Goals, in family history research as in any other endeavor, provide the thrust. Sure, if you don't have a target, you'll never know whether you hit it. But having a goal turns out to bestow its secondary nature: it also gives the motivation to get moving toward that finish line.
In the last few years of this blogging process, I've come to appreciate my year's-end habit of lining up my research goals for the upcoming year—a process I've dubbed my Twelve Most Wanted. For each month, I target one ancestor whose appearance in my genealogical database turns out to be, well, lackluster. Then, I assign that ancestor to a specific month, and devote that month to finding as many new references for that person as I can.
That, however, is not to say I don't work on any other family history projects during the year. There may be items that pop up—like discovering a relative's obituary containing information I had not included in my records, or someone in the family announcing a new great-grandchild. Of course, the never-ending stream of DNA matches also provides the impetus to work on other branches, all while retaining that main focus on my Most Wanted ancestor for the month.
This month has been somewhat different for me. The Eggert line, as I've already explained, is what my family calls an "outlaw" line—the line of my father's brother-in-law. While I am adding a few individuals from that line to my tree, most of what I am discovering will go into a separate tree for that special project I am tackling, not my own family tree.
Since today marks my biweekly research recap—and the penultimate one for this year—it would be natural to assume I hadn't made any progress on my own tree, nor even the tree of my in-laws. After all, I've been consumed with this puzzle concerning my uncle's line.
However, don't forget those other, minor goals churning away in the background. I've had an ongoing, unfinished project since writing about my Tilson line a few months ago. And that brief week at the end of November which I spent working on that unexpected McClellan photo project prompted another call for follow up. So there has been some progress this month on my own trees.
For instance, in the past two weeks, my tree has jumped by 184 documented names, simply because of work on these two unfinished projects from previous months. My tree now has 31,061 total individuals. Though there has been zero activity on my in-laws' tree—though we'll return to that tree next spring—that tree still stands at 30,270. Since of the two main trees I'm tackling, the second one is the easiest for making fast progress, I'll catch up and surpass my own tree in no time, once I return to my mother-in-law's lines.
In two more weeks, I'll be wrapping up the tally for the year's work. It can be quite rewarding to see how these increases add up over time. Keeping an eye on the goal—my Twelve Most Wanted, or whatever goal you might select—and doing a little work at a time, but consistently over the year, does produce a rewarding result at the end. There may be a week—or even a messy month, as I've sometimes faced—where the progress is less than encouraging. But looking back over the year, you can finally see the dribbles of work here and there do add up.
Still, I doubt the progress would be as robust without a target to propel me forward. Somehow, just keeping that target, that goal, in mind—and right before my eyes—doesn't just provide an end point. It provides the mile markers along the way, and the push of encouragement from behind to keep me moving ever forward.