Resolutions: Think Big!

[Editor’s note: Flip-Pal AmbassadorThomas MacEntee provides his list of family history-related resolutions.]


Have you ever actually looked at those New Year’s resolutions you made last year or the year before—especially those related to your family history projects? I don’t recommend it unless you can be completely honest with yourself and are willing to take inventory and come up with a new list for the new year.

Many of us love the idea of New Year’s resolutions and we put lots of work into developing them and announcing them. Sticking with them…well, that’s another issue! As a former project manager who spent much of his corporate life in the world of projects, tasks and deadlines, I’m a big fan of resolutions, especially when it comes to my own family history projects.

Make No Small Plans – Your Ancestors Didn’t!

This concept of “thinking big” in terms of my own family history research and projects has become my mantra for 2013. Last year, the keyword was “abundance” and that focus really paid off for me.

Above is an advertisement placed by my 3rd great-grandfather Ira Austin, Jr. in the Lowville Journal-Republican in the 1870s. He started his own business producing saddles and other equipment for the townsfolk of Lowville and others in Lewis County, New York. Ira Austin made plans, set goals and established tasks to make sure that his business was successful and that he could provide for his family.

Remember that many of our ancestors who arrived here in America had to make their own plans. These plans including leaving their homeland, selling everything they had and leaving loved ones behind—not just to follow their dreams and to be successful. Did your ancestors just wake up one morning and say, “I think I’ll hop in a boat, spend several weeks in harsh conditions, practically die, and see what this ‘America’ thing is all about. Sounds like fun and, besides, I’m not doing anything else.”

No they did not, at least mine didn’t! My ancestors made grand plans, and even if they were not ultimately successful in all their endeavors, they arrived here in America and served as an inspiration for their descendants.

Small Tasks Make for Big Plans

Yes big plans matter, but you know how big plans come about? Through small steps and tasks. Think small, string the small stuff together and boom—you’ve got a plan or a project. Need a jump start on which projects to undertake and where you should focus your efforts and attention? Here are some ideas:

  • Organize: Your ancestors knew that any journey started by getting organized. The start of a new year is a great time to organize family history-related documents, photos and other research items. But remember that once organized, you have to stay organized in order to be successful and find what you need. Create a “tidy up” schedule and resolve to periodically perform a quick review of where your stuff is stored.
  • Preserve: Preserving their own memories and family history was important to your ancestors. Set up projects to scan photos, maps, documents, vital records, even medals and other family mementos. Don’t put these tasks off! Remember that many items deteriorate and decay over time and if you don’t focus on preservation now, you may not have anything to preserve next year!
  • Learn: Education was the key to success for your ancestors, especially in a society based on a person’s background, wealth and connections. And who doesn’t like to learn new things? With genealogy and family history there is an abundance of free or low-cost educational opportunities including webinars, conferences and more. Even reading genealogy and family history blogs is a form of education and one you can do from your home computer or on a smartphone or tablet.
  • Network: Your ancestors had a network already in place when they arrived in a new location or they quickly found the need to build one in order to survive. You can build your own network—online or in-person—and connect with others who enjoy family history and have similar projects, tasks and goals. Join a local or national genealogy society and get involved with volunteer opportunities. Or hop on social networking and looks for others on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.
  • Enjoy: Finally, believe it or not, your ancestors knew how to enjoy life. I know that can be hard to believe when you look at the stern faces in some of those old photos. But they realized that hard work deserved a reward. Take a day off, treat yourself to “me time” (and something not family history related), and step away from your projects and tasks. You’ll find that you have a new perspective when you return and you bring new vision to being successful with your family history.

Success Formula: Periodic Check-Ins

Finally, once you’ve committed to one or more family history projects in 2013, besides having to complete the necessary tasks, your success depends on one important constant: checking in periodically on the status of your tasks and your project.

An easy way to accomplish this is to set aside one or two hours each month, on a regularly scheduled day of the month (the first Sunday, the 15th day, etc.) and review your work honestly. Just like hopping on a scale, you are only cheating yourself if you aren’t open and honest about your progress (or lack thereof!)

Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t finished as much work on a task as you’d like. Simply commit yourself to working on the task the next month. Remember that this is your family history and these are your projects. You set the rules, you set the commitment level. No one else.

As long as you are reviewing your progress periodically, you should be able to finish the important stuff by the end of the year. And what if you don’t? Well, you’ll need something for your 2014 resolutions, right?

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