When I set my research plan for this year, the hope was to focus on particular goals so that progress, overall, would provide a measure of success for each of the four lines I am following: a tree for each of my parents, and likewise, a tree for each of my in-laws. That brilliant idea has taken some heat over the years, as changing situations beyond my control still yielded their impact on lil ol' me. In the early nineties, delight over increased communication between researchers on like family lines was bundled with requests to email reports with "only" their side of the family listed; I obliged and reconstructed my tree into four trees. And now we have entirely swapped that for a new song: keep it all in one tree so you can tag all your DNA matches, no matter which side of the family claims them.
Those changing wishes impact other aspects of my choice of research projects. Take my current diversion from the research path, chasing my father-in-law's Falvey and Kelly lines in County Kerry. I've ended up building not one, not two, but—count 'em—three trees to keep track of this winding trail. A lot of effort is yielding not much to show for the work.
With that in mind, it is not much of a surprise, for my bi-weekly check, to realize I had not made much progress on the tasks I had presumed would be this year's primary focus. Even on my own mother's tree, I only added sixty two new names. Despite the fact that her tree now includes 23,150 relatives—a handy DNA-match reference for fifth cousins on many lines of descent—there were barely any new discoveries there in the past two weeks.
Worse, when you consider my mother-in-law's line, which now has 19,103 individuals. That number may seem impressive, but not as impressive as it was when I claimed the same count, two weeks ago. And two weeks before that. Nothing new to report for her line, this time, again. Nor for either my father or my father-in-law, since in the latter case, all new names added have been attached to a separate private, unsearchable tree to work on until I am sure I am not attaching any wrong ancestors to his line.
So, progress? Yes—but not that anyone can see, from the vantage point of my public trees. Which makes me consider re-evaluating my research plan for this year. Should I continue with this work-intensive chase to find John Kelly's roots in Ireland—an almost laughable quest—or temper its lack of progress with "duty" days in which I designate research time only to continue rounding out the blanks on my other relatives' trees?
In a way, I somewhat am doing that alternate plan right now. Based on what DNA matches show up for either side of our family on four of the main testing companies, if I see a viable match, I will work to attach that match to the appropriate tree. This, of course, involves checking each step of the way back through the generations to make sure I've established a documented trail from DNA match to most recent common ancestor. But it serves double duty by allowing me to continue work on more than one tree at a time.
However, I am wondering about incorporating a mid-year review for research goals—or at least some tool or process to temper those research projects which conceal those enormous yet unsuspected jumps off the deep side into murky waters. We research, after all, because we don't know. And what we don't know is whether we'll even find anything to provide us the answers we seek. Perhaps the real question is: can we develop our own set of premises about what constitutes a reasonable cause to call a project to a halt for now. Sometimes, the time for a research question may be not just yet.