Genealogy Goal Setting Guide

I am a firm believer in goal setting to propel our performance towards its fullest potential.  Not taking the time to work through exactly what we want to get done is quite common and leads to wasted time, getting sidetracked and procrastination.  Goals are especially important to family researchers who work in an environment of time constraints and endless distractions.

Goals are a mechanism you can employ for directing your efforts toward what you want to accomplish. Goal setting is like creating your own GPS system for getting things done.  Even seemingly impossible tasks become attainable when you break them down into achievable smaller goals.

Goal Setting in Action

For me, the power of goal setting was most clearly demonstrated when I set out to write my first book.  If you have ever endeavored to write a book, you know first-hand what I am talking about.  It is so easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task and all the decisions that need be made including chapter content, format, illustrations, fonts, editing, cover art, marketing, etc.  There is good reason why so many books go unfinished.

The secret to writing a book is to break the process down into bite sized manageable tasks or goals.  For example, simply committing to set aside three hours of uninterrupted writing time each day will do wonders for your productivity.

If you are stuck in your genealogy research, it is likely that you have not taken the time to clearly think through your goals.  This article will give you the tools to properly sort out what you really want and how to get there.  Luckily, its not hard to change course and get moving in the right direction when you have a clear idea of what you want to get accomplished.

SMART Goal Setting

The method most often used to teach goal setting is called SMART.  The acronym instructs us to create goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.


Obviously, you want to be crystal clear about what you want to accomplish.  There is no room for ambiguity here.  You need to answer as many of the usual five ‘w’ questions as possible: who, what, when, where and why.


It is important that you be able to measure your progress towards the completion of your goal.  This feedback will help you stay on course towards completion and motivate you to work harder or try something new when you get bogged down.


It really does not make much sense to create a goal that is not achievable.  It will only bring stress as you struggle to reach what is unattainable.  You just need to make sure your goal is realistic given your level of ability.


Relevance refers to focusing on something that makes sense with your overall genealogy research approach. It needs to be in alignment with your family research objectives.


If you don’t put any kind of limits on your goal, you will not be accountable to yourself or anyone else for reaching your goal.  A time limit is good for creating time pressure to help maintain forward progress towards completion.  The absence of time constraints opens the door to procrastination and lack of focus.

Examples of Bad Goal Setting

Spend more time working on my genealogy.  This goal is vague and could be accomplished by spending one minute more than usual working on genealogy, that is too easily accomplished.

Trace my family line back as far back in time as possible.  This goal is also vague and not time bound.  How would you know when the goal is completed?

Examples of Good Goal Setting

Spend one hour each day searching Census records for the 10 people in my family tree that I don’t have birth dates for.  This goal is precise, measurable, bounded and achievable.  It checks all the boxes for a good goal. This goal has a clear finish line when all 10 birth dates are found or all the censuses have been searched for the missing birth dates. 

Trace the paternal side of my family tree back three more generations in the next six months.  This goal is also vast improvement over the bad one listed above.  Although it does not describe how it is going to be carried out, it is achievable, time bound and precise.


When done correctly. goals can be an excellent tool for getting your genealogy research moving at top speed.  If you find your goals are not meeting your needs, then change them to something better.  There is no need to make yourself a slave to a goal that is not right for you.  Make goal setting the part of your work routine and bring out the best in what you can accomplish.

Read related articles: Best Practices


Genealogy Quick Start Guide for Beginners

Applying the Genealogy Proof Standard to your Research

5 Genealogy Mistakes to Avoid

Google Genealogy Research Toolbox

Find Records

Requesting Vital Records

Researching Ancestors through Military Records

Using the National Archives (NARA) for Genealogy Research

Using U.S. Census Records

Finding Homestead Records

Canadian Genealogy Research using the Internet

Researching British Genealogy


Genealogy Source Citations Made Easy

Finding Family History Books

Listening to Genealogy Podcasts Made Easy

Using Cyndi’s List for Genealogy Research

Researching Ancestors Using Obituaries