Saturday, September 16, 2023

Looking Back


One problem with plans is that they always seem to point our attention to the future. Sometimes, we need to reserve time for looking back.

Take my current annual plan for family history research, which I call my Twelve Most Wanted. Each month, I set aside time to focus on researching one ancestor. Along with some specific research goals—usually questions arising from what I was unable to resolve the last time I tackled that ancestor's story—the goal was to push forward, er, backwards in time enough to be within sight of the preceding generation's details.

Usually, such plans meant I had far more to do in one month than I calculated during my annual planning session during that dreamy time between Christmas and Epiphany. I generally left each month with a to-do list to get me started for the next time I visited that research topic. This month, unfortunately, has not been quite the same. And, as I look at the topics I've selected for the final quarter of this year, I realize I may be up against the same dilemma for each of the next three months, as well.

What to do with the extra time? After all, we were only halfway through this month when I realized there is very little more that I can devote to the Tully and Flannery lines, despite all the additional time remaining.

That's when I realized the problem with goals: they always push us forward. What is needed is to fold in a regular time of review, a feedback loop, of looking backward at what's already been accomplished, to see whether any additional adjustments need to be made.

For instance, during each month's iteration of the Twelve Most Wanted, behind the scenes I am churning out a corollary goal: document the lines of descent for that particular ancestor. This I do for purposes of connecting DNA matches to my family tree, but it takes time to complete each line. Sometimes, by the end of the month, I mark my stopping point with the best of intentions to return to the task. Often, those markers lay neglected where I parked them at the close of that month's research effort.

This reminds me that, inside any research plan, time should be allotted for returning to review progress on old goals. Checking to see whether anything else could be added, or any loose ends tied up, should become part of the routine as I move through each month's research goal.

I certainly have a lot of incomplete goals to revisit. Remember that unfinished business on my Tilson line? I'm still working on adding all the descendants of my fourth great-grandfather, Peleg Tilson. The same could be said about the cousins in my Broyles line, about whom someone asked me just the other day. And, of course, my Taliaferro line—which reaches even farther back into the colonial history of this country—needs continued attention, as well. And these were only the first three months' worth of this year's research plans. There is far more yet to review.

I think it is safe to say there is plenty to review before Ancestor #10 gets released for the upcoming month's project. Let's take the upcoming two weeks to revisit these three ancestors from the beginning of the year to see how progress has fared.

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