What Went Wrong?

by Ruby Coleman

Over the holidays I made a special attempt to put my research on the back burner and enjoy my family. After all ... family is what genealogy is all about! One evening I asked my five year old granddaughter to select a book and I would read to her. To my astonishment she picked up a genealogy magazine. We browsed through the pictures and I read small articles to her. Then I realized what went wrong.

For months ... practically the entire year ... I had been going at a pellmell pace doing research for clients and myself until I had not slowed down. Slowing down felt good. Once the relatives were back home I came back to my research with a fresh approach.

Analyzing what went wrong, I came up with these ideas. Perhaps they will be of help to you also.

1. Don't work on too many lines at once.

2. Slow down and study your research.

3. Make time to analyze your research. Do not make hasty decisions.

4. As piles of research notes and documents pile up, make a plan to keep everything straight.

5. It's helpful to have to-do lists, but setting a goal is more important.

6. Once your goal is established, go after it!

7. Allocate time for proper research.

8. Learn to do something new in your research.

9. Research generates paper ... clean up messes, file and put things away. Enter information into computer family databases.

10. Read a good book ... a good genealogy book!

Years ago (more than I wish to admit) when first starting my genealogy quest, my mentor told me that I should concentrate on one line. In other words don't get sidetracked. But, it was so much fun with one, it would be twice the fun with more. Right? The theory still applies to a certain extent. Good research methods applied over extended time to one lineage will eventually result in the retrieval of sources.

If you research several lines at one time, keep them straight. Don't give up on one in midstream. This means allocating your time to do proper research. Your research may be in a library or a courthouse, or on Internet. While there are many records becoming available online, it is still necessary to research in other places. If you haven't walked into a courthouse to look up records in a long time, put that on your to-do list. They are still waiting there for you!

There is no quick-fix. Genealogy pertains to the lives of people. Each of the ancestors on your chart had their own personality and their own story to tell and their own trail of records. If one method applied to each ancestor and each line, we would all be finished with our research and taking up another hobby.

Whoa! Slow down and look at those documents you just located. What type of evidence is in them and how does it apply to your research? Why was the document created, by whom and when? Are there other records that you can locate? Add those to your to-do lists and goals.

I must admit this is the worst item on my list to fulfill. Keeping things in order and not piling paper and books all over my desk and floor is difficult for me to achieve. That's why my office is out of sight of anybody but another genealogist. After all they understand this phobia of collecting and piling. I must also admit that when I clean it up I feel better and after staring and admiring my clean abode for about 10 minutes I am back to making new clutter. If you can do it, draw up a plan for entering information, filing, and putting things away.

Oh those to-do lists! I make so many I have to-do lists that correct the previous to-do list. That's when I throw them away and start over. Some people make to-do lists and never look at them again. Go ahead and make them, but be sure to include realistic to-dos on them. Don't stash them away ... use them. Cross off what you have done. More importantly look at what is on a to-do list and start over with a project that has a goal. Set a time length for your goal and keep that in front of you instead of the many to-do lists.

Do you procrastinate? If you do, nothing will get done. Once you have established a goal, go after it. Challenge yourself that you can do it and within a realistic time frame. Do you have a specific time each day or each week that you allocate for genealogical research? If not, find that time. Tell your family that this is your genealogical research time, whether on the computer or going to on a research outing. Don't give it up unless it is an emergency! Back in the 1990s when I was a CEO of a nonprofit, my research time was not hit and miss because I allocated one afternoon of the week as genealogy research time. Of course, I tried to squeeze in other times, but that special afternoon was ear marked and all mine.

That old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can't teach him new tricks does NOT apply to genealogy. You can learn new tricks. Read, study and apply should be your motto. If you have never investigated naturalization records, read and study about them and then go after them. The same applies for other resources. If your research is sluggish, get out the genealogical magazines and start reading or locate an up to date genealogical methodology book and set a goal to read a chapter each week. Challenge yourself to apply what you are learning.

I don't think my five year old granddaughter is particularly destined to be a genealogist since she selected a genealogy magazine for me to read. She may have been sending me a subtle message that I should slow down and read them. But the real reason is there was a stack of them to be read, waiting for me by my easy chair. With a new year, we should all resolve to better our research by becoming better genealogists. Good luck to all of you!

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