Saturday, July 15, 2023

Family History Fatigue


Several friends from our local genealogical society had recently gathered at a coffee shop to chat. We are all zoomed out and needed a face-to-face break from virtual reality.

The conversation that morning meandered from topic to topic, sometimes touching on genealogy, but just as often exploring history, arts, books, travel, and other realms tangentially connected to our research passions. One person offered her observation on her involvement with family history: there are seasons when she would do a deep dive on one branch of her family tree, but then there would be long stretches of time when it just didn't work to do genealogy at all. Was this family history fatigue?

The catch was that, after a while, she would find herself drawn back to her genealogy, and would pick up the research trail once again. The picture never came with the finality of a last effort, but more of a sense of seasons: a time when research seemed just right. The draw is always there: the curiosity about our roots. But the aspect of right timing has an ebb and a flow.

One after another, the circle added their agreement to that observation—almost like building a theme with variations. Some notes rang true for many in the group. There is a time when research questions have an irresistible pull; there is no way to avoid the curiosity any longer. Often, it was the particular research question itself which was the magnet—either that, or the opportunity to discover more had presented itself, like a trip to an ancestor's homeland, or a chance to meet up with a distant cousin who also was an avid researcher. 

The kernel seemed to be the research question itself: did it resonate? Was it compelling? Would it be possible to locate material or people to help find the answer? But most of all: is this the right season to delve into that question?

You know how it goes, once the green light shines for all those questions. We dig deep and don't give up until we've exhausted all resources and call off the search. Perhaps that's when family history fatigue sets in. It isn't really the case of becoming tired of researching. It may more likely become a balancing act between lack of resources for making further progress and encroaching obligations from all other areas of our life finally gaining the upper hand.

In all such scenarios we discussed that day, it seemed one thread connected the answers people provided: have a specific research question to pursue. Let it be well defined, specific, and limited. Let it have an end goal. And let there be a continuation plan for when the allotted time runs out, so we can pick up the chase at a later date when the time is right again.

Sure, researchers can become beset with family history fatigue. But, from all appearances during our conversation the other day, that is not a final and permanent blow to our research progress. Perhaps there is something deep inside which keeps drawing us back to the pursuit over and over. We just need to be prepared to pick it up once again, when the time is right. And it will be at some point.

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