I’ve been taking a disciplined approach to my research lately, and it is paying off huge dividends. While this applies more to my own family tree than to my Baselice tree of people born no later than 1860, I feel it is a tip well worth sharing.

In short, I’m now working with a plan: documenting what I have, seeing what I need, and getting as much of it as possible.

It began two years ago when I wrote a program called Census Taker (it’s free, but it will only work on a Windows XP or Windows 7 computer) and generated a list of everyone in my tree who should be found on any U.S. census from the beginning through 1940. So I’ve got a Word document of names with their birth and death dates (if known) and a string of census years during which they are likely to have been alive. (Note: The Census Taker software does not produce an alphabetical list, so I had to do that manually. If I were a better programmer, I’d do a few more things to my program.)

I’ve also got an Excel file that I call my Document Tracker, which is an alphabetical list of everyone in my tree for whom I have any documentation. Then there are columns for the types of documents, including birth/marriage/death certificates, censuses, draft registration forms, immigration and naturalization records, etc. The last column is what I still need to find.

So, I am now going through the alphabetized list of who’s-on-what-census, doing a search on ancestry.com, and noting everything I find in my Document Tracker. Then I fill in the what-I-still-need-to-find column, and delete the person from the who’s-on-what-census list.

Since I started using this plan (what I have, what I need, what I can find), I’ve added scores of census forms, new family members, verified birth and death dates, and fixed any missing documentation or lack of sources from my early days of genealogy. Each time I sit down and use this approach, I beef up my tree substantially.

My Iamarino tree, which includes 12,000 or more people from the Baselice tree, is getting close to 19,000 people. Even without the Baselice names, that’s a huge tree! But better still, it’s well documented. I add each image (census form, ship manifest, draft card, etc.) to each person to whom it applies as a photo.

So how about this for a New Year’s resolution: No more scattershot name-grabbing happy-to-find-more-people genealogy. Develop a plan and reap the rewards!

Happy 2015, everyone!