Sunday, August 9, 2020

Shifting Research Goals


No matter what goal you are reaching for, it is always encouraging to take the time to measure progress. That's why I reserve one Sunday every two weeks to measure my research activity. Adding a person here or there on a family tree may not even amount to a "small" victory, but if we don't take the time to enjoy our progress in the aggregate, we miss the opportunity to encourage ourselves to keep going. If we don't align that progress with stated goals, we lose the sense of the reason behind our activity.

Every year, I have reserved one aspect of my family history pursuits to focus on the main class I will be taking for the year. When I took the Virginia research class at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, for instance, I wanted to focus on my mother's colonial roots in that location. Of course, our family's trip to Ireland a few years ago prompted my focus on my father-in-law's roots.

The coming year may be one in which research priorities don't even align with the trees I've been working on. My selected class for SLIG 2021 will be researching African-American heritage. Those who remember my quest to discover more about King Stockton and his family will see the thinking behind that class choice, but I also am turning my thoughts to that time in the future when we can all return to face-to-face interaction and I can resume teaching my beginning genealogy classes. What I will be learning at SLIG next January is precisely selected so I can be better equipped in teaching my own classes—not necessarily so I can fill in the blanks in my own family tree.

Still, there are other overarching research goals. Sometimes, those goals are multi-year endeavors, such as my intention to identify descendants of all my fifth great-grandparents to better help me identify where my DNA matches fit into my trees. I'm thinking specifically about DNA projects when I continue that research push, but I'm also keenly aware that that is not a goal to be accomplished quickly. It also puts into perspective the fact that my mother's tree now has 22,969 individuals—up 142 from two weeks ago—yet I've hardly scratched the surface of what needs to be done before I can check that goal off my list. Even though I've added absolutely nothing to my mother-in-law's tree—still stuck at 19,104—I will need to attend to the same pursuit on that branch of the family, too. And 715 on my father's tree and 1,812 on my father-in-law's tree will also have their time to grow.

This counting stage may not continue long into the future, though. Yes, I'll be working on it for a few more years, of course, but there are other research goals which cannot be quantified quite so easily. Take my current challenge of discovering my husband's second great-grandmother Johanna Falvey's origin. It amounts to much diligent searching through baptismal records and other documents, but for all that looking, I find not much at all. The ratio of time spent to documents found has reached an abysmal level—and yet, those exhaustive searches do need to be done when the going gets rough.

All that to say, though it is highly important to be able to articulate a research goal, not every goal has an accompanying metric. Not every research challenge can be numbered and counted. If I examine two thousand marriage licenses in my targeted village but don't find the right couple's names, my effort may be huge, but my progress will still be zero.

For now, I'll keep up that biweekly habit of counting my progress. But at some point—though not very soon, I assure you—the tasks will shift and the research will take on a different personality. It always does.

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