Sunday, May 19, 2019

Where Does the Time Fly?

There is a saying we overuse, but can't help ourselves in doing so, since it describes exactly how the phenomenon feels: Time flies. And we can't. How do we keep up?

In the last two weeks—you know it's time for my bi-weekly reckoning—I thought I was diligently attacking the empty spaces in my family trees, when it turns out that I hardly kept pace at all with what I had accomplished in the previous two weeks. Not that I maintain this tallying practice to use the scoresheet as a whip for those weeks in which I fall behind, but when the hurrier I go, the behinder I get, I become concerned.

In the past two weeks, for instance, I didn't add one single additional name to my father's tree. Nor my father-in-law's tree. Not even my mother-in-law's tree budged upwards.

Of course, that is not unusual; I've been focusing on one research project, and barring any unforeseen deaths in the other lines, I tend to leave those other trees alone when I'm on a mission. For the past ten months, that mission has been to complete the descendant lines of my McClellan—and now also Broyles—families. The main purpose is to facilitate connecting the dots on those DNA matches whose names I don't recognize, and that goal has sometimes facilitated placing my DNA matches on the right family branch.

But when the research seems to claim a decent amount of my time each week, and yet I have little to show for it, I wonder why. Taking a look back, I think I can spot a few reasons why simply counting names does not give the full picture of where the research effort goes. Here's my take—admittedly a thumbnail sketch of the idea right now—on why quantifying genealogical research does not always help measure the quality of the process.

The main thing is the number of people in a genealogical database tells nothing of the documentation supporting any of the assertions about those people. The types of documents I attach to an individual's profile do not allow a casual observer to see how easily each item was found. The extent to which any such given document has tentacles—my way of saying a document verifying one person also connects me with others in the family—cannot be assessed on the surface. For instance, one record—say, a census record—may have taken me hours to locate because the census enumerator was a lousy speller or had terrible handwriting, but then might have revealed that, in that family's unanticipated move from their home state to this location since the last census, the head of household was now the father of three sets of twins, while another record, found instantaneously, showed the childless head of household had just lost his wife since the last census. One record added more individual profiles, but took much more time to locate than the other. Just counting the increase in names doesn't give a full accounting of the time expended per unit change.

What I think happened in the past two weeks of research was that many of the families I was working on happened to either dedicate their life solely to their professional or military pursuits, or remain childless for other, unexplained reasons. For instance, I spent time researching a number of women who went to college—unusual for women in that era of the late 1800s and early 1900s—and dedicated the remainder of their life to serving in education. Likewise, I discovered a couple career military men who either never married, or married late in life after years of international service and never had children. For records like these, I couldn't, with the click of a census record, add a wife and ten children as I had been able to do in other family lines. The work was slower and more tedious, even though the records weren't unusually hard to find.

Sometimes, too, the slower rate of success may be due to hidden factors, like the wife who was married twice though only the first marriage shows in any records I could find. In cases like these, reading between the lines can be a challenge, especially if the surname turns out to be a common one. There is always that question: is this the same person as the one with the same name whom I've been researching, or a different person who just happens to have the same name and similar circumstances? In the past two weeks, I've spent a lot of time on surnames like Baker and Smith, cause to put the research brakes on and proceed slowly.

Still, I'll celebrate the 214 additional names I was able to add to my mother's family tree in the past two weeks. Her tree now stands at 18,253 individuals, along with 16,186 for my mother-in-law's tree, 538 for my father's tree, and 1,518 for my father-in-law's tree. All together, that represents years—no, decades—of research, chipping away at the process bit by individual profiled bit. It certainly didn't start out that way. Each tree started with just the one person who became the home person for the trees that grew to those sizes.

So it wasn't really that time flies, after all, but that the week was filled with more challenging research issues than previous weeks. Keeping that in perspective helps protect the research enthusiasm from deflating, which in turn provides the encouragement to continue pursuing those goals.

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