Organizing your Family History: Easy Month-by-Month To-Do List
Organizing your Family History: Easy Month-by-Month To-Do List
Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the thought of organizing your family history? You’re not alone! Most of us have boxes or digital files full of old family photographs, dates, records, and more. But how do you pull it all together to create a meaningful family story and preserve precious memories— while not going crazy? Like any puzzle, you put it together one little piece at a time! Here’s an easy and “non-overwhelming” month-by-month to-do list for organizing your family history that’ll help get the job done while preserving a healthy life balance.
January: Do an Inventory of your Genealogical Treasures
A new year is the perfect time to assess what you already have and create a digital inventory. If you haven’t already, divide your physical assets into separate boxes:
- Loose photographs
- Photo albums
- Physical mementos (Great-great-grandpa’s eyeglasses, yearbooks, baby shoes, etc.)
- Mystery box (for keepsakes you’re not sure you can identify) Make sure you ask other relatives if they know what the items are!
February: Share and/or Donate Unwanted Items
Once you’ve done your inventory, it’s time to unclutter by sharing the physical items you don’t want or don’t have room for. This is perfectly OK! You probably have lots of family members who would love to give these treasures a new home. If you don’t, consider making donations to a local historical society. Always ask family members first to prevent any hard feelings later. No one needs that!
March: Clean Up your Family Tree
It’s springtime! Spring-clean your digital family tree by going through the lines you’re actively working on. Make sure each bit of information has a rock-solid source attached to it. If there isn’t a source, take time to find at least one. Make new notes on the tree that you may have neglected to write down last year and make notes of where you need to add new photos you discovered while doing your inventory in January. If you find any data that’s been disproven, delete, delete, delete!
April: Scan Photos and other Records
If you have hard-copies of photos or documents in your inventory that you haven’t digitized yet. Now’s the time! Preserving old family photos is a must, since they are always at risk of damage by sunlight, flooding, fire, and yes—smudgy little children’s fingers. Once digitized, make sure to add photos and documents into your newly-cleaned-up family tree, according to your notes.
Learn more about handling digital assets >
May: Dedicate an Hour a Day to Family-History Research
Setting aside time for family-history research can be the hardest thing to stick with! Bite the bullet and just do it. Warm weather is on its way and you’ll start spending a lot of time outdoors soon, so it’s kind of now or never. 60 minutes a day really isn’t that much out of a 24-hour period and you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done with 31 dedicated hours this month.
June: Get Your Kids Hooked on Family History
Kids have a natural curiosity about who they are and where they came from, so take advantage! You don’t want to do all this work just to have all interest fade away with you and your generation. Here are five suggestions from AncestralFindings.com:
- Show and explain family-tree charts
- Have them ask older relatives about their childhoods
- Let the help you with your research and tell them all about the relatives you’re working on
- Consider taking a family-history vacation
- Browse old photos together and talk about the stories of these ancestors
July: Record Older Family Members’ Stories
It’s the season for family reunions, picnics, and apple pie! Bring along recording equipment or just use your smart-phone to capture voices and stories of older relatives. Come prepared with a list of questions to ask, which will make the interviews a lot easier.
August: Visit 10 Genealogy Websites You’ve Never Been to
Baby, it’s hot outside, so stay indoors and explore the internet! Sometimes we get stuck in familiar genealogical pages and forget to roam the rest of the web. Do your best to visit 10 genealogy-related sites you’ve never been to, and you may discover all kinds of new resources, tips, and motivation for your family-history research. Just Google what you want to find out and see where you end up!
September: Get Social
Join a network of family historians both experienced and new on social media to make new connections and gain insight on how to expand your family history resources. You can also upload lots of old family pictures to Instagram and who knows? You might make a new connection you didn’t know about! There are lots of terrific groups on Facebook dedicated to family history and genealogy. If you haven’t gone social yet, what are you waiting for?
October: Work on your Own Personal Memoirs
October is Family History Month, and your story is just as important as your ancestors’! If you haven’t yet started your own personal history or memoirs, cozy up with a mug of hot cocoa and get going. The hardest part—as with everything family-history related—is just knowing where to start. FamilySearch Wiki has a really terrific write-up about how to put together your own story. Don’t you wish your ancestors had written theirs? Someday, the words you put on that page will be precious to them, and you may even be an influence on your progeny long after you’re gone.
November: Tap into FREE Government Resources
If you haven’t already, use some time this month to tap into free government resources specifically dedicated to helping family-history enthusiasts in their research. The Genealogy and Family History page at USA.gov is a one-stop resource for all kinds of useful links for:
- National Archives
- State archives
- Census records
- Gravesite locator
- And tons more
December: Try a New DNA Test
DNA tests are so much fun, super-informational, and can open up new avenues for your family-history research. Too many people try only one and think that it contains all the information from their DNA that there is to glean. The truth is, all DNA tests for ancestry have something unique to offer and may use different AIMs (Ancestral Informational Markers). When you take different tests and consider all the information together, you get the most complete picture of your family’s roots.
A little bit at a time...that's the trick to putting together your genealogy. Make this the year you turn that treasure-box of family-history treasures into a story your family will appreciate for generations.