Genealogy Tips and Hints: A List of Lessons from Going ‘Round the World
Many years ago I was blessed to spend a semester of my life on a ship going around the world and studying at the same time. The program continues today (see http://www.semesteratsea.org/) and is a tremendous experience in experiential education.
After I wrote my article on the lessons of genealogy we can learn from sailing I got to reminiscing about my months aboard this rather large ‘smudge pot’, the S.S. Universe Campus. The lessons were many, but the following list are the ones I consider key:
1) Make friends. While I was growing up it was something of a joke in our family that whenever you left home for a new school year, camp, etc. our mother would always say ‘Remember now, make friends!’ Well she had it right and this proved to be important advice when I embarked on my shipboard experience and how several decades later some of my shipmates are still some of my closest friends.
In genealogy my mom’s advice rings true once again ‘make friends’. It is the friends you make in genealogy that often are the richest part of working on your family history. They help, they listen, they advise, they teach. Friends make each of us better.
2) Don’t be an ‘Ugly American’. Before I left on the ship I happened to be watching some late night TV and came across the movie “The Ugly American”. It was a great advance lesson in what not to do. The world does not begin and end with the United States and while we have many wonderful aspects to our country, so do every other nation in the world.
In our genealogy this same warning is applicable. We should not expect our ancestors to act, look, dress, etc. just like ‘Americans’. We need to embrace the differences and learn to love our ancestors for the people they were, not try and turn them into something they were not, simply due to our Americanized view of the world and what is ‘good’ about it.
3) Learn the culture and customs. Along with our regular classes we had lectures and lecturers between each port of call where we would learn about the local culture, language, customs, etc. of the coming country. These lectures were incredibly important. We came out of them with a few important phases in the local language, important dos and don’ts of the culture we were about to enter, and more.
In our genealogy work we need to do exactly the same. If we hope to be successful in our searching it is incumbent upon us to take time to learn the culture, customs, and history of the homeland of our ancestors. Only then will we be able to search properly, understand what their lives might have been like, and better understand their motivations and actions. All of these will be incredibly valuable in our searching.
4) Be outgoing. I am not a shy person by nature and there certainly is nothing wrong with being shy, but when you are looking at only a few months to experience the world you learn not to wait, but to be the one who said hello first, who stuck their hand out to welcome folks, etc. I won’t go into detail here, but let me say this led to some unique friendships and wonderful opportunities.
We need to likewise be outgoing in our genealogy work. If we simply wait for others to ask a question, lend a hand, be a beta tester on a new software, offer assistance and our knowledge, we may wait forever. If it is not forever then we certainly may well miss some wonderful opportunities and end up wasting precious time in our work.
5) Take (calculated) risks. I learned quickly on the ship the need to be a risk taker to encounter many of the hidden benefits that lay before us. This resulted in taking fuller advantage of all that this incredible experience had to offer. I won’t delineate all of the benefits this brought me, but I will say it got me many wonderful meals cooked by a master chef who was a crewmember and how and when to take advantage of the vegetable chute that was a blast to ride.
So we must take calculated risks in our work. We have to reach out to experts no matter their ‘station’, we must follow our gut instincts when they ‘just seem right’, and be risky enough to ignore the multitude of erroneous family trees we all encounter in our work.
6) Be bold and adventurous. Being bold and adventurous led me to some absolutely marvelous experiences, such as getting to drive on a Formula One racecourse in Angola and leading an ad hoc group to sleep overnight, under the stars on a tiny, uninhabited island in the Seychelles.
With our genealogy being bold and adventurous also will pay us dividends. We will go to new places, try new methods, read new books, try new technology and find new discoveries. So be bold and enjoy the adventures you will embark upon.
7) Have fun. Going around the world as a student…having fun was a no-brainer!
Working on genealogy should be all about fun too, so remember to keep a quotient of fun in your work today and every day!
Onward To Our Past®