Friday, December 10, 2010

Where's the Pepper?

For about two months I have not been able to find the pepper shaker. I always place it in the same spot on a bottom shelf in one of the kitchen cabinets. But one day it just disappeared. I basically gave up looking for it since I couldn't find it and decided to just use the pepper in the spice jar that I fill the pepper shaker from.

Well, yesterday I found it. It was where I always put it, on the bottom shelf of the cabinet, but it was behind the slim piece or wood that divides the cabinet. The wood was just big enough to obscure the pepper.

When this happened, of course it reminded me of genealogy. Do you ever have those times when you can't find something and you look and look and then you give up? After awhile, maybe someone suggests a website or maybe you look again for grandma and you find her in a database where you have looked so many times before. Why does this happen?  Well I'm not completely sure but I think we sometimes are blinded and we need a break from the research, to talk with someone with different research experiences or to try searching in a new way.

So here's some ideas when you are stuck, to help you find what you are looking for.

Ask Someone What They Think. Now there is no doubt that asking another genealogist for help can be beneficial. This can be done at a genealogy society meeting or on a surname mailing list. In my previous job working on GenealogyWise we had many members ask for help in the chat room. I recommend all of these options but also don't negate the importance of asking a non-genealogist what they think. When I was working on finding information from the Final Pay Voucher for my great-uncle who fought in World War II, my dad, a non-genealogist was vital. He had been in the military so he could help me with some of the military jargon. He loves studying about World War II so that was beneficial as we looked at the battles his uncle took part in. Notice how when you watch the History Detectives that they ask all sorts of experts what they think about a case they are working on? That is something that would benefit the work of genealogists.

Stop Falling in the Same Holes. Have you ever heard that saying that insanity is when you keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results?  Well if you are conducting your research in the same way and not finding anything there could be a reason. If you are searching online, try to search on various keywords. We assume that our ancestor went by his/her first and last name the way we want to spell it. Or that they or no one else ever used initials. If you are searching for John Smith then try J. Smith, Jno Smith and various ways to spell Smith. I realize he may not have spelled his name differently than S-M-I-T-H but someone who filled out the document you seek may have. If you search genealogy subscription sites the same way every time, try something different. Search on just the record type you need or  browse the records in a database.Yes, it takes longer but you might find something was misindexed. Finally, step away from the computer and go to a library or archive. Use interlibrary loan. Try something different. It's like how they use to say on the TV show the X Files, "the truth is out there."  Your ancestral truth is out there it just may not be on the Internet.

Research a Different Line. Sometimes it's best to take a break from researching a particular family line and start working on a different one. First, When you stop working on a particular problem you sometimes come up with the solution. Sort of like when you lose something, and you can't find it. But when you wake up the next day you suddenly remember where it is. Second, by researching a different line you may learn new research techniques and sources that will help you in your overall research.


Nolichucky Roots said...

Great points! And wonderful analogy - we've all had similar experiences to your vanished pepper shaker.

Alanna said...

I've awarded you the ancestor approved award. Go to to receive the award.