Sunday, January 10, 2021

Goal Setting and Accountability


If January is the month for setting goals—or at least making promises to ourselves as New Year's resolutions—it also needs to be the month to consider the role of accountability. Put simply, it is easier for us to achieve our goals if we have someone else to report to. 

Perhaps we are built to need an audience to watch us keep pace with our goals. Readers have book clubs. The sports-minded have coaches. And genealogists? Maybe that's the inspiration behind Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors approach. Or Janine Adams' occasional 30 x 30 Challenge. It helps, sometimes, to do things with a group. Maybe we just need someone to cheer us on.

While I tend to take my own route, I find it so important to keep track of progress. After all, if we don't develop a system to measure our efforts, how will we be able to get any encouragement about what we are achieving? Face it, family history research is sometimes hard work—and it can sometimes bring discouragement.

Several years ago, I developed a worksheet to keep track of several aspects of my research routine. For each of the trees I was steadily building, I kept a count of how many people were added to each tree over a set period of time (I've settled on the fortnightly report, but others may find weekly or monthly more suitable to their purposes). I also kept track of how many DNA matches were being added to the accounts of each family member tested—mostly in the range of fourth cousin and closer—at each of the DNA testing companies we utilized.

Over the years, I've adapted that worksheet to suit my evolving research purposes. For instance, while I originally included a column on the spreadsheet to note emails sent to DNA matches, I later shifted that reporting function to the notes section of the pertinent testing company, rather than duplicate the information on my tracking form.

With last year's update at Ancestry DNA to tag DNA matches in my trees, that function required a shift from my previous choice of keeping four separate family trees to consolidating family lines into two trees—one for my ancestors, one for my husband's. For the upcoming year, now that I'm still in the process of completing that consolidation, I've also switched my accountability forms to reflect that shift. Instead of keeping a count for each of four trees, the watch is now down to two.

Of course, the shift means some inflated numbers, as members of the smaller paternal lines get shifted into the maternal trees (which was the easiest way to accomplish that consolidation). But here's how we stand now, at the beginning of January:

  • 19,707 individuals in my husband's combined tree, reflecting an increase of 373 individuals over the final count for December 2020.
  • 24,961 individuals in my own combined tree, which includes an increase of 367 individuals over the final count for December 2020.

That consolidation project for my husband's tree involved moving all my father-in-law's Irish-heritage ancestors to my mother-in-law's line. I'm by no means done with that project, for as I make the move, I'm double-checking the records to include any further digitized resources which may have been added to online collections since I last passed through that line of research. Also, since one purpose of building my trees is as a tool to confirm DNA matches, I'm also checking newspaper collections for updates on marriage records and obituaries as they become available.

With this latest version of my mother's tree, the increase was mostly due to those many Polish immigrants to Milwaukee who turned out, based on DNA matches, to connect with my paternal grandfather's mother's siblings. At last, a chance to personally celebrate the very reason we've all been delving into DNA testing in the first place!

Between those bi-weekly status reports and the Twelve Most Wanted monthly searches for brick wall ancestors, there are plenty of opportunities to share about research progress. While I may not participate in 52 Ancestors or the 30 by 30 approach, I guess this is another way to call for accountability in our research. It is encouraging, after all, to look at those reporting forms at the end of a six-month period, or even after a full year, and realize how much progress has been made. After all, every one of us researchers could use a pat on the back for our efforts every once in a while.


  1. I agree. I wished I had kept better track of when I found various ancestors. I haven't found any new ones in a long time. My Irish ancestors stop at my 2x-great-grandparents and my mother's southern families have those darned burned counties.

    1. It's those long spells between discoveries that get me, Lisa. But you have a point there: those Irish ancestors may keep you stuck at second greats for a long time. I'm with you on that one. But those southern roots? I keep hoping for a way around those burned counties. Maybe someday...


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