Genealogical research is no different than CSI work. Driven by our goal to solve family mysteries we spend hours, weeks, years even, chasing down clues about that one ancestor you may know nothing about- the Elusive One who is leaving a huge gap in the leafy branches of your family tree. However, in real life the powers of distraction are huge and before long, I guarantee, you will find yourself "Off Track." You will be Alice chasing the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole.
Here is my "Rough on Rats" story - a short, personal tale of extreme distraction - and some useful tips for avoiding this very common pitfall for the genealogical researcher.
|Old age or opium? Cause of death|
Two weeks later, I had almost completed my rampant, obsessive quest fueled by Curiosity, for the appearance of laudanum as a cause of death amongst Mainers. I literally went county by county, year by year from 1840 - 1920, and from A-Z by surname looking at death records. Why? I had become interested in the history of laudanum usage in deleterious ways, and how that issue was eventually resolved in the United States. Not a bad mission, but what about my original ancestral research? Oh yes, that.
Wait. (cringe) There's more. I discovered that besides laudanum used in suicides, another method, a rodent-killing product called "Rough on Rats," was quite popular in the late 1800's. "Rough on Rats" was produced by a NJ company and available to farmers and householders alike. I googled it. They had colorful, delightful ads of dead rats lying feet up! Obsession led me to EBay where I discovered that an October 1905 edition of "Woman's Home Companion" contained one of these ads. You guessed it. For $11, I now have a real-life original "Rough on Rats" ad in my possession - not one of the really colorful ones, but that's okay. Sad but true. End of my saga. (For now...)
Genealogy is fascinating and inseparable from historical events. It is easy to find yourself down any number of bottomless rabbit holes and distracted from your main focus. Here are Three Simple Tips for staying on target, from the start of your research day, through to the end:
1. Goals: Before you sit down at the computer to commence your online research, write down the specific goal of the day. Here are some examples:
- Name: "Alexander Henderson, in Nova Scotia"
- Topic: "Shipbuilding in Bath, Maine 1840 - 1860"
- Record: "Death Record of Marietta Small, 1870 - 1920"
- Location: "Migration path of Nelson family from PA to Iowa"
This same tip is essential for visiting a physical source such as historical society or library where you will be surrounded by shelves of books and documents singing their siren call.
As tempting as it will be to deviate from this chosen goal - do not succumb.
2. Take Notes: It is inevitable that you will find important facts along the way that need to be pursued - later.
Write them down, then push them aside. I enter mine in my "Evernote" app on my iPad. This way when I switch back to researching ancestry databases, I don't have all these tempting topics taunting me from the sidelines on some piece of paper visible from the corner of my eye. You have to be cagey when avoiding distraction.
3. Exercise: Yes, you read that right. In order to avoid getting hunched over your computer or desk, locked into eye-straining, muscle-fatiguing research - a situation which will eventually sap your resolve and allow your mental concentration to wander - you need to periodically get up and walk around. Do some jumping jacks. A Downward Facing Dog or two. Anything to rush blood to the brain and re-invigorate your commitment to pursue that one topic of interest. Trust me, it works.
These three simple tips will go a long way to keeping you on track in your genealogical research. Pretty uncomplicated, but very effective. Good luck!