tree and gave me several clues for further family history research.

obituary for Betty Chatham, Sacramento Bee newspaper article 24 December 1954

Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), 24 December 1954, page 21

While it’s tempting to skip multiple generations in our quest to trace our family lines farther back, don’t do it. Take some time today to document your more recent family. Their stories and lives deserve to be preserved for the future.

Try Something New

Whether it’s correct or not, we often hear statistics about how we only use a small percentage of our brains – but the same could be said for many of the tools we use. We become familiar with a few features of a software program or a website and we don’t venture beyond those features or databases.

I must admit that I am guilty of this. I get so caught up in finding historical newspaper articles in GenealogyBank that I forget to check out some of the other databases GenealogyBank has to offer, such as Historical Documents and Historical Books.

One of their databases that is a real gem is the Recent Newspaper Obituaries collection. At first glance you may assume you wouldn’t need obituaries from the late 1970s to today – but that would be a mistake. While the majority of our work as genealogists concentrates on those who lived generations before us, we also need to track those who died more recently, and their immediate families. That’s how we make connections with cousins and ultimately uncover new information. As I explored this collection of more recent obituaries, I came across the obituary of a cousin that listed his children. These were family members that we had lost contact with decades ago and now, because of that one obituary, I have names and residences that I can use to contact them.

Take some time today to brainstorm your 2016 genealogy to-do list. What would you like to know more about your family before 31 December 2016 rolls around?

Related Article:

20 New Years’ Resolutions for Genealogy

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary – with tongue firmly in cheek – presents 20 New Year’s resolutions for genealogists as we head into 2016.

As we head from 2015 to 2016, remember to quickly document 2015, as it is now your past.

Illustration: cartoon showing an infant representing “New Year 1905” chasing “Old Man 1904” into history

Illustration: cartoon showing an infant representing “New Year 1905” chasing “Old Man 1904” into history. Credit: John T. McCutcheon; Wikimedia Commons.

But seriously, when asked by GenealogyBank for some timely genealogy resolutions for the New Year, my serious side left the building. Wouldn’t it be fun to use these resolutions!

  • Locate deceased relatives in order to figure out which ancestor is haunting the family house – or better yet, invite one to become the family ghost and leave you clues.
  • Resolve to donate a black sheep to the local petting zoo. Family historians will understand the innuendo.
  • Resolve to never purchase a house with a real brick wall. It’s very unlucky when trying to solve the family puzzles.
  • Add a genealogically oriented cornerstone to your home. Include the pertinent data as to the family name, its pronunciation, when you moved there, etc.
  • Find birth records to make genealogy quilts for family members with the names of your ancestors and their countries of origin.
  • Resolve to only donate to politicians who have supported funding for genealogy and historical preservation. While you’re at it, search military records to see which of your ancestors served this country.
  • Threaten to disinherit the family down-at-the-mouthers when they sneer at your genealogy.
  • Write your own glowing obituary – then add a clause to your will disinheriting anyone who dares replace it with another version.
  • Read newspaper archives and historical documents to create a genealogy quiz for the executor to distribute at the reading of your will. Anyone who can’t answer questions, such as “which ancestor built the house on 7th Street” or “what was Grandma’s maiden name” has to retake it until they get an A. Leave a bonus to the top scorer, along with all your family research material and a stipend to preserve it.
  • Create birth, marriage and death announcements for ancestors who missed out on having them.
  • If you hear a relative sneer with “blah, blah, blah” to your latest genealogy find, respond with: “thanks, I think I’ll ‘blog, blog, blog’ about your disinterest, so it will be out there when you finally get interested.”
  • Record the GPS coordinates of the family headstones and present the data to disinterested relatives. Make sure you take their photos to record their “Oh gee thanks” expressions!
  • Use historical books to find your living family’s doppelgangers (ancestor look-alikes) and frame their images in side-by-side frames.
  • In order to hook your grandchildren on genealogy, search family names to figure out how they are related to their favorite pop stars.
  • Create your multi-generational family tree and engrave it into your headstone! (No joke. Some genealogists have already thought of this.)
  • Engrave your headstone with a statement noting your better qualities. (“Loving mother, or grandmother, genealogy diva & the family favorite”)
  • Persuade your local library board to provide special parking places for family history researchers.
  • Petition your state legislature for vanity license plates that grant free & convenient parking for genealogists at all state and national archives.
  • Hire handwriting experts to determine just who mislabeled the family photos. If it turns out it was a living relative, label this person’s really bad photos accurately.
  • Lastly, to complete the family DNA tests – resolve to do it surreptitiously during a family get-together. Here’s how: cover your desserts and say “Everyone. Open your mouth and close your eyes, so you can have a little surprise.” Instead of inserting a tasty bite, take a cheek swab.

Remember: all New Year’s resolutions go in one year and out the other! Make this one a safe one!

New Year’s Resolutions for Genealogists: Top 10 Goals for 2014

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary suggests 10 New Year’s resolutions that genealogists everywhere might want to consider for 2014.

Over the years, I’ve read and written many articles about genealogical resolutions. This year, I am dedicating my 10 resolutions for 2014 to my mother Meg Stevens (1928-2013) who, through her dedication to genealogy, added over 30,000 memorials to—a true random act of genealogical kindness (RAOGK).

On New Year’s Eve day she received a posthumous “thank you” from a grateful researcher, who was delighted that Mom had discovered the maiden name of her ancestor, Phoebe (Winslow) Armstrong. Thanks Mom! Great work, and I miss you!

a thank-you from Karen Weatherhead to genealogist Meg Stevens

Here are my top 10 New Year’s resolutions for genealogists this 2014.

1) Do a Random Act of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK).

Hopefully, my mother’s example will inspire you to join in the RAOGK movement. It truly makes a difference to genealogical research. You can do this on your own, or join a Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness group, such as this one at Facebook (

Here are some ideas to get you started doing genealogical good deeds!

  • Do you like to look up genealogical records? —Then answer someone’s query or add a memorial to an online site.
  • Do you like to type? —Then index a record.
  • Do you like photography? —Then visit a cemetery and post a photo online that shows the text of a fading headstone.
  • Are you a photo software guru? —Then touch up someone’s creased, crinkly or faded ancestral image.
  • Do you like to listen? —Then interview and video a veteran or a treasured family member!

2) Archive and protect family treasures!

Many heirlooms are improperly handled. To help prevent this, proper labeling and storage should be considered. In particular, be aware that acid can be transferred from boxes, envelopes and even your hands to your treasured family keepsakes.

  • Purchase acid-free materials for storage & labeling.
  • Be careful about how and where you label a photo (avoid writing on the back of the photo behind a person’s face).
  • Use gloves for proper handling of ephemera, photographs, textiles and heirlooms.
  • Weatherproof rooms where items are stored.
  • Minimize exposure to light, drafts and uneven temperatures.

3) Make backups of all electronic genealogical data.

When disaster strikes, all of your family history data can disappear in an instant—but if you have a digital backup, all is not lost!

  • Create a backup schedule and abide by it throughout the year.
  • Send your genealogy data offsite and give it to others for safekeeping.
  • Online trees preserve your ability to restore your family history, should your computer crash.

Genealogy Tip:

Read another of our blog posts to get even more tips about preserving genealogy records.

4) Address your genealogy in your will.

Another thing my mother did before she passed was to transfer her publishing rights to me. What a great gift (and honor). We did this via a written agreement, but another good idea is to address the disposition of your life-long family history research in your will. Here are some ideas to ensure your family history is preserved as you would like.

  • Leave the rights to your genealogical research to specific people in your will, and name your 2nd or 3rd choice in case the original inheritor is tempted to discard anything. Consider naming libraries and historical or genealogical societies in your hometown, as well as where your ancestors resided.
  • Leave notes in books and files as to how you want them preserved.
  • Leave the price tags of expensive resources you purchased in the books themselves.

5) Publish your genealogy, lest you perish before anything looks official.

If genealogy has become your lifelong passion, then pass it on to the next generation by consolidating your family history research into a nicely bound family history book. This is extremely important, as overwhelming hodgepodges of notes that don’t look official are more likely to be discarded than bound books!

Use a service within your genealogy software, a commercial printer, or publisher to create your family history book. Many office supply stores can add a hard or soft cover to your research. Also, consider a self-publishing service such as or

During her lifetime my mother wrote several books on her direct family, another one for my step-father’s family, and completed two annotated census records for Union County, Indiana. (I’ve already republished one, and hope to complete the others in the upcoming years.)

6) Be kind to others.

If someone took the time to share a genealogical discovery, be grateful, even if they’ve made a typo or error in fact. Too often in the genealogical community we encounter slammers and complainers, who undoubtedly make many mistakes of their own!

So please resolve to suggest genealogical corrections gently and in a positive manner. If you have come to a completely different genealogical conclusion than another researcher, follow resolution #5—publish your own version based upon the evidence. Eventually other genealogists will find it, and appreciate your efforts.

Remember this rule of thumb: even if you are 99% accurate, then you will make a typo or mistake

  • every 100 characters typed
  • as much as 14.4 minutes of a 24-hour day, or
  • as much as 9.6 minutes of 16 “awake” hours each day

7) Be a genealogy sharer, not a hoarder.

When Mom transferred her copyrights to me, she had one caveat: don’t keep her family history research tucked away in a closet or hoarded on a computer. “I want people to be able to find my genealogy,” she told me on more than one occasion.

And she followed her own advice. Having the only copy of an 18th century family Bible, she published it in a journal—and I later shared it online. See the copy at (the handwriting on the transcription page is my mother’s):

8) Head out to your homesteads and homelands!

There is no greater feeling than walking in the steps of an ancestor—and who knows, you might find that more than a trace of their existence still exists. Several years ago, my mother and I took a trip together to East Jersey Olde Towne and discovered that one of our ancestral homes is still there!

This photo shows the Jeremiah Dunn home (built c. 1750) to the left of the Church of the Three Mile Run and the Vanderveer House.

a photo of the Jeremiah Dunn House

Photo: Jeremiah Dunn home. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

Follow these links to see other views of my ancestor’s house.

Library of Congress Survey of the Jeremiah Dunn House, Stelton Road, Middlesex County, NJ

Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission East Jersey Olde Towne Village

Custom Photography of Historical Sites and Events (

9) Give credit where credit is duenot just to authors, but to anyone who assists you via e-mail, mail or in person.

Unless you’ve never looked up something in a book or family tree, it’s impossible for your genealogy research to not be based upon the research or efforts of others (authors, librarians, online contributors, e-mail buddies, cousins and even anonymous finds).

So how do you thank them? Try this approach: cite sources as best you can, and use those powerful words of gratitude such as “Thank you” and “I appreciate your help!”

10) This one’s for you to completeso please share it with us in the comments!

My top genealogy resolution for 2014 is to: ___________________________________________.

Thank you everyone for sharing your genealogical successes and supporting this blog in 2013.

And remember my favorite saying: “Genealogy isn’t just a pastime; it’s a passion!”