Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Treating My Family Tree As If I Were a Client

One of the difficulties of working on my own family’s genealogy is that I get distracted. Easily. As in, within 15 minutes of beginning to work on one line of the family I find myself chasing down some obscure fact relating to an in-law in another branch of my tree.
This affliction does not bother me when I am working on behalf of a client. In those situations I am all business and set to work maintaining my focus, noting interesting side trips to suggest for future research, but I stick to the client’s goals.
So why the difference?
With my clients we have worked out a very specific task or task list so that both parties are 100% clear on what I am going to work on and for how long. It might be very specific, as in: find the parents of Mary Higgins. Or it might be more general: extend both the paternal and maternal lines of Cynthia C. back as far as time allows. Sometimes I am charged with writing a narrative history as well: did any of Don J.’s ancestors serve in the Confederate Army? If so, write the story of that man’s life and complete the necessary pedigree chart for submission to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
When I work for myself there are no set tasks or goals. I have no time limits. I can do whatever I please and spend as much or as little time as my heart desires on a task.
And that is the problem.
While parts of my tree extend back to the 1600s, I have one branch that stops at my great-great-grandmother. Silliness.
This year I decided to address this issue and created a to-do list. The things included would look odd to an outsider because they are written in my own shorthand language.
“Thomas Gray – solidify” means that I need to verify my sources and data for Thomas.
“Campbell McElhaney – discover” means that I have his name and maybe some dates, but nothing more. I don’t like date-based genealogy. I want more than born-here-and-married-there-and-died-in-this-year information. I want to gather as many pieces of data and put together the story of Campbell’s life. So I need to discover that story.
“Frances Reese – discover and extend” means that Frances is the end of the line in her line. I need to learn about this lady and extend her lineage back at least one generation.
For a few people I am embarrassed to tell you what I have on my list, but here it is: “Katherine, mother of George Grant Tasker, discover and extend.” I am not even certain of Katherine’s last name, so I really have a lot of research to do on her.
Then there are some other kinds of to-dos like “Make list of all Civil War soldiers.” This is where I started for 2013 and already it is causing me problems. My item on the list isn’t specific enough. Do I want only direct ancestors or all relatives? Is Big Tom enough from the McConahy family, or do I include his brother, Nathaniel, and do I scout around to see if brother John also served in the 100th PA or elsewhere? It will come as no surprise to you that I decided to include all of them:
John W James
Allen Ritchey
Thomas McConahy
Nathaniel McConahy
Possibly John McConahy
Hugh Fletcher
James W Tasker
Jacob Wise
But I am not satisfied with a mere list. So now I have to add “research and write” next to each of these men. Then research and write the story of each man’s service. And since all of them served in Pennsylvania, their military records are not available via my friend Fold3.com, so I have to pony up the $30 per record for each of them. I need more paying clients to support this habit!
How about you? How do you pursue your family history? Do you have a structure to your research? Is each line researched to the same number of generations? Do you gather every document on each person in your tree before you move on to the next generation? Or do you find your tree is a bit lopsided like mine?

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