The concept of being an armchair genealogist, or researching your family history in your pajamas was born out of the idea that a great deal of family research is done online from home and many of us have discovered genealogy through the internet.
As a result many armchair genealogists have subscriptions to Ancestry.com, and the beauty of it lies in the extensive amount of research we can do from our lazyboy and laptop. The downside is that it can easily turn us into lazy researchers.
Let me ask you this, have you found a document for an ancestor, you know it's them, so you save it, unopened, telling yourself you’ll look at it later, when you have more time. You save it to your tree or shoebox or a file. Sound familiar, I know I have!
Let’s face it, at home there are plenty of distractions, kids, dinner, housework, telephone, TV and email, all can interrupt your research.
That document could contain important clues to your ancestors, clues leading to the next step, record or document, it could reveal an important part of their story, your story and yet you have quickly filed it, before even taking a peek.
Let’s look at this another way. I know you told yourself you are saving it for another opportunity when you have more time to spend looking at it. However, how many times have you done that, have you noted it somewhere, do you have a list or a file of these documents you need to go back to and look at or are they accumulating. Perhaps they are not as important as other documents you are looking for and you have already assumed what it is going to tell you.
If you were rummaging through Grandma’s trunk, or scrolling through microfilms in a repository you wouldn’t be glossing over this record quite so quickly. You would treat it with the importance it deserves. There lies our crutch, with records coming right to our lap it is so convenient to not give them the immediacy they deserve. We’ve become complacent with how readily available these documents are that we treat them rather matter of factly. When we physically have to labour to find a document, it somehow holds more exigencies.
It will be there for another day, and then another day comes, we jump back on Ancestry and start looking for more documents. We risk falling into the trap of becoming collectors of records and documents and not family historians.
We need to stay focused on the mission to uncover the stories of our ancestors and that cannot happen unless you give each document your undivided attention. Therefore, here are a few easy tips to keep you from becoming that lazy researcher.
§ Print the document immediately, with the document in hand it becomes more tangible, it will feel more urgent.
§ Extract every detail; the best way is to transcribe the document. Transcribe the document into a summary sheet on that person. It forces you to look at every fact and consider its importance as a part of that person’s history.
§ Consider what each fact means, not only in respect to the the ancestor’s story, but how it could open a door to the next piece of information.
§ If interruptions do occur save that document to a file, name it Urgent: To Be Viewed, and make it your policy to view these documents at the next available opportunity before jumping back on line to search for more leads.
In our jammies, a favourite drink in hand, a couch, a laptop, who could blame us for getting comfortable. However, when something becomes so convenient, we have to check ourselves, we cannot forget to do the work.