22 October 2011

The Key Elements

Someone recently asked me how I do what I do. I wasn't able to answer that question succinctly on the spot, but I think I've got it now.

There are three elements that are vital to anyone interested in taking on a genealogical research project.

  1. Patience
  2. Commitment
  3. Time
Perhaps not what you were expecting? I believe, without those three, you have nothing. Allow me to elaborate some...

Patience is number one on my list, and yes, that matters here. I do searches on the same top 5 individuals I am looking for every week. I sit down every Sunday morning and run through the exact same series on Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Sometimes I find something new, most of the time the results are identical to the week before, which are identical to five years ago. The rewards, however, when something new does pop up are remarkable. 

Two weeks ago, when I ran through my list, I was stopped in my tracks by the very first name. Captain Oscar F. Brown, the person I most want to find that missing piece to, suddenly appeared in an index in Shelby County, Missouri. We knew he lived there with his sister before the war, but the years after his service ended and when he arrived in Nebraska were empty. No information, no leads. Just a big ten year gap in his life. For the first time, there he was, listed along with two members of his sister's family, as having signed the "Oath of Loyalty" in 1865 so he could serve as Deputy Sheriff in that area.  Thanks to volunteers in that area running a free genealogy resource website, the list was made available via the internet, and became an extremely valuable piece of his personal timeline in our research. 

Commitment. The above example should show this for you. If you are not solid on your decision to engage in this work, and repeatedly search for those names week after week, you probably won't ever scratch the surface. You won't get past that first year of success (which most people have, especially with online research.)  You must take the 60 seconds out of an exciting new source find to document that source correctly, or you will lose it tomorrow. All the old photos should be scanned, all the records requested via the mail which feels like it takes forever these days, the time spent digging through your libraries' card catalog to find that one forgotten book that might someone's name in it. Genealogy consumes your life when you are really making progress: everything else stops. A bomb could go off in my kitchen, but if I am on a new idea or realizing that a possible source just turned into an actual source, I would never know about that ridiculous, annoying, "getting in the way of my research" bomb.

Of course, time. It takes hours to digitally record a cemetery. Not just finding the headstones, cleaning them so they are readable, taking the right picture with not too much shadow or other interfering light... but then getting them home, editing the file, uploading to whatever website or creating a album for preservation purposes. All of that is, usually, beyond the scope of your own family research. 

For me, genealogy is a passion. I would not be willing to do all of this, and more, without the emotional rewards I receive in the end. I have been known to do a little jig around my house when I find something good. Preserving the past matters to me, realizing the people I came from, not just their names, but who they were and what made them that way, matters to me. Without it, everything else is just data. My 2x great grandfather Oscar was not made up of data - he was a person, and he was unique. He created a family, that family grew with grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Those folks were a part of my childhood, they were a part of influencing who I became. They are where I came from.

Who I Came From...

Missouri's Oath of Loyalty... if you haven't heard of it, its worth reading about.

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