06 August 2012

REDEUX: Perhaps I Can Join The Circus In My Next Life

(This article was first published in 2010)

A reader of this blog asked me if I would share some of my experiences I have had as a genealogist and historical researcher doing client work.

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 don't think about time. How many of you have found yourself at the 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 and neglected to copy the title page 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 and am juggling a stack of books and documents.  No writing is required, just put a sticky note of the color you have already designated for each client onto the copies as they come out of the machine.

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 in my research where I got tired of thinking. [A note to Harold Henderson - I stand by my definition of a conclusion even now] The conclusion is really a summary of your findings and that part of the report is practically finished if you have been 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 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."

Eating that lost time  left a bad taste in my mouth.  That lost time may not be billable, but it doesn't have to be a total loss.  Whenever I am required to research in uncharted territory, I add each new resource to my personal finding aid library. I have a binder for each state which I have divided by counties. It takes just a few extra minutes to record each new resource 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. You have to set limits to the amount of time you spend "at the office." .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.

Maybe in my next life I can join the circus.  Doing client work has given me an impressive set of skills. 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 can become "The Queen of the Wheel" and take the show on the road.

Awesome. I love happy endings.


  1. I see according to Geneabloggers today is your four year anniversary you've been blogging. Happy Blogiversary,

    Regards, Jim
    Genealogy Blog at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

  2. Love it! As always, you make me laugh, Sheri!

  3. Great insights. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Lots of good advice - especially "write as you research". I find it very useful to write up my findings and thoughts as I go, especially if you have several clients on the go at once.