Genealogy is a marathon, not a sprint

Genealogy is a marathon, not a sprintLast Saturday, I squeezed some genealogy research in, because I had marked it on my calendar. I know that if it weren’t in my calendar, I wouldn’t have focused on my research that morning. I was preparing to go to a baby shower that morning and contemplating starting on my taxes in the afternoon. But because I’d made that commitment, I did a little something.

Keeping my commitment to doing research every weekend was important to me and I told myself that it didn’t matter what I did, as long as I did something. So I spent some time creating the beginnings of a new sheet for progress tracker on more in-depth information, which I’ll share as soon as I feel it’s finalized, and I added two siblings to my tree, in an effort to flesh out my collateral lines.

As I was looking for small tasks to do in the short period of time I had allotted to me, the title of this post came to mind: Genealogy is a marathon, not a sprint.

Isn’t that the truth? Genealogy research is a lifelong endeavor in which a series of short research sessions can add to an important body of work.

In my fantasy life, I’m a wealthy retired organizer and I could spend all my time researching and perhaps traveling the country and the world (à la Who Do You Think You Are) solving research challenges.

In my real life, I’m a working organizer wedging genealogy research time in between client appointments, running a business, and family and personal obligations. So I do what I can, when I can do it (which, right now, is every Saturday or Sunday morning). And I take satisfaction in knowing that all the work will add up.

There are several tools that help me keep continuity as I do my research a little at a time:

Those things help me pick up where I left off, which has traditionally been a real challenge for me.

Whenever I get frustrated at not being able to spend more time with my genealogy research, I’m going to remind myself that this is not a sprint, and I’m in it for the long haul. Then I’ll do a little something.

Photo by Steven Pisano via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

Pinning my map

The first pins on my genealogy mapI wrote a couple of weeks ago that I was purchasing a large map of the United States so that I could mark where my ancestors lived and get a better sense of my geographic origins. I figure it will also be helpful in planning research trips. Mapping my genealogy has proven to be great fun.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to how to mark the map. I didn’t know if I should include just birth places, just death places or both. Should I include marriage places? How would indicate who a pin represented? Should I color code? If so, how many colors? What kind of pins?

After a week or two of thought, yesterday I settled on this strategy:

  • I’m using one-inch-long pins with colored heads
  • I’m color-coding the pins by branch of family (to match the way I’ve color-coded my paper files, one color per grandparent and his/her ancestors)
  • I’m marking both birth and death places
  • Each pin is the appropriate color and has a flag on it indicating the ancestor and birth or death date

I’m using Avery return address labels (#5167) for the flags.  That seems to be a good size to capture the information legibly. On the first line, I put first and middle initials and last name. On the second line is the birth or death date. The info is right justified. Once I’ve printed out the label, I fold it in half around the pin and it sticks to itself.

I’ve decided to pin systematically and have started with my grandparents and great grandparents. Once I finish pinning all the ancestors for whom I have verified information and the backlog is complete, I’m anticipating the thrill of adding a pin when I establish the birth and death date of an ancestor.

I’m kind of shocked at how fun and rewarding this is. Time is flying as I work on it. A side benefit is that it’s making me realize the ancestors for whom I’m missing birth cities or counties (my paternal grandparents, for instance!).

This is just one of the many ways that family history research is such a fun and satisfying hobby for me.

Found my first immigrant ancestor!

I’ve been systematically working my way back through my family tree and I recently made an exciting discovery: my first immigrant ancestor! He’s James Brown, who was born in Ireland around 1810. He’s listed in the 1870 census as having been born in Ireland. At the time of that census, he was living in Muscatine, Iowa, with his wife, Martha. She was also was born in Ireland around 1820.

What’s interesting to me is that my family has always seemed quite devoid of ethnicity (most of the ancestors, I believe, came to the US much earlier than the 19th century) and when, as a child, I asked my parents where we were from, England was always the answer. In fact, I surprised my mother when I told her about her great, great grandfather having been born in Ireland. That was news to her.

I feel like this is opening up a new chapter in my family history research!

My research plan

Earlier in this blog I wrote that I was torn between wanting to verify facts in my family history but also wanting to explore the stories behind the facts. I also mentioned that I was overwhelmed by all the unverified data that I’d collected and didn’t know how to proceed.

Well, I’ve developed a plan and I realized I should share it here. I have over a hundred pages of five-generation ancestral charts filled out by hand back when I was just writing stuff down willy nilly without regard for accuracy. They provide some nice clues, but I’m treating as clues and nothing more.

I’ve installed Reunion on my Mac and, starting with my parents and going back in time, I’m adding family members only after I have verified their existence through vital records or censuses. (I do recognize that censuses are rife with inaccuracies, but I’m using consecutive censuses to verify.)

So far, I’ve worked back four generations, to all 16 great great grandparents, and I have a few names in the fifth generation.

This feels so good.

My tree is growing and I’m confident in its accuracy. I know that every piece of information in Reunion has a source behind it.

I know that so far I’ve had it pretty easy. The ancestors I’ve been researching were all born in the U.S. and the earliest was born in 1845. So there are a lot of easily found records to look at. I know it will get harder as I go back in time and when I start researching immigrant ancestors.

The other thing I’m doing is entering every scrap of data, with sources, into the Reunion software. So far I have 83 sources in my source list. Sometimes the data entry can feel tedious, but I know I can’t rely on my memory for anything (nor should I). For example, I’m entering Residence for every year I find an ancestor on a census. That completeness is very helpful when I go back to look at individuals. At a glance, I can see how long they lived in a given location.

Having this plan has made me feel much less overwhelmed by doing family history research. It makes it very easy when I sit down to do some research to get right to work.