Beyond Writing

Rumor has it that I have a wife

I'm not crazy, I'm a family historian.

I’m not crazy, I’m a family historian.

Did you ever get to that point when you just can’t look at another genealogical record?

One second you are admiring that beautiful old-fashioned cursive and the next it makes you crazy. It happens sometimes, you know. The problem is that us family historians suffer from some sort of weird addiction. We can’t walk away. It doesn’t matter if we sit for hours looking at gibberish: we’re doing our jobs and will go blind if we have to…

In many ways, genealogy is an art just like painting, writing, or sculpting. While there are mechanics to each of these, we are usually most successful when we are in the right mood, the right frame of mind, and our environment is optimal. It’s only then when everything clicks. We paint the Mona Lisa, we sculpt David, we write Moby Dick, and we connect weird Aunt Sally to odd Uncle Willie.

“Genealogy-block” is normal and an expected setback. There are only so many names you can absorb before you reach saturation. On the other hand, you may love the challenge of detecting relationships but find a roadblock that simply stops you in your tracks. You get frustrated and – I hate to say it – feel a bit guilty.

I have stretches of Genealogy-block from time to time and I feel guilty about it, too. As a matter of fact, I’m having one of them now – thus this blog post.

The solution to these situations is really quite simple: walk away.

Us family historians, and those that know and love us, need to understand that genealogy can be both menial and mentally challenging. The amount of effort required to transpose a hundred years of census records into Family Tree Maker, for instance, will drain every ounce of pleasure from our pitiful souls. Trying to place our 300-year-old ancestor into historical context so we can tell their story is not easy either. It requires significant understanding of the time period. As a result, we pop from web site to web site or crack open a book or two to comprehend and paraphrase what it must have been like for that individual. It’s like High School history all over again and I know we all loved that.

When you are overwhelmed, step away and do something different. As much as I hate to defend television, there is value there. Television, DVDs, or Blu-Ray movies are a great way to reset your mental state because they require little thought. It’s a way to clear your brain. Exercise is good, too. So is taking a walk, reading a bit of fiction, painting a picture, remembering you have a spouse and children, or, in my case, going to work (unfortunately if you have a job like mine, you’re already mentally drained by the time you get home…). My point is to get your mind off the subject for a while.

I’m not a psychologist, but my guess is that our feelings of guilt stem from our dedication to the craft and to the joy of knowledge itself. We research family history to learn and to grow. We realize that finding our roots helps us fathom our place in the universe. To know the sufferings and successes of our ancestors helps us align our own perspectives on life.

The good thing about genealogy is that it isn’t going anywhere. It was there before you arrived and will be there long after you leave. Your history is your history and there’s no need to rush it. Step back and take a breath. You’ll get your groove back soon enough and return to ignoring your spouse and children again.

I guarantee it.

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