Thursday, April 4, 2019
The Cycles of Search
I had a professor, when I was working on my master's degree, who likened reaching the close of the initial stages of research to a "milling about" stage. First came the need to decide on a topic. That was followed by a spate of initial checking of the proposed choice: was it so esoteric that there were no usable resources available upon which to build the current project? With the decision to move ahead with the proposed topic, then the search was on for every reference the student could get her hands on. Finally, the realization dawned on the budding researcher: everything else to review only repeats what was found before. At the very start, the student is "milling about," wandering in circles, wondering which research direction to take; at the end, the search winds down as the realization dawns that the research path has come full circle—once again, wandering about. That was the time to synthesize what's been discovered, see if it leads to new hypotheses, and delve into examining those new questions.
I suspect, in our pathways of genealogical searching, we run through the same set of stages. At first, the wide world of all our family's lines beckons, and we could strike out in any direction. But we need to choose one upon which to focus our attention. From that decision point, we frame a research question, then delve into all the material we can find on that specific issue. Eventually, we run out of available resources to answer our questions concerning that research plan, and the search runs out of steam. We falter, sometimes set it all aside, and maybe—or maybe not—pick up the quest at a later point.
I've had seasons in my research history which have not only followed that circular sequence, but have also presented external pressures requiring me to temper my research abandon. Teaching to a school calendar restricts those long stretches of free time to summer and winter vacations, interspersed with those interminable long, dry deserts of non-research. Raising a family can have its moments of non-research, as well, as can many forms of year-round employment.
There can be other hindrances, too, I suspect. Long-term family illnesses, family losses, or other tragedies take their toll. I know of one fellow genea-blogger who took leave of her posts during and after chemo, which left her too foggy-brained to write at the level she expected of herself. These unexpected twists of life happen. To all of us.
When I think of all the dire circumstances which have shoved other researchers off their accustomed genealogical track, I start to realize that mine is such a minor experience in comparison. Things blow up, we get hurt, but eventually what blew up must come down—and hopefully, not right on top of our heads.
Like breathing—in, then out—or the ebb and flow of the tide, so many things in life are comprised of cycles. Why should our fascination with genealogy be any different? Though we may have, at one point, realized we caught the "bug"—that moment, for instance, when the first sight of an ancestor's signature on a hundred-year-old document makes our eyes light up, capturing our undying determination to repeat such experiences—that doesn't mean the feeling will never go away. Sometimes, life even demands that we set aside this love of the pursuit. For a season. But the ebb and flow means that, even if we can't hold on forever—no matter how hard we clutch at that zest for the ancestor chase—another cycle will someday come back to woo us back on the path, to rejoin the chase.
I find that a comforting thought. As hard as waiting may be, "wait" means there is a cycle of time. And when we come full circle from the point at which we've been knocked off our track, it always seems like the dawn of the next cycle rises up to meet us with a promise of something better.