Monday, July 13, 2009

Researching, Blogging, Social Networking, and Finding Time

Many people with a strong interest in genealogy – professionals, semi-pros, and keen amateurs alike – have taken up blogging and social networking to further their genealogy research. I think most of us discovered early on what an effective strategy contacting other researchers can be, whether they are researching the same lines and we want to pool information, or they have expertise in particular areas and we would like to learn from them. Many of our genealogy happy dances are occasioned not only by finding information, but also by making contact with distant cousins. So, in an effort to “put our research out there” and make more useful (and enjoyable) genealogy contacts, we have used blogging and social networking platforms to pursue our research goals.

I cannot speak for anyone else, but I have bumped up against one of those hard facts of life: there are only 24 hours in a day, and I need to spend at least a few of those sleeping, not to mention interacting with my family and meeting my other non-genealogy-related obligations in life. This issue has been brought into even sharper focus recently by the addition of an alluring new social networking site created expressly for genealogists: GenealogyWise. Barely a week old, it has exploded in popularity, which has been reflected in the addition of hundreds of new members each day as well as quite a few blog articles on the subject. Most of these articles were positive and cited some new possibilities offered by “the new kid on the block,” although a considerable number of reviews also included some reservations about possible drawbacks. A few blog posts even set forth the authors’ reasons for not joining this new wave of social networking.

I held out for an entire day before I joined GenealogyWise. I though it wouldn’t hurt to sign up just to see what was there, and then if it didn’t seem to provide anything I couldn’t already do, I’d just let my participation languish.

It offered a lot. Many of the features I do have access to elsewhere – in a lot of different places. On GenealogyWise, they’re all packaged together: a place for blog posts as well as links to our “outside” blogs, pictures, notes, networking with others in various ways – through interest groups, posting on one another’s pages, an internal e-mail system, chat, and on and on. I was weak. I caved. I participated and had fun, especially when I found a number of friends from the genea-blogging community. I was even able to pass on a tip on a helpful researcher to another GenealogyWise user.

And yet… that “only so many hours in a day” problem will not go away. Last week I spent about the same amount of time I usually do reading and writing (e-mail, Facebook, blog posts), so which usual activity had to sacrifice the minutes and hours I spent on GenealogyWise?

It was my research. Actually, ever since I started blogging and Facebooking, my research time has been dwindling. At the very beginning, there may not have been a significant reduction, because I actually saved some time by posting pictures, notes, and research results on my Facebook page instead of writing individually to the relatives with whom I share research. But as my blog progressed and additional networking opportunities appeared on Facebook, that early momentum went into reverse. I still post some items to share on Facebook, but even that has suffered lately. And I miss the constant e-mailing back and forth I used to do with my cousins when I first started genealogy.

Different genealogy researchers have different amounts of time to devote to this passion, but I’m betting that I’m not alone in finding it extremely difficult to prioritize my genealogy-related activities so that I can pursue my research while enjoying the social aspect (which has always been high on my list of reasons for enjoying genealogy so much in the first place).

I have a full-time job (which I love and do not plan to retire from until I absolutely have to), a husband, a daughter in college, a daughter in high school, three cats, and some volunteer commitments. Yet I know I probably do not have the worst time crunch problems in the genealogy community; my daughters are still young enough that I can remember the time demands made by young children, and many retirees still have significant family and volunteer obligations. Moreover, professional genealogists and the passionate semi-pros and amateurs with a substantial web presence may love what they do, but they also have to meet their professional commitments to customers and the expectations of their Internet audiences in addition to pursuing their own research.

Until recently, part of my usual evening routine after getting home from work, in addition to chores and family time, looked like this:

1. Check and reply to e-mail.
2. Check Facebook and write replies, comments, and posts.
3. Read and comment on blogs.
4. Do research.

And now GenealogyWise has taken over spot #4, pushing research to the pathetic (and often omitted, at least during weekdays) #5 spot.

So what can I do to put my research back on track? I think it needs to be put back to a higher place on my list. After all, what will I have to share on my blog and on social networking sites if I don’t keep adding to my previous research? During weeks with heavier scheduling demands, blog reading and Facebook could be done on alternate nights.

And GenealogyWise? It’s still there, but I have to learn to use it efficiently. As long as it doesn’t get gunked up by Facebook-type applications and distractions, it should be a useful tool. Interest groups are numerous (and ever-increasing) but still small in terms of membership; participation should be selective, but it can definitely pay off down the line, just as posting on message boards does.

I may use GenealogyWise for a little bit of “mini-blogging” as well as posting links to my regular blog. By “mini-blogging” I mean short posts on current topics of interest to genealogy researchers as well as an occasional “names, place, and most wanted faces” posts to keep my brick walls and high-interest research questions out there; more in-depth posts will still be reserved for the regular blog. The other extreme is “micro-blogging” (aka Twitter), which I have so far avoided because I’m not any good at it.

I do not think I will ever be able to return to the good old days when I could average a good 10 hours or more of research a week, but I am learning to cut some of the clutter elsewhere.

But there are still times when I wish I could clone myself.


  1. Oh Greta,
    I could not have said it better myself! I am making myself sit down, write a list of all my genealogical activities and then make some hard choices. I have finally realized that goals I set for myself are not happening because I am spreading myself way too thin.

    It's good to know I am not alone in thinking this way!

  2. Well said, Greta! I think there are a lot of geneabloggers that are "stretched too thin" and I'll admit that I'm one of them. Although I'm one of those retired people, there still are only 24 hours in a day.

    Priorities require adjustment from time to time, and for me at least, the research is going to have a higher priority than the social networks. I joined GenealogyWise and think it is a good thing, though like facebook, it can be a time sucker.

  3. You hit the nail right on the head, Greta. I too am finding it hard to keep up with my research. I only go on Facebook now every other day (probably miss a lot because of that) and will most likely have to do the same with GenealogyWise. They are both great mediums, but take up way too much time.

  4. Greta, I completely relate, I have been waking up in the middle of the night trying to figure out how I can do it all. I too work full time, I have my daughter and 2 grandchildren here and they don't even really spend quality time with me because I am too busy catching up on all the blogs, facebook, GenWise now which I like but am still trying to get use to and don't really have time to figure out right now. By the time I am done and I am not really done, I haven't done any research, or even posted to my own blog. I am also missing out on creating history with my family at times. The house is a wreck and that's just not me! It's really tough. I love all of this but am trying to figure a way to stay afloat! As I write this, I sit in bed, hubby next to me sleeping and I am typing away and exhausted! You said it all perfectly, thank you, I was feeling pretty alone thinking what the heck is wrong with me. I love Genealogy and won't give it up but we do have to decide what's most important, and research is key or like you said we won't have any info to socialize with! Thank you

  5. Ditto, Greta! I'm paying for footnote right now, and have not been on there researching in about a month!

    I am writing and "illustrating" several blog posts per week, and doing a little research on the relevant people mentioned in the posts, but I am NOT getting any in-depth research done.

    What I REALLY need to do is to drag myself away from this computer and DRIVE to some of the places in Texas where my ancestors lived -- and do some hands-on research.

    We are in the process of buying an RV, and on MY list of places to visit (my Hubbie and I each have a list) are an assortment of cemeteries and research centers.

    Being on the road will keep me away from facebook, my blog, etc. . . . and I will be sticking my nose in books, etc. that have been piling up while waiting for my undivided attention. Gotta work out a research plan . . .

  6. Well said, Greta!

    I learned from your post that I can link my blog at I have to go figure out how to do that. I'm just back from vacation, and catching up has taken 2 days of my life.

    So much to do, so little time...

  7. Great post Gretta!! The WO's, my genealogical support group and bestest friends talk about this kind of thing all the time, one of the members has simply stated, BALANCE your life. OKKKK, simple statement, not so easy to do. She does the best job of it of anyone I know. I practice emulating her! I have been doing a little cemetery work, a little Bible work, a little blogging, a little input, oh, wait, when did I last do input?? Hmmm, better get working harder at that balancing act Carol!

  8. Great, I think you've been reading my mind!

    I have been reluctant to sign onto GenealogyWise because I am terrified that I won't be able to keep up! I am involved in so much stuff on the net, that I am terrified that I won't be able to keep up with another site. But I am definitely considering it...

  9. Thanks, guys, it is great to read your comments and know that I'm not alone. I love and enjoy all the activities that I mentioned, but they need to be reordered somehow. It seems there is always something new that demands another slice of our lives; I've noticed at church, for instance, that some of the busiest people are retirees and stay-at-home moms because everyone thinks that they are free to do volunteer work. I can check GenealogyWise for messages every day, but I think I'll save checking up on my groups for one or two days a week (so Elyse, if you are thinking of joining - and it is a lot of fun - that might be an approach to keep it from taking up too much time); likewise I'll check Facebook maybe every other day. I still like to read blogs every day because they're so much fun, but sometimes I'm behind the curve on that, too. And I like the way Gini puts it - we need to "create history with our families." Vickie - you brought up something I forgot to mention - justifying our use of paid subscriptions when we don't have time to use them - that is why I haven't subscribed to Footnote, yet. And I used to use Ancestry almost every day; now it's down to 2 or 3 times a week. (By the way, research trips sound like a good way to temporarily wean ourselves off some of these other activities.) Mary - there's a link thingy when you are in edit mode in the text box, just like there is for blogs. Thanks again, everyone; I am definitely feeling better about working on time management. There ought to be a presentation on this subject at genealogy conferences....

  10. Well, this is my issue too... not enough hours in a day to do it all.

    I don't blog enough in my opinion (on either of my active blogs), I occasionally check FB (once or twice a week), I send off a tweet now and then but only check in at Twitter once or twice a week. And I can't imagine where I'd find time for GenealogyWise. Research? What's that?

  11. I've been interested in the Genealogy Wise site-but have hesitated for the exact reasons you shared. There just isn't enough hours in the day. But I still want to find out what it's about : )

  12. Hi Jasia and Tipper,

    Glad to hear from you! Some things seem to gobble up more time than others. Right now GW is sort of under control - I check messages on a daily basis but will probably only get into discussions and check out the groups about once a week. Facebook can take a lot of time, so I'm not checking it every day. But I just can't give up on blogs - they're too much fun. Leah at The Internet Genealogist ( has a good perspective on this; she says that she alternates active and inactive cycles in research, and sometimes when she is pursuing other interests she learns things that help in genealogy research.

  13. Greta, You have struck a note here with so many geneabloggers, and said it so very well.

    I've resisted Genealogy Wise thus far, am trying to ignore FB and Twitter, and working on more research and writing time. Not always successful, but I'm trying.

    Thanks for saying it for all of us.

  14. Being on vacation, last week was a good week for me to spend poking around Genealogy Wise and joining some groups. Now that I'm set up I only see myself checking in there a couple of times a week. I know I won't be able to keep up with all the blog posts and discussions there so I'll pick and choose.

    Being new to FB I don't find myself spending much time there. I check once or twice a day and rarely spend more than 10 minutes.

    I get bogged down trying to read everyone's blogs and sadly that is where I have been getting more time back to work on letters and other research. There are simply more good blogs than I have time to read. :(

  15. I've resisted the lure of Facebook for just this reason. I'm trying out Genealogy Wise and can see the potential for it to be a huge time sink. I think I will focus on the research and blogging (because I think the two go hand-in-hand) and save the social networking for brief check-ins and times when I'm too tired or burned out to focus on other priorities.

  16. Well said and I am so admire your wonderful ability to analyze your time and plan it.
    Thanks for sharing this.