Telling the Story… Research Can Get in the Way.

Every so often, I take an inventory of my genealogical research. I look over my data, combing over hundreds of documents, newspaper articles and correspondence with near and distant relatives. I assess my accomplishments and set new goals. Then, as is always the case, I become disenchanted by the work. It’s not because the research is flawed or that goals were not satisfied. Inevitably, the research I continually do gets in the way of storytelling.

Generally speaking, the reason I write this blog is that one story searchable on Google or Bing can lead to a distant cousin. That cousin may contain the hammer that smashes through the preverbal “brick wall.” (A genealogical “brick wall” is essentially a person that will not give up his or her historical record easily.) Every genealogist should strive to tell stories because, more than likely, that story will spawn answers that you thought would remain in the shadows forever. Genetics will solve some of puzzles. Never forget though that genealogy is about the narrative and the usefulness of our chromosomes only goes so far.

The problem for many genealogists, myself included, is that we get sucked into the research. We hammer away at our “brick walls” with the equivalent of a small chisel. When one brick doesn’t give, we move to another one and repeat the process. Meanwhile, it will take decades to get through the wall with that chisel. On the other hand, if you write about that wall, a distant cousin may have the sledge hammer, battering ram or wrecking ball you need! I have two major brick walls, one is pock-marked with holes but I can’t see the whole picture. I haven’t spread the word about this particular wall. What happens when I do?

Genealogists can be fickle creatures. Many are protective of their research and don’t like sharing. They feel someone will steal their research, taking it as their own. Others are sharing machines but tend to control the outflow of data, stifling others research in the process. There is a middle ground to be had. Our work is essential to the historical record. Put your chisels down. Your stories must be told. Your sledge hammers awaits.

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