I ran across a very humorous blog recently…Heather Kuhn Roelker’s blog post on her Roots for Trees blog: Cure for genealogy ADD?add-should-be-called-men-s-t-shirt_design

Heather’s blog kicked my brain into gear.  In my non-genealogy life I am a school psychologist, and have worked with far too many kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder over the years (I also raised one, too).  I don’t think that many of us genealogists have adult onset ADHD, although it may seem that way, at times!  Rather, it appears that the easily accessed on-line information overloads our brains to the point that we can easily become distractible and disorganized, two hallmarks of the primarily inattentive type of ADHD.

I’ll be the first to admit that many times my brain has been stuck in that distractibility loop while doing on-line research.  I’ll start out looking at a census record for a Smith family I am researching, notice that great-uncle George’s family is living next door, and wonder if I looked up George’s death certificate on the new Missouri death record database.  I check my RootsMagic file, head over to the Missouri death records, decide to see who else I missed, re-check the RM file, pull up 5 more death records, notice great-uncle John, wonder if I looked up great-uncle John’s Civil War service….and so on and so on and so on –the loop is stuck.  If I’m lucky, I might get back to the original Smith family I was researching.

The same thing happens with my paper files, too.  Certainly if they were well organized I would have less temptation to become distracted.  I try to find a probate record, which, of course, is not filed where it should be.  Move on to the file tub full of records waiting to be filed.  Start digging through the papers, finally find the probate I’m looking for, but notice an early divorce record.  Did I transcribe that yet?  Check the computer to determine that I had not.  Grab the divorce record and forget all about the probate I originally came looking for.  It happens to the best of us.  The sheer volume of information we collect can become overwhelming.

With rapid access to voluminous amounts of records, our organization skills tend to decline.  Need I mention those piles of papers, or computer files waiting to be sorted and put into the proper place?  Time elapses, and instead of the piles disappearing, they seem to grow!  What we need is methods to sustain our attention to tasks, whether they be researching tasks or organizing tasks.  Naturally, with my background, I came up with a few methods to intervene with our ADHD brain patterns and behaviors, and get us back on track.


Interventions for Genealogy ADHD:

  1. Develop Research Plans & Use Them – Research plans for guiding your genealogy research help to maintain your focus.  They aren’t difficult to develop, and actually can be fairly simple.  Keep your research plans close at hand to remind yourself to use them.  Perhaps a sticky note reminder near your computer will help.  Start out with:
    • What do I want to know (i.e., John Smith’s birthdate),
    • What do I already know
    • Where can I find this information (census records, vital records, etc.)
    • How will I go about accessing this information (specific websites or repositories to search
    • What did I learn
  2. Use Research Logs – Research logs (also called research calendars) facilitate source identification and citation, and keep us from running around in circles.  Logs keep track of what you found, where you found it, and when you found it.  Admit it…how many times have you realized that you have re-traced your steps and located a source more than once.  Besides that, research logs make it so much easier to attach the source citation to the information found.  Easier ways of doing things always work for me.  Yes, it is cumbersome when beginning to use a research log, but the rewards are well worth it.  Family Search has both PDF and Word versions. The genealogy software I use, RootsMagic, allows you to create research logs within the program, and there is a webinar on how to do it.  Tom MacEntee has a great input form in Google Docs Templates.  And, with Evernote and OneNote using research logs should now be easier than ever before!
  3. Organize Your Paper and Digital Files – Develop a system for organizing your information.  Numerous resources are available, google “organizing genealogy research” and there are numerous useful sites (start with FamilySearch.org’s “Organizing Your Files”).  This is an on-going process that many of us have worked on for years.  Also, check out my friend, Susan’s, new blog, The Organized Genealogist.
  4. Accomplish Your Goals by Breaking Large Projects Into Small, Manageable Parts. – The trick is to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed.  Looking at the stacks of papers and files that need to be sorted and organized fills most of us with a feeling of dread and hopelessness.  Narrow your focus by tackling a small portion at a time.  Set a goal of short increments of time several times a week.
  5. Reward Yourself – We would like to think that the intrinsic value of staying focused and organized is reward enough itself.  In reality, we all work for rewards, whether they be social or tangible.  When you accomplish a goal or a change in behavior, no matter how small, share your success with your colleagues, family, and friends.  Social praise is highly reinforcing for the majority of us.  Find small ways to reward yourself.