Sunday, December 23, 2018

In Those Shortening Days of Winter

In the rush of Christmas shopping, it's likely that barely anyone noticed we've already passed the winter solstice. We can now cheer that the gloomy days of winter will be growing longer, if only by a minute at a time. It will, however, be a long time until that shift in daylight will bring us the type of weather to encourage outdoor activity.

While the temperatures in a place like southern California—where our family spent last week enjoying an early holiday treat in seventy degree weather—may not inspire residents to hunker down and warm themselves by the fire as they take a virtual spin through their genealogical database, the rest of our genea-nation may find these hardy weather conditions perfectly suited to some online research in the comfort of our own cozy home. I know that is what I'll be tempted to do, once all the holiday festivities have drawn to a close for the winter.

In the past few years, I've attempted to make the shift to goal-based research. In 2018, especially since I am preparing for a class in southern U.S. research at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, I have tried to focus only on working on my mother's family tree. With ancestors in many of the southern states—everywhere from the Virginia and South Carolina colonies of the 1700s and earlier to the newer southern frontier of Texas—I've had my research work cut out for me for the last several months.

That's not to say I don't have much more work to do. On the contrary, not only is a genealogist's work never done, but a southern researcher's work is not in much better condition. Beyond census records, wills and probate cases, church records, property records, and even newspaper mentions, I need to delve into the world of manuscripts to find the full story of some of my ancestors. Achieving all that will be a research workout. Some of that might be done before the January SLIG class begins. Hopefully, some will be done on site at the Family History Library as I learn of new research resources and techniques. Undoubtedly, much will be accomplished after class is over, especially considering our family's upcoming plans to travel to Florida, home of my mother's McClellan, Charles, Tison and Townsend lines' heritage.

Whether that becomes my research goal for 2019, though, I'm not sure. It is possible to burn out on one focus, carried out for too long—or leading into the realm of skidding wheels when much effort is expended in an area yielding little results. I'm not sure how things will turn out, as the old year slips into the new.

All that to say I'm already entertaining thoughts of New Year's plans. Not resolutions, mind you—the thought is anathema to me—but the matter of choosing a new research direction. Sometimes, a researcher just needs a breath of fresh air, and a different topic selection may be just the antidote. After all, the one good thing about a genealogist's work never being done is that we can always revisit an old focus in another calendar year. The pluses to that option are multiple, among them the possibility of new record sets being digitized and added to the mix on the multiple genealogy websites now at our fingertips.

As the days of winter grow imperceptibly longer, I'm already longing to try my hand at a new research task for my family history.

Above: The 1901 oil on canvas by Scottish painter Joseph Farquharson entitled "The Shortening Winter's Day is Nearing a Close," which has also been called "Beneath the Snow Encumbered Branches" and adapted for use as a much beloved Christmas card over the years; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


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