This is the third part of what is becoming an on-going series of posts discussing my personal evolution as a genealogist and lessons I’m learning. Here are the links so that you can read Part I and Part II.
How many of you remember the Looney Tunes cartoon character, Speedy Gonzales, from several years back? He was the little “Mexican” mouse who was always rushing around getting into trouble and causing mischief. (Admittedly, not very politically correct, but not many people knew what “PC” was back then.) I have to admit that for much of the time I have been doing my genealogy/family history research, Speedy Gonzales would probably be a pretty good representation of how I worked. (I actually considered calling this post the Retirement of Speed Racer, but I wasn’t much of a Speed Racer fan when I was younger – I was more partial to Looney Tunes.) I was racing from one find to the next, always eager to make new finds and trace things back one more generation. I somewhat blame Ancestry.com and Family Tree Maker for this habit. No, I don’t mean that it is a fault of the program or website. What I mean is that one of the greatest strengths of Ancestry and the FTM program is that they make basic genealogy research very easy for the beginner and in my case, that contributed to my self-perceived need for speed.
Well, I can tell you without a doubt, that Speedy Gonzales has now retired from genealogy.
No, I don’t actually mean that I am retiring from genealogy! (Even though I think my fiancee and a few others might welcome the relief from my passion/obsession!)
One of the things that I have learned over the past few months while educating myself on the more technical side of genealogy is the importance of slowing down. I talked in my first post about how I had come to fully realized the importance of not just collecting names and dates, but actually documenting and citing all of that information, and then in my second post, I talked more about the education process and learning the methodologies and citation forms that lend legitimacy to our research. Well, folks, I am here to tell you that my third lesson is that doing all of those things takes time!
I mentioned earlier in the month that one of my goals for June was to evaluate the Evidentia program. While I haven’t fully explored all of it or completely decided whether or not I am going to continue using it, I have definitely discovered the biggest benefit of the program – it forces the researcher to slow down and truly examine their sources and what the individual source is telling you. As I have worked with the program, I have discovered that even on a source that I thought I had fully examined and analyzed, I actually missed information, or misread information that the source contained. Evidentia got me to take a second look and completely and thoroughly examine the source.
In addition, I have started to more carefully examine what sources I have checked for information to verify or disprove conclusions that I have reached. This is element one of the genealogy proof standard – conduct a reasonably exhaustive search of available sources. Adhering to this element has not only helped me ensure that my conclusions are correct, but it has also in a few cases, lead me to new information that unexpectedly helped me on other questions that I had not yet even asked. A great example of this was when I went back to search land records for information on my paternal great great grandfather. While I didn’t find any new information on his land holdings, what I did accidentally discover was information on my father’s maternal great grandfather’s landholdings. This information not is not only going to help me advance my research on the Nicholls line, but it also provided me with proof that one of my ancestors qualifies me for a Pioneer Certificate in my home county of De Kalb County, Indiana.
As I have learned to slow down in doing my research, I have also learned to not be quite so obsessed with “advancing” my lineage. I have begun to focus more and more on not just proving and documenting the lineage, but also on learning about the “why” behind the facts. This has been a very personally enriching side effect of my slow down. I have begun to take the time to stop and wonder why my ancestors did the things that they did and how they ended up where they were. To genuinely learn about their stories and the lives that my ancestors lived has given me a much greater appreciation for who they were and who I am.
My advice to all of my fellow amateur genealogists – heed the old adage and slow down and take time to smell the roses. It will benefit your research in ways that you can only begin to imagine!