I’ve been thinking quite a bit this fall about staying focused, since I spoke on that topic at the St. Louis Genealogy Conference. Focus is such an important element in making progress in my research. I’m easily overwhelmed by all the possibilities of things to research and I strive to maintain my focus so I can avoid both overwhelm and distractions.
But there’s such a thing as being too focused, I think. Recently I’ve been revisiting early sources in my tree that I found a half decade or more ago. I’m so glad I’m doing it because I’m finding all sorts of things I missed the first time around. For example, on more than one occasion, I’ve re-examined a census document I’d downloaded for one ancestor family to find that another ancestor family–unrelated to the first one–was also on the page.
That reminded me how important it is to examine the whole census page when you find one. And it’s a great idea to expand your scan to a page or two before or after. Our ancestors tended to live near one another and families intermarried. You might end up finding a relative who hadn’t been indexed correctly. Or you might just learn more about your family.
Another even more obvious example of the pitfalls of tunnel vision is the tendency to focus on direct-line relatives. I learned the hard way that it’s important to collect information on all relatives who appear on a census, not just those from whom you descend. I remember back when I was starting out that the idea of recording information on all the collateral relatives felt tedious and overwhelming. That may be true. But these siblings of your ancestors might play key roles in solving puzzles down the road or in helping prove a document applies to your relative’s family and not another family. Trust me, if you expand your exploration (and documentation) to include all your collateral relatives, you’ll be glad you did later.
I recently revisited a marriage document from 1905. The marriage book contained the record for my great grandparents on the right-hand page of a two-page spread. What I simply hadn’t noticed before was that the on left-hand page of that spread was the marriage license for my great grandmother’s sister! Way back then I might have not taken the trouble to record the information, even if I’d noticed it. But now, I’m excited to add this family to my tree and it’s been a springboard for further exploration.
Those are just a few small examples of the benefits of avoiding tunnel vision even while you stay focused. If you can think of others, please share in the comments!