Getting Past Genealogist’s Block

Most of you have probably heard of writer’s block: it’s the point where a writer suddenly doesn’t want to write, and would rather use a pen to initiate the gag reflex than write. Well, family historians sometimes get genealogist’s block. So what do you do if this is you?

Jenni and I (and Lunch Bucket, Tootles, and Squeaker) attended a family history fair this last week. I also just finished the 12 week family history course in church. I am therefore… an expert.

Yeah, whatever.

But there was one thing that stuck out to me from both that I think is a good lesson, especially to those who want to do family history work but get terribly confused, frustrated, or just keep hitting brick walls. It’s simply this: find a niche.

Find one aspect of doing family history that really excites you. If you love writing the names on pedigree charts, do that, and do it well. If you love researching the places, focus on that. If you love doing the temple work, focus on that. Chances are, if you really work hard on your niche, it will get you working hard enough at it that you will find the other aspects of family history creeping in anyway.

My niche is the stories. I LOVE finding the stories. That may seem like a cop-out, like I’m neglecting the important stuff, but here’s how my nichefication came about. I’ve loved family history and have been doing research for about fifteen years now. I took the Family History on Computers Institute course shortly before my mission, and became familiar with the big chunk of IGI disks and other databases that were being used at the time. I became proficient in PAF and explored my ancestral lines up and down often.

Up until about two years ago, I would always, without fail, run into every brick wall imaginable. It was as though there was some invisible barrier that made every ounce of effort I put into family history completely futile. It was about two years ago that I reached a crossroads. I was terrible frustrated with all my efforts, and having nothing – NOTHING to show for all the work I had ever done. I was close to throwing in the towel and resolving to wait until retirement. But as a last desperate attempt to save my interest in family history (which by then was waning, of course), I decided to bag all the dates, charts, and “boring” stuff and focus entirely on the one thing about family history that I absolutely loved: the stories.

That opened a new universe for me. Suddenly I was bombarded with story after story, journal after journal, history after history, of the lives of my ancestors. Already I have a 300 page document of stories I’ve collected from Internet sources, library books, and various sources all over. In studying the stories, I found people I never knew existed, and have even found entire lines of family history that go many generations beyond what’s on the new familysearch site or even my own PAF files.

I’m not suggesting everyone change your work to searching for the stories. What I’m saying is find a niche that works for you. Jenni loves organizing. Some people love finding photos. Find the aspect of family history that works for you – that really gets you excited, and work hard at it. In doing it, you’ll find things that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

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