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Genealogy: How to Stop Losing Track of Time

Do you ever lose track of time doing genealogy? In this post, I will give you some tips on how to keep your family tree research moving forward while practicing good time management.

A few weeks ago, I told my sister about my dream vacation. I would love to spend a week in Trenton, New Jersey and go to the state archives every day.

Genealogy:  How to Stop Losing Track of Time

At night, I would go back to the hotel and spend a few hours adding information to my tree that I learned and working new leads.

Don’t laugh – I’m a serious genealogy nerd! If you are reading this post, you might be able to relate.

In fact, you might even know what it feels like to be awake at 2:00 am with the full knowledge that you need to be ready to start a brand-new day in just a few hours. But there is just so much to learn about our ancestors!

How to stop?

Believe me – I have been there. So many times.

Four genealogy time management tips

Below, I give my top four tips for helping those who lose track of time while working on their family tree. By learning how to manage our research time, we can be more effective researchers and make sure our hobby stays enjoyable (both for us and our families!).

Set a time limit

The most important way that I manage my family tree research time is by not keeping it open-ended. I always set a time limit for my genealogy sessions.

You can do this by setting a timer on your phone before you start. There are also timers that you can use in your web browser (like this one).

I will often allow myself time to work on my family tree when I know that I have something important to do in about an hour. This will help me keep my research session short, and I know I will stop in order to keep my commitment to the other thing that I have scheduled.

For example, my younger children have a 9:00 PM bedtime. They like to do calm activities together like drawing or reading before bed, and so I can do a little genealogy research while they do their favorite hobby.

I know that I will always stop on time in order to help them get ready for bed.

Keep your research focused

Always have a goal for your family tree research session. Having a specific goal will help you stay on task and not lose track of the reason that you sat down to work on your tree in the first place.

For example, you might set a very specific goal for a research session. Finding an ancestor’s immigration or birth record, for instance, is an example of a specific goal.

It’s okay to set a more general goal, too. A broad goal would be to focus on a particular ancestor for an evening of research, checking out all documents that might pertain to the said ancestor.

This will keep you from jumping from ancestor to ancestor to ancestor. You will stay focused on your goal and will be more likely to advance your research goal in the allotted time you set for yourself.

Pace yourself

Let’s face it – Rome wasn’t built in a night, and neither was a good family tree. Building a well-researched, thorough family tree can take years.

Most people view their genealogy hobby as one of a lifetime. There is an endless supply of ancestors to research and a never-ending amount of information that can be learned about them.

Working for hours upon hours on one line of your tree, while absorbing and entertaining, isn’t going to make a big dent in the amount of work that needs to be done.

Working for extended periods at a time can also cause you to feel burned-out, exhausted, and even frustrated. This is especially true when working on a difficult family tree mystery.

I have a particularly difficult mystery that I’ve been working on for years involving my great-great grandmother. Sometimes, I am so frustrated that I want to delete my tree!

If you pace your research by setting small goals and allotting specific times for research, you will be a better genealogist for the long-haul. You will be more careful, make less mistakes, and more focused.

Plus, what’s the fun in discovering every mystery all at once? It’s way better to spread it out over time.

Take good genealogy notes

Taking excellent research notes for your genealogy research is key to staying focused and doing effective work. While this tip isn’t directly related to time management, it will help you make sure that you use the time that you do spend on genealogy wisely.

When I first got started in genealogy, I never wrote anything down. This caused me to waste an incredible amount of time researching and re-researching people in my tree.

I would not remember that I already scoured a particular index for someone’s birth record and I would end up doing it more than once.

Taking good notes will save you so much time that you might find that you spend less time on your tree. In addition, you might also find the time that you spend on family history research more enjoyable.


I hope that this post has given you some good ideas about how to manage your genealogy research time. If you have your own tips, I would love to hear from you in the discussion below.

Thanks for stopping by today!

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Alexandra Cloud

Sunday 27th of September 2020

Hi Mercedes this is very timely - was about to put my subscriptions on hold to stop me going there and researching into the wee small hours! There's something too tantalising about the Ancestry green-leaved hints (blame them! not really). Regards

Joseph Filip

Sunday 27th of September 2020

Excellent tips! I'm Czech, so I usually just keep researching until i finish the sixpack.

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