05 July 2010

Perhaps I Can Join The Circus In My Next Life

A reader of this blog asked me recently if I would share some of my experiences I have had in starting a new business as a genealogist and historical researcher.

Hanging out my shingle and taking on clients. I have worked long and hard to be prepared for this transition in my life. However, no amount of time in the classroom or attending conferences, seminars and week-long institutes can teach you how to be your own boss until you experience it in real time. Self-discipline is torture for the procrastinator in me. Staying within the time limit set by the client is something I really need to work on if I ever want to see black in my accounting ledger.

When we do research for ourselves, we really do not think about time. How many times have you found yourself at your computer and all the sudden looked up at the clock and thought "Jeez Loueeze, is it really 3:00 AM?" We will write and rewrite our findings, print out records and documents and put them on the ever growing stack we already have to file away. Jot down a citation on a sticky note to enter into your database later.

When you are working on a client project, you simply do not have the time to be unorganized. I can tell you from experience that having to go back and locate a source for a page that you copied
(from a book that you neglected to copy the title page for or even make a notation of the title of the book) can eat up half of your billable hours by the time you finally locate the damn thing.

If you are researching for 2 or 3 clients at the same time in the same repository, it is so easy to get papers mixed up. I always have separate folders, each a different color. I have sticky notes in the same colors as the folders. This comes in handy when I am at the copy machine. This works well for me and is so simple.

Oh, and that research report advice seasoned pros give about "writing as you go?" The best advice EVER. When you are finished with the research portion of the project and start on the report, you will find that if you write as you go, the report is almost finished. The conclusion of a report has always been difficult for me to write for some reason. I used to think that a conclusion is simply the place where I got tired of thinking. If you write as you go, the conclusion is really a summary of your findings. And that part of the report you have already done by writing as you go.

Recently I had three different client projects going on at the same time. Two of those projects took me into geographic areas I had never done any actual research in. It ended up taking me longer to locate resources in unfamiliar territory than I had anticipated so I basically had to eat the "overtime."

One project involved several counties in southeast Texas - Coryell, Bell, Milam, Robertson, and Madison, then a little south to Fort Bend County and then east to Jefferson and Hardin Counties. Yipee Ki Yeah. The other project had me in Rapides Parish and Grant Parish Louisiana.

Eating that lost time really left a bad taste in my mouth so in case I ever find myself in those places again, as I went along, I created my own personal finding aids and a separate resource notebook for each state which I have divided by counties. It really is not very time consuming to do this and it has been one of the best presents I have ever given myself.

One last piece of advice I can give you is like the saying "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."
When you have your office at home, you have to separate it as much as possible from the rest of the house. I have started setting the timer on my oven in the kitchen to go off when it is quitting time. When it buzzes, I make myself step away from the desk and leave the room, shutting the door firmly behind me. The "Genie" has left the building.

So there you have it. Some of the mind games I play on myself to get the job done. Some of you may think my ways are a little strange, but my motto is - "Whatever it takes to make it work"

I have just now realized that in my next life, I could join the circus with the new skills I am acquiring. I have become a quick study in the art of juggling. Dealing with clowns don't scare me anymore and I am finally learning to balance my professional life with my home life. Once I have the balancing act fine-tuned I will more than qualify for the "The Queen of the Wheel" act.

Awesome. I love happy endings.


  1. Good post, Sheri. I'll never be a professional genealogist but I'd like to be a better one and some of your research habits might help me do that.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this post :) I learned a lot from your blog post. I love the reference to the circus ... I know how you feel. I'd love to be a professional genealogist and just started looking at the certification process. I'll bookmark this post and probably tetras it a few times

    I think I should take your adVice and set an alarm on the oven....time goes by so fast when you're doing something that you love...genealogy

  3. Great advice! You are so right about not noticing how much time we spend on our own research. That must be very different when you are on the clock and trying to be a bit more efficient with your time!

  4. Right on the money, Sheri dahling (speaking metaphorically and also financially, as it happens). We need to hear your messages about transitioning. If I don't use up your gift of get-out-of-hell-free cards on my next adventure, I promise repatriation.
    - Brenda

  5. Right on the money, Sheri dahling (speaking metaphorically and also financially, as it happens). We need to hear your messages about transitioning. If I don't use up your gift of get-out-of-hell-free cards on my next adventure, I promise repatriation.
    - Brenda

  6. This is great advice. I really need to be more disciplined about shutting the door when I'm not at "work" especially.

  7. Thank you for this post. Like Bill I don't plan on becoming a professional genealogist but I would like to become one for my own research! Great advice.

  8. Great post. Thank you for sharing with us. I especially like the idea of making finding aids for yourself.

    I have been trying the write as you go method on my own research since taking Pamela Sayre's course, "Synchronized Research and Reporting" at NGS. It's challenging and I'm glad to hear from someone else that it pays off (I haven't been doing it long enough to know just yet).

  9. Excellent, Sheri! Good advice even if you don't do research for clients.

    And, yes...I will be at FHE in Pleasanton in October. Will be giving three presentations. Hope to see you there???


  10. Sheri --

    Sounds a lot like my own experience, only funnier. And ROTFLMAO over "I used to think that a conclusion is simply the place where I got tired of thinking."


  11. I love to hear about someone who does a job they absolutely love, and I am sure you do and have earned it.

    I guess it's good to go at it too with your business in mind and business is business. We gotta eat. Any way.
    I oftern wondered what it would be like to do this for others. [I would never be good at it]

    Glad to see it's going good for you. Try juggling first in this life and see if you like it.

  12. Yes it was detailed advise..have done a good reasearch

  13. You are good enough to run three-rings under the big top and keep tabs on the midway too. Let me know when you are coming to my town again! I'll share my popcorn.

  14. Having been a professional genealogist for over 20yrs, I totally agree with your comments about 'writing reports as you go' and 'creating finding aids'. I ended up publishing some of my finding aids in a book!

  15. I never comment on blogs, but this one is awesome! Thanks.