“Start” Me Up! (With Genealogy)- #52Ancestors in 52 Weeks- Week1

Fellow genealogist Amy Johnson Crow has thankfully created “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” to provide a weekly blog topic for those who want to start, enhance, continue, or revitalize their genealogy blogs.[1] I’ve been woefully neglectful of my own blog because, truth be told, I had nothing much to say. Now, each week in 2018, Amy will kindly provide a catalyst word or phrase for me to mull over and write about. “What could go wrong?”, I thought.

I’m not off to a good start and am already a week behind. That first week of January just flew by, am I right? Even now I’m caught up in the whirlwind that 2018 threatens to be. Between holiday loose ends and prepping for a conference, I only fleetingly remember seeing the first prompt email from Amy hit my inbox. I finally opened it only after seeing week two’s email arrive yesterday. The inaugural prompt phrase is “start”. (This is why I am a huge fan of irony.)

racers at starting line

No legs were harmed in the writing of this post.

What does ‘start’ mean when it comes to genealogy? When do people start to become interested in their roots? What makes a good genealogical start? Who should we start with? How did you get started?

Your history starts with you. Your birth, your parents. In a traditional family, you didn’t choose them, they begat you. (In my brain begat=spat.) And you come from a long line of begetting, the longest line imaginable. To be human is to be spat out on our end of that line. The line quietly shadows us until, at some point almost everyone asks the “Who am I?” question and the foundation of the answer must surely rest upon “Who’s your daddy?”.

viking guy

Your great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandpa Vince

And so, it starts. Most new enthusiasts begin the hunt at Ancestry.com. Their easy-access instant-family mentality and functionality has ushered millions along from genealogically asleep to full family woke. Suddenly, you are flying into the past, click happily growing your tree.

But as the shaky leaves start to fall, desperation reveals that relevant, informative, and significant documents and records also exist outside of the comfy Ancestry.com bubble. Court houses are treasure chests opened by the key of public domain. The municipal and state libraries and archives, funded by your tax dollars, hold brick wall busting collections. Historical and genealogical societies exist for the very purpose of assisting you. Gleefully, you dive into new pools.

But your inexperience and witlessness start biting you in the rear. Hard. Horror fills your heart with the realization that one wrong person anywhere in your tree renders an entire branch invalid. Disorganization leads to repeated forays into the same collections for the same information. A nagging dread that you, and you alone, are ignorant of that one record set that holds that one clue prevents sleep.  You don’t ask questions to avoid being outted as an amateur. You’re sure librarians snicker behind your back. You desperately wish for the decoder ring. You become painfully aware that the long view is the only view. And, most frustratingly, you cannot seem to write coherently about your people. People you’ve spent hours and days and months and years lovingly reanimating; people you know better than your own parents. They stubbornly refuse to arrange themselves into any type of well-ordered, coherent, and interesting deliverable.

cry-baby

Use the Force, Little Obi!

So, you start your education. Webinars, seminars, classes, podcasts, study groups, instructional books and videos and blogs and Facebook groups usurp your research, out rank everything. You expand to conferences. You expand further to institutes. You thirst for formal education and find but a patchwork of offerings. You pursue all avenues. And slowly, you start finding your flow. And your tribe. And you start using your decoder. And your voice. And you buckle in for the long haul.

If you’ve truly started well, you know there is no “finished” in genealogy. It is impossible to bring your family’s story to a final conclusion.  Your lifespan is limited and your ancestors’ have been reduced to the photos, records, and ephemera left behind. You can never claim you have all the records, you will never know all the facts, you can only paint them with an abbreviated palette. The best you can contribute is an incomplete “as of this moment/per the records I could find” family history. And it will never contain “The End”.

And you can live with that. Welcome, 2018. Let’s get this party started!

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[1] Amy Johnson Crow, “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks,” Amy Crow Johnson:Professional Genealogical Services (https://www.amyjohnsoncrow.com/52-ancestors-in-52-weeks/ : accessed 9 January 2018).

Categories: Genealogy
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