Monday, June 13, 2011

Goal-Setting and Genealogy

As a homeschooling family, we’ve been to lots of conferences in the past twenty years. When you are talking about educating at home, you are talking about the need to learn in a myriad of subjects. After all, education is about preparation for the future.

There are several good lessons to be learned at conferences. There are plenty of well-qualified speakers and a smorgasbord of topics from which to choose. The choosing, however, goes well beyond just picking classes. Sometimes it requires having a sense of what to keep, what to recycle, and what to discard.

Forward-thinking. Cutting-edge. Take Goal Setting: everyone wants to sound progressive while teaching. Business-minded conference instructors try applying work site concepts to the home front. Sometimes these work great—in getting school assignments done on time, for instance. When we attended a marriage-oriented session at one conference, however, the goal-setting mantra just didn’t work for me.

Do you do Five Year Plans? Those didn’t even work for the Russians. Why would I ever want to apply that to my marriage? I hate to think how that concept would translate into spouse-speak. But there are couples out there leading workshops that certify that planning ahead, Soviet-style, is just what a marriage needs.

If it is supposed to work great for families, how about for family trees? I can’t think of any way this would be possible, but I can try imagining it...
-         “By the end of this year, I will find twenty more great-aunts and –uncles.”
-         “In two years, I will complete my search for all my great-grandparents.”
-         “In three years, I will locate my family origins in Ireland and Poland.”
-         “In four years, I will contact all the descendants of my family in Ireland and Poland.”
-         “In five years, I will find my paternal great-great-great-grandmother.”

I don’t think it will work like that.

For one thing, when planning involves making someone else fulfill your expectations without the open-endedness of mutual agreement, that ceases being planning and begins looking strangely like coercion. Granted, most of the other parties to my family research are long gone, but that doesn’t eclipse the aspect of control. We can’t plan on ordering certainty to emerge from the unknown.

But we can hope. And if hope is an adequate synonym for planning in the realm of genealogy, then I’ll set goals—at least one at a time, until I achieve each step. And I’ll keep a to-do list so I’ll be ready for the unexpected opportunity to go to key locations.

Truth be told, I’ve already got a to-do short list, and it’s my summertime quest: to post my database on a publicly-accessible site. I’ve been putting this off for years; I’m still waiting to find just that one more ancestor, the insurmountable quest of the genealogist to go back to “The Beginning.”

But that is a dream, not a goal, and I’ve got to get real. My database is going to go virtual. I’m making it my plan to give back, share—whatever noble term I can apply to it to convince myself to get it done—so that I can pass on the material that so many others have helped me find.

Hopefully, in the next few days, I’ll be able to announce that my GEDCOM has successfully been posted online. And my long-standing short list will celebrate with a duly-noted check mark. And, in the words of WALL-E the futuristic trash collector, I’ll be able to say, “Ta Da.”

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