Three words

A screenshot showing a range of open tabs along the way to becoming organized.

Enjoyable, rewarding, and complex – three words that come to mind when I describe my work at NEHGS. As researchers and writers, we have the pleasure of making discoveries and documenting them for current and future generations. However, that comes with many responsibilities requiring juggling multiple projects. How can we keep track of so many research and writing projects while still giving our best efforts to each?

In answer, I offer three more words – conceptualize, organize, and prioritize. These are the actions that guide my work flow in order to maintain momentum on various projects – and they should be applicable to genealogical projects on any scale!


  • Think ahead and start with the big picture before delving into details.
    • What are the overarching goals of each project and how might they be accomplished?
    • How much time (and money) might be required to achieve those goals?
  • Will you need help?
    • Who can you ask/hire?
    • When can you expect results from those helpers?
  • What difficulties may come up during each project and how might you bypass or overcome them?


  • Make lists. Keep separate lists for each project or in some way differentiate between them. It is really satisfying to check off completed tasks.
    • What do you have and what do you need for each project? Remember to keep track of who provided materials and whether/when they need to be returned.
    • What has been done and what needs to be done?
    • What needs to be ordered, when, and from where? What is the cost?
    • Who has been contacted, needs to be contacted, and how?
  • Make schedules. Color code or in some way set apart each type of event you enter into your calendars.
    • Who are you meeting with and when?
    • What are the big due dates and those that cannot be moved?
    • What are the more flexible dates?
    • What tasks would you like to accomplish each day, week, month?
    • It’s also helpful to keep track of what has been done each day so that you can adjust your forthcoming schedule accordingly as necessary.
  • Make folders and sort. This allows you to note and keep track of what you have.
    • Set up a digital file tree of tiered subfolders within each project folder.
    • Designate space to store physical items for each project. Within that space, organize materials, perhaps by topic, date, generation, or type (like photos versus documents versus notes etc.).
  • Use templates. By having the basic formatting already laid out, new work is streamlined and missing information is more easily noticed.
    • Enter data into a set research log, research report, and/or software program.
    • Write notes, articles, chapters, and so forth directly into an established genealogical format (like an ahnentafel or Register style).
    • Maintain consistency by keeping a style sheet, especially for citations.


  • Consider deadlines.
    • Which deadlines will come up first?
    • Of those, which projects have clearly defined tasks that need to be completed by said deadlines?
    • Which tasks need to be started sooner in order to meet upcoming deadlines and which can wait until closer to the end?
  • Consider limitations.
    • What resources do you need that might have limited accessibility? How, when, where, who can access those materials or that information?
    • What tasks/items might prove too costly or time-consuming for your budget and schedule? Can something else be adjusted to accommodate or to replace those tasks/items?
  • Rank by importance.
    • How necessary is each task and/or resource to achieving your goals?
    • What will lead to other avenues of research, especially those that will require additional time and fees?
    • What holds the most value to those involved in the project and/or the intended audience?

The more I conceptualize, organize, and prioritize for my many projects, the more I learn what works best for me. Start with a plan, but be flexible and adapt. Hopefully, following a guide like this will result in three more words – success, happiness, and relief!

About Kyle Hurst

Kyle, Genealogist of the Newbury Street Press, holds a B.A. in both history and anthropology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and has a master’s certificate in Museum Studies from Tufts University. With experience at the National Archives and Record Administration in Waltham, Kyle has worked on a wide variety of research projects as part of the Research Services team at NEHGS and, with Newbury Street Press, has contributed to a number of family histories. She has been credited for her contributions to The Root,, and she has also written for American Ancestors magazine.

3 thoughts on “Three words

  1. Wow! It took me several minutes just to READ this, let alone actually DO it! But thanks so much for this as a start. The summer will be over before long and this is the time I had set aside to work on organizing my boxes of genealogy!

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