September 13, 2019
I’ll admit that I’m easily distracted; the lure of bright shiny objects is almost irresistible. In my regular life, it sometimes means that it takes me a week to clean out a cupboard since I often find things I’d forgotten I had. Just recently, I found a forgotten crepe maker in the back of a cupboard. That meant I had to buy the ingredients for the crepes and actually make them before I could finish cleaning that cupboard and relegate the crepe maker to the donation pile where it should have gone in the first place.
When it comes to genealogy I’m no better. I’ve heard all the talks and read all the articles about how important it is to make a research plan and then stick to it. They all counsel against going down rabbit holes when researching – that way lies futility and frustration, and I agree with all of that. It’s just that sometimes those rabbit holes and distractions are the best part of my genealogy. In the old days before the internet, it was much easier to avoid distractions, but nowadays not so much. After all, how can I be disciplined enough to stick to the task at hand when an email finally arrives in my inbox in response to a years old query, and that response may just hold the clue to solving a mystery that I was working on two years ago. It’s also hard to stay disciplined when a new record set arrives on Ancestry or Find My Past that potentially may hold the records I’ve needed to access to solve a brick wall. I confess I usually drop what I’m working on and chase off after the latest bright shiny object.
I do try to make sure to keep a record of where I stop on the task at hand before I go haring off on a new adventure, and it’s also true that I’m doing genealogy for my own amusement. No one is paying me to finish a project by a certain date, so I figure if I postpone something for a while, it’s my decision. I also think it’s important to follow good genealogical practice on the projects as I’m working on them and not just go rushing willy nilly all over the internet chasing an elusive lead and losing track of how I got to from one place to another. I admit it’s sometimes easy, especially at midnight while you’re hot on the trail of a great breakthrough, to neglect to write down the sources you’ve visited, but it seldom ends well. In the cold light of the next morning, the hangover sets in, and all of that rushing around usually ends up nowhere useful. So, while I do follow rabbit trails, I also try to be methodical about it and to always have an end goal in mind, whether that’s to find the parents of a third great grandfather or to find the birthplace of my Irish ancestor. I also try to be conscientious about recording source information as well as positive or negative results so that I don’t dash down the same dead end trail more than once.
I’ve known genealogists who set aside a period of time, sometimes even a year, to work exclusively on only one family line. Some of them do allow themselves a specific time to chase distractions, perhaps once a month or so, but I don’t think that would ever work for me. While cleaning cupboards, once I find out that crepes are an option, I have to follow through on them and find out whether they taste good to me or not before getting back to my original task. Similarly, while doing genealogy, I sometimes have to run down a few rabbit holes that lead nowhere I want to go. I suppose in some folks’ eyes my bright shiny object chasing makes me a bad genealogist, but so be it, those diversion and distractions can sometimes lead to some interesting places as I’ll describe in my next column.
Researcher/Director at Large