In this episode we discuss how great genealogy questions and research plans can help you accomplish your family history goals. Then I’ve got ideas you can start using right away to manage distractions effectively.
On March 26, 2020 I started producing a new weekly YouTube Live show called Elevenses with Lisa. Originally it was in response to the fact that COVID-19 had created a situation where we were all staying home. For me that meant that all of my in-person speaking engagements for the foreseeable future had been cancelled or rescheduled. I saw it as an opportunity to take on a new challenge, which is live video production.
I love doing the live show on YouTube. It’s definitely different than doing a podcast. It’s more interactive which in turn makes me more animated. And obviously it’s a visual medium so it provides an opportunity to show as well as tell.
Of course, sitting down to watch a video is more stagnant than listening to a podcast. When you’re listening to a podcast you can still move about and get things done if you want. So, I’m sure there are some of you who haven’t seen the Elevenses with Lisa show yet. That’s why in this episode I’m bringing you a few highlights of the YouTube Live show in audio form.
In episode 2 of Elevenses with Lisa I talked about the importance of creating research questions and plans. This was the first presentation in a series called How Alice the Genealogist Avoids Falling Down the Rabbit Hole. If you want to stay on track and achieve your genealogy goals, a research plan is really essential.
Then in the third episode I talked about “Bright Shiny Objects”, also known as BSOs, that can distract you from your research plan. I shared the techniques I use to deal with them so that I don’t miss a good thing while still staying on track.
If you watch the show this will be a refresher for you, and if you haven’t gotten around to watching it, I hope it will inspire you to join us in the future, as well as help you improve your genealogy research today.
You will find the complete notes for the topics discussed in this episode (and more) in the show notes web pages for these episodes of Elevenses with Lisa:
Episode 2 – how research questions and plans will improve your genealogy research.
Episode 3 – dealing with Bright Shiny Objects that threaten to get you off track.
Get the Entire “Alice” Video and Handout
If you enjoyed this portion of How Alice the Genealogist Avoids the Rabbit Hole and you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium member, I have the entire presentation edited together in one complete video class for you in the Premium Videos area at genealogygems.com.
Premium Members get the entire video class plus 7 page downloadable handout.
There you can also download the complete handout which is ad-free and 7 pages long. It includes not only research plans and BSO management but also creating supportive research environments both on your computer and mobile devices.
For centuries, the month of June has been the most popular choice for weddings.
All about June Weddings – Genealogy Gems
One of the purported reasons was that some hundreds of years ago, this time was just after May’s annual bath, so the happy couple and the guests were about as clean as could be hoped.
With the ensuing advances in plumbing and overall hygiene, dressy weddings are readily staged year-round, from simple civil ceremonies and backyard or back-to-nature vows, to elaborate church functions. In normal years, there are more than 2.2 million weddings across the nation.
The median age at first marriage for women is now 28 years— up six years since 1980. Men are now an average age of 29.8 when they take their first vows.
Our family’s history comes in many forms, and some of them over time can become obsolete. I shared in this episode my continuing progress on my own project of converting the rest of my old home movies that are in a variety of formats (8mm, mini DV, High 8, and VHS.) I use Larsen Digital and have been extremely pleased with the service and results. The folks at Larsen Digital have put together special and exclusive discounts for Genealogy Gems listeners and readers. Click here to learn more and receive exclusive discounts and coupon codes.
Lessons in life often translate to lessons in genealogy. Here’s an example of how digging deeper can have you singing a happier research tune.
The Music of My Childhood
When I was a kid I had a million interests (and I still do.)
I loved art of all kinds – painting, drawing, and paper mache. I enjoyed baking and particularly candy-making. I had a teal blue easy bake oven I used constantly, and a cotton candy making machine that spun sugar into treats – Yum!
Making cotton candy with my Dad, Christmas 1970.
At the age of eight I learned to water-ski. It came surprisingly easy, so much so that my Dad got me a pair of short trick skis on which I learned to do a full 360 degree turn.
And like most kids I took piano lessons starting in the first grade. My mom bought an old upright piano for $75, and painted it bright red (you can see where I got my artistic flair from!)
My first piano teacher was a lovely lady who happened to be a paraplegic. This meant that she sat across the room from me and the piano and never actually touched the piano. I learned a love of music from her for which I’ll always be grateful. She was a patient teacher with her rambunctious student. But years later after we moved and I started up with a new piano teacher, I discovered I was clueless about fingering which was why many songs seemed unreasonably difficult to me.
It’s eye-opening to realize you didn’t know what you didn’t know.
Something else that slowed me down was not really learning music theory. Oh I had learned the basics, and became a laser-focused sight-reader of music. But my while my second teacher taught me scales, I don’t recall her ever saying why we were doing them. Needless to say, I didn’t practice them because I didn’t know why we were bothering with these notes that weren’t songs. Therefore, I never learned them or their significance to music.
One of my all time favorite songs was and still is One Less Bell to Answer by the Fifth Dimension. I first heard it on the TV series It Takes a Thief starring Robert Wagner which ran from 1968 to 1970. The song was featured in the third season episode called Sing a Song of Murder.
5th Dimension on Sing a Song of Murder
The 5th Dimension were the guest stars that week, and Marilyn McCoo sang that torch song like no one else could. I drove my mom crazy as I belted it out from the top of my lungs and begged her for 5th Dimension albums for my birthday. I still have my original 5th Dimension Live double album and the 5th Dimension Greatest Hits on Earth, both of which feature the song.
Harder than the Average Song
The other day I was falling down a rabbit hole on Instagram where I saw that Marilyn McCoo and her husband Bill David, Jr. had started an Instagram account (you can follow them here). I started following them, enjoying reading about how they are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and seeing old TV clips and new video of their performances.
I got to thinking about that To Catch a Thief episode and soon the rabbit hole led me to YouTube where I watched it. From there I found a tunnel to MusicNotes.com where I bought the sheet music for One Less Bell to Answer.
I sat down, excited to play it, and was stopped in my tracks. This Burt Bacharach and Hal David classic was as hard to play as any of Liszt’s classics!
Although I have continued to play piano all these years, I slogged and fumbled and scratched my way through to the end. My weakness in fingering skills and music theory was painfully apparent. I decided there and then that I wanted this one badly enough that I was willing to go back to the basics, learn what I didn’t know about music, and practice daily.
And so I found myself a good video series on music theory basics. I’ve been devoting a half an hour each day to learning the Circle of Fifths, scales and chords. I also put my husband through listening to me do another half an hour a day of practice, with an emphasis on One Less Bell to Answer. My husband says I’m getting better, though I’m still frustrated that it’s not yet quite where I want it to be.
Along the way though, something really interesting has happened.
I have noticed something wonderful after each painful, slow study and practice session. When I go back to my regular music (my sheet music stack includes the likes of Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac, Bach, Beethoven, Billy Joel, one of my favorite composers, Mr. Rogers), that music is much easier, and I’m much better at playing it! In fact, it’s more of a joy to play than ever, and I usually end up playing another hour in the evening, giving up time previously wasted on television.
So what does this have to do with family history and genealogy? Well…
Mastering the Music of the Genealogical Brick Wall
One Less Bell to Answer was not only my favorite song, but one of the toughest to master. So let me ask you, what’s your toughest genealogy case right now?
We all have a brick wall or two that has plagued us. I get emails every day from listeners of the Genealogy Gems Podcast outlining the family history challenge that has them stumped. Sometimes I think their hope is that I might have a genealogical silver bullet, or that I might be aware of some low-hanging genealogical fruit that they’ve over looked. I always encourage listeners to write in because many times there is a quick source or strategy that I can offer that they just may have missed. Or I can refer them to one of our articles, videos or podcast episodes that can provide a more in-depth answer. There’s always value in sharing with others the research challenges we face, and soliciting ideas and input.
However, in many cases, the answer is not so simple. Many of the cases described go well beyond a quick search at one of the Genealogy Giants websites. (You can learn more about them here.) These are cases that don’t have an easy answer. There isn’t one source just waiting to be found.
Sing a Song of Genealogy
Genealogical brick wall cases are much like the most glorious torch songs. They will require more education, steady relentless work, and a willingness to end each research session (like a piano practice session) unsatisfied with the current results. But when we stay focused and persist, we can remain optimistic that the end result will be worth it.
This answer to tough genealogical questions isn’t a popular one. That’s due in part to the increased tech tools and vast online databases (which are all fantastic boons for the genealogist by the way), that appear to offer instant gratification. This auto-generated “genealogy” can actually dilute our research edge when we really need it. We can be lulled into believing there should always be a quick fix. We find ourselves not as willing to stop, create a research plan, set up a tracking spreadsheet, and execute a plan to find the answer.
Many a family tree (particularly online) is filled with errors created by an unwillingness to take the time to dig deep. For example, are we really sure we have the right ancestor when there are several men by that name in that county at that time? Did we really prove it?
Genealogy Research Plans
Is creating and using a genealogy research plan new to you? That’s not usual.
These days, many people first come to climbing their family tree through a genealogy app. Several of the popular genealogy apps allow you to instantly start adding what you know already about your family to your family tree on the app. Then the app starts serving up record hints and matches – genealogical records it thinks may match the people you have added. It may also connect you to other users who share branches of your family tree.
While there’s a bit of instant gratification in all this, it doesn’t help us see the bigger picture, or develop our skills as a researcher. In a sense, we are following the app’s research plan (and I use that term very loosely here), rather than developing and conducting our own research plan.
When we finally take up the baton, and start leading our own research, we will gain more satisfaction and end up singing the right song.
If you’re facing an imposing genealogical brick wall, why not set aside all your other searches, and just work on this one? Slog along, fight your way through it! Do it for an hour every day. If your knowledge is lacking, go find the answers. Get up to speed on the areas you don’t know enough about.
It helps to accept that this genealogical answer that you seek, like a really wonderful song, is going to require more learning and practice than the average answer. But when it’s done, you’ll have the satisfaction of having conquered a really tough one, and the confidence that you got it right.
I can promise you this. When you take the time to craft and work a real and true genealogical research plan, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that when you go back to your other research, you will find it easier, and more enjoyable.
And yes, I’m still working on mastering my favorite song. Follow me on instagram and when I have it mastered, I’ll play it for you.
Please use the social buttons at the top of this post to share it with your genealogy friend.
Recently I heard from Jane, a Genealogy Gems Premium subscriber in Canada, who needs a genealogy research plan! She’s researched on Ancestry.ca,Scotland’s People, the Free English BMD Index, FamilySearch and joined her local society. But she’s not sure where to go next with her research–there just are SO many options! If this sounds familiar, check out her question and the advice I gave her:
“I often end up wandering around in circles and mazes as one thing leads to another, and another, and … I am sure you know what I am talking about. I seem to be jumping back and forth between my Dad’s family, my Mom’s family, their families, etc. until there are times that I find myself at a certain point, only to wonder ‘Where was I going with this?’ I’m now wondering if I would be best to take it one person at a time – to find out as much as I can about that person in that point of time, before going on to another. I have started trying to make notes…but find that I end up hopelessly out of order and lost. Any advice would be appreciated! Help!!!”
My Answer: A Genealogy Research Plan to Deal with the Chaos
“You are not along in this genealogical dilemma! It’s easy to let the records start to take over and lead you around. Set a goal or a genealogy research plan – define what it is you want to know. It might be something very specific about a particular ancestor, or it might just be to fill in the blanks on one particular family. Early in my research I focused on one grandparent, and working backwards, I would strive to fill in all the blanks on that person, then their parents, then their siblings. I wouldn’t “leave” that family until I felt that I had filled in as much of the family group sheet as possible. (We have sort of lost track of the “family group sheet“ in this technological age. But it is an excellent tool for keeping you on track and focused on the blanks that need to be filled.)
An additional strategy is to have a process for dealing with information that is a bit off your current track. Often we feel like we have to pursue it or we’ll lose it. I like to use Evernote (free at Evernote.com) to capture data that I’m not ready to deal with right now, but definitely want to pursue later. I create an Evernote “notebook” for that family surname, and a note book called “future research.” Drag and drop “Future Research” onto the family surname notebook which will create a “stack.” Now you can create notes and drop them into the “Future Research” notebook which is inside the applicable family. Add tags to your note like “newspaper,” “death record,” etc. and some good searchable keywords so that the note will be easy to find when you need it. Now you can capture the item, file it away, and stay focused on the task at hand. Whenever you’re ready to ask a new question, open that Future Research notebook. Use what’s there to inspire the next phase of your genealogy research plan.”
If you would like to learn more about using Evernote for genealogy, I have a quick reference guide in my store that will work wonders in keeping you organized. It’s available for both Windows and Mac, and in both PDF and laminated print format.
Your questions are always welcome! Contact me by email, or leave a voice mail at (925) 272-4021 and you may just hear yourself on the show.