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4 Ways to Decide Where to Spend Your Family Tree Research Time

That's a lot of branches.
Yeah, I've got a lot of branches to work on.
The more time you spend at this exciting adventure we call genealogy, the more branches your family tree has.

Your parents form two branches. Your grandparents form four branches. And if you've been lucky, your great great great grandparents form 32 branches.

Thirty-two branches! On my paternal grandfather's branch, I've identified the names of four of my 9th great grandparents. That gives me several hundred branches to explore.

Oh dear. I think I need to lie down a moment.

So how do you decide where to focus your energy when you sit down to work on your family tree?

Here are four tactics you can use to focus your family research for better results. Better results equals more enjoyment!

1. Choose an Ancestor with Special Meaning to You

Marianna Iammucci, born 1 Jan 1856 in Baselice, Benevento, Campania, Italy
Marianna Iammucci
I have a photo of my great grandmother Marianna Iammucci, and it is striking how much I look like her. Once I found her 1856 birth record, I wanted to find all her siblings and work my way up her family tree. I've used available vital records to work back to my 6th great grandfather, Giovanni Iammucci, born about 1698. To go any further on the Iammucci branch, I think I'd need access to very old local church records in Latin.

2. Choose Your Most Stubborn Brick Wall

You may be sick of banging your head against that brick wall, but document everything—thoroughly. Document what you have found, which facts are uncertain, and where you've looked. This can help you get a more focused research plan when you're:
  • taking advantage of a professional consultation session at a genealogy event
  • deciding to hire a pro.
3. Focus on a Surviving Relative's Branch

Don't squander the chance to learn names and places and stories from an elderly family member. I got my first taste of genealogy when I brought my first baby to visit my grandmother. I asked Grandma to tell me about her family because there was a family tree page in my son's keepsake baby book.

Years later, genealogy became my full-fledged obsession of a hobby. Then I found my notes from that conversation with Grandma. Everything she'd told me was correct, and now I had a bunch of documents to prove it all. Make good use of your priceless resources while you can.

4. Exhaust Available Resources

Many of my ancestors' names are waiting for me in my collection of downloaded Italian records. You may have found one or more of your ancestral hometowns' records on the Antenati website. (Learn How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives.) Or you may have a different resource from wherever in the world your ancestors were born.

Whatever place-specific resource you have access to, harvest it! Search for your people generation by generation. Search for siblings' births. Search for marriages and deaths. Uncover every fact the collection holds for your family tree.

Last week I downloaded every available vital record from the town of Circello, Italy. I've known for a long time that this is the town next to my paternal grandfather's town. I also knew it's the town my uncle's family came from. But that research was on the back burner.

Then I discovered a few things that made Circello more important to me than ever:
  • My 3rd great grandfather, who married and died in my grandfather's town, was born in Circello.
  • My uncle by marriage, whose ancestors are from Circello, is in some way related to my father by blood. This discovery comes from several DNA tests.
  • I've met two people with Circello ancestors who share some last names with me.
Now it's important to me to build out my uncle's family tree, and explore the trees of the two people I've met. My goal is to connect as many people as possible. Exhausting the records from Circello may connect us all.

I still enjoy following tangents now and then. I'll fill out a distant relative's branch because it's easy and interesting. But it's more fulfilling to focus on one area—breaking your way through generation after generation.

Do you have different techniques you use to focus your research? Please share them in the comment section below.


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