Tip #3: Find productive ways to fill your time… and be patient!
I remember being a teenager and sitting patiently at the computer with a dial-up connection, waiting two or three hours for a clip from Rent or a trailer from Titanic to load, and excitedly re-watching the 10-15 seconds that had managed to download over and over again. Now I get antsy if a webpage takes more than a few seconds to load. Over the last fifteen or twenty years, we’ve entered a world of instant gratification. We expect responses to our texts instantly (or within a few minutes, at least), we binge-watch entire seasons of TV shows in a single weekend on Netflix, and we download apps onto our phones so that we can order food to-go from the road and avoid the ghastly specter of having to dawdle even a few minutes at the restaurant. Don’t you know that we’re all very busy and important and have other places to be and other things to do?!
As a society, we’ve forgotten how to wait, and even those of us who still remember what it was like to only be able to reach people if they happened to be at home or to need to look something up in an actual physical dictionary or encyclopedia instead of just Googling it have gotten increasingly impatient as well. When I was a child, I heard often that patience is a virtue; as an adult, I have come to believe that patience is a skill. Like any skill, if you don’t use it, you lose it. However, lucky you, fortunate person who has decided to start delving into your family history, because you will not only regain the skill of patience, you will learn to excel at it.
Just as Indiana Jones took a profession that actually involves long, hot hours in the blinding sun, scratching away carefully at soil compacted so tightly that it’s more rock than dirt in the hopes of finding a pot shard or bone fragment and turned it into an adventure complete with gold statues, magic arks, and, of course, running for your life from the Nazis every ten minutes or so, shows like “Finding Your Roots” or “Who Do You Think You Are” have compressed years of work on a single portion of a single person’s family history into an easily digestible and neatly wrapped-up half-hour segment for our admitted delight. We have this notion that our own family history will be quickly and easily accessible. For a few unbelievably lucky people, that is indeed the case. For the rest of us regular schlubs, though? It’s going to take a while. Unless you’re a billionaire who’s willing and able to jet-set around the world in pursuit of even the hint of a relevant record (in which case, please hire me and I’ll happily do it for you!), you’re going to be spending a lot of time waiting.
I wonder how many children went to archaeology camp and came home extremely disillusioned because of this guy?
You’ll wait for other members of Ancestry.com to get around to writing you back. You’ll wait for the National Archives to respond to your search request (when they say six to eight weeks, they mean six to eight weeks). You’ll wait for that microfilm you ordered from the Family History Library to arrive. You’ll wait for that county clerk to locate, scan, and send you that copy of your great-great-grandparents’ marriage record. You’ll wait for your DNA test results (several weeks at least). You’ll wait – often in vain – for those distant relatives revealed by said DNA test to respond to your excited introductory email. You’ll wait even longer once your search hops back across the ocean to the Old Country, whatever that Old Country was, especially if English isn’t the spoken language there and especially, as well, if their archives are poorly funded and maintained. You’ll wait for the genealogist you hired to help you to send you a progress report, because guess what? She’s probably waiting too, maybe for that school district to get back to her and let her know if they have that decrepit old yearbook, or maybe for that church to check into their dusty archives for two hundred year old baptismal records.
It really does feel like this sometimes.
Family research is fun, it’s incredibly exciting when you make a find (finding documentation of a name change or a record that specifies religious denomination can send me into paroxysms of joy; seriously, it’s almost embarrassing), and it’s a fulfilling and worthwhile pursuit… but you’ll spend more time waiting than you will sleuthing. It’s just the nature of the beast. So here are a few possibilities of how to get through those interminable waits:
1) Do something else for a while. Patience is valuable, but do you really want to stand around and watch the water in that pot heating to a boil? Invest some time in picking up a new hobby. Preferably something that doesn’t involve mashing the “reload” button on a browser screen. I suggest gardening. It’s nice outside.
2) Use the time to organize your materials. I could write a whole blog post on this one, but it would just be a couple pages worth of, “DO IT. DO IT NOW. YOU’LL REGRET IT IF YOU DON’T. SERIOUSLY, DO IT. DON’T BE AN IDIOT. WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS AND NOT DOING IT?” If you get serious about family history research, you’ll start acquiring papers and files and before you know it, you’ll be waist deep in a pile of records with no good memory of when you found that particular death notice, how and where you found it, and to which ancestor exactly it refers (because, heck, you’ve got about five different ancestors with the same name). There are lots of different methods for organization: some people like binders, some like file folders, some like having both hard copies and digital copies, and some figure out a completely unique system that still manages to work for them.
3) Familiarize yourself with another aspect of family history research. Sure, you feel pretty competent with death records, but have you spent any time looking into probate records and understanding how probate works? Or military pensions? Take it upon yourself to become knowledgeable in a new topic; you never know when it’ll come in handy.
4) Turn to another part of the family for a while. Just because you’re waiting on that birth record doesn’t mean that your research needs to grind to a complete halt. As a palate cleanser, if nothing else, spend a little time looking at a branch of the family you haven’t thought about in a while. What have you learned since the last time you looked at these people, and how can you use it to push your knowledge further into the past?
5) If you have any elderly relatives remaining in your life, take this opportunity to make sure that you’ve interviewed them about their lives (with proper note-taking and documentation, naturally). They are your closest link with the past, and they won’t be around forever. Ask those burning questions now… or forever hold your peace.
It may be hard to believe, especially in 2016, but there is still value to being able to put your wants on hold for a bit and accepting what is. You won’t be receiving that hi-res scan of that newspaper article documenting your great-great-great-uncle’s trial for horse thievery for a bit… and that’s okay.
So no, I’m not going to apologize for making you wait, dear me, a month and a half for this blog post. It’s good practice, after all. You’re welcome.