Breaking Out of Your Genealogy Comfort Zone

pillowsComfort feels good. In our activities, we can hit a comfort zone — those things that we know how to do and we don’t have to think too much about them. There’s no struggle involved. Comfort can also make us hit the snooze button too many times and end up late for work (or not getting up in time to let the dog out). Staying in a comfort zone in genealogy can do the same thing. It may not make you late for work, but it can keep you from moving and exploring. Here’s how you can break out of your genealogy comfort zone, whether you’re researching your own family or a professional.

The Genealogy Comfort Zone (Home Edition)

We all have our favorite sources and websites. We have our favorite research topics. They’re comfortable. They’re safe. We know how to use them without too much struggle. (I have my comfort zone, too!)

It happens when we read (or don’t read) articles in journals that “don’t have anything” specifically about our families. It happens when we skip a blog post just because it pertains to a different family. It happens when we attend conference sessions about the same topics every year.

Here’s the thing. If we always stay in that comfort zone, we won’t learn about new sources and methods.

Here’s how to break out of it:

  • Read a blog post or an article about something completely unrelated to your research. I have no Jewish ancestors (that I know of) and I don’t know much about Jewish research, but I enjoy reading Lara Diamond’s blog Lara’s Jewnealogy. She shows records that I’m not familiar with — which is good, because it makes me learn about them and think about how they might be applied to my research.
  • Next time you go to a conference, attend at least one session on an unrelated topic and/or that’s by a speaker you’ve never heard before. Peggy Lauritzen of Always Anxiously Engaged once went to the Ohio Genealogical Society’s conference and stayed in one lecture room all day. She didn’t know what session was going to be next; she just stayed there and learned about whatever the topic happened to be. She told me later it was a great experience! I’m not suggesting you spend an entire day of sessions that are unrelated to your research, but I am suggesting to not fill your day with nothing but the same ol’ same ol’.
  • Go explore some new websites. Yes, Ancestry and FamilySearch have a gajillion records — but they don’t have all of them. (Before I go any further, I feel like I need to add that not everything is online. My point here is that even of the things that are online, there are countless things that Ancestry, FamilySearch, etc. don’t have.) Go explore the website of the genealogy society and the public library in the area where your ancestor lived. (I have some suggestions on how to explore those public library websites.)

The key is to explore. When you see new resources and methods, don’t dismiss them as “that’s not related to my family.” Think about how those resources could be applied to your research.

The Genealogy Comfort Zone (Professional Edition)

This section might get me in a bit of trouble. But since we’re talking about breaking out of comfort zones, it seems appropriate to forge ahead.

There’s a show on Food Network called Restaurant: Impossible. Robert Irvine goes in and does makeovers of failing restaurants on the brink of closing. He asks the owner about his or her background. It often goes like this:

Owner: Well, I like to cook and my family and friends said I should open a restaurant.

Robert Irvine: Do you have any restaurant experience?

Owner: No, this is the first time I’ve ever worked in a restaurant or owned one.

Being able to cook isn’t enough to own and operate a successful restaurant.

It happens in genealogy, too. I have seen and heard countless discussions over the years where a person asks, “I’m thinking about becoming a professional genealogist. What books would be good for me to read?” The response is almost invariably a list of the standards in genealogy reference — all of the classic “how to” books for genealogy.

Rarely are there any business books listed in that discussion.

Professional genealogists certainly need to know how to do genealogy. But if a person is serious about making money (and not just picking up the occasional client who happens to find them), they need to know things about marketing, taxes, and record keeping (the business kind, not the genealogy kind). Being good at genealogy isn’t enough to have a successful genealogy business.

We need to break free of our genealogy comfort zones.

Amy Schmittauer and me. Learned so much at the mastermind she hosted!

I recently had the opportunity to attend an all-day mastermind hosted by Amy Schmittauer of Savvy Sexy Social. (If you want ideas on how to better do social media, especially video, go binge watch her YouTube channel.) It was all day brainstorming with 12 other business owners about our goals, our struggles, and how we can overcome them.

I was the only professional genealogist in the room and it was the best thing I’ve done for my business in a long time.

There were genealogy events I could have gone to that day. But for my business, my best choice that day was to break out of that genealogy comfort zone.

(By the way, if you want my take on what would be good for a professional genealogist to read, I would include Michael Hyatt’s Platform as well as The Art of Social Media by Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick.)

(Note: the links to the books are Amazon affiliate links, meaning that Amazon pays me a little bit when someone purchases through those. Fun fact: the FTC requires bloggers to disclose affiliate links on the post itself, and not just on the disclosures or “about” page. See, it isn’t enough to know how to do genealogy… )

Don’t Let Comfort Lull You Back to Sleep

Those blankets on a chilly morning feel sooooooo good. But they can also make us late for work — or miss out on a gorgeous sunrise. Genealogy is supposed to feel good and be enjoyable. But when we stay in that comfort zone — either as our family’s historian or as a professional — we miss out on a lot. Break out. It might not be that warm blanket, but seeing that gorgeous sunrise — or learning about the resource that will lead to your ancestors — is worth it.

Breaking Out Comfort Zone

Being too comfortable with the sources you use in genealogy can keep you from making discoveries. See how you can break out of your genealogy comfort zone.

18 thoughts on “Breaking Out of Your Genealogy Comfort Zone

  1. Great thoughts and ideas! My “break out” was getting to repositories that were not in my immediate area, such as the public library in Cincinnati and the archives in Logan County, KY (actually in the old jail!). And, a challenge I’ve posed to myself, try to obtain my research without using Ancestry.com (nothing against them, I just like a challenge!). And I like saving money…lol. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  2. Amy we speak the same language on this. Am off to WDYTYALive next week and I’ve booked for a talk on Jewish ancestors purely because I think it would be interesting.

    And yes professional genies really need more business training. There are so many business threats out there from digitisation to archive and library cuts – we need to keep on our business toes. Our professional world has changed so much in the last ten years.

    • I envy you going to WDYTYA! Some day, I’ll make it there 🙂 Excellent point about being aware of business threats, including records access issues. If we can’t access the records, that makes it much, much harder for us to do business.

  3. this is a great one, Amy! It is too easy to stick to the things we know. I will take your advice when I am speaking at the German Genealogy Conference in fall. I will just stay in the room to listen to what’s next on the agenda!

  4. So glad you enjoy my blog, Amy–I appreciate yours as well! And I agree about breaking out–I went to some talks at RootsTech that were about record sets that likely have nothing to do with my family but which I wanted to learn more about.

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  6. Thank you for this. It’s a good reminder to add variety our genealogy diet. Recently, I made a list of sources for a project, and I felt a bit embarrassed that they were 80% from Ancestry. On the outside-of-comfort-zone side, the other 20% included five court houses, two libraries, one historical society, and the Kentucky State archives. Yay! Also, I’m not African American, but I subscribe to a blog on AfAm history/genealogy, and I attend conferences on that subject when I can. It has helped my research tremendously. You’ve inspired me to taste a few other morsels.

    • Sounds like you have a genealogy road trip in your future! Thank you for the kind words — I appreciate it 🙂

  7. This is a great article! I’ve been involved in genealogy for a very long time, and want to take the next steps in becoming a professional. I found this inspiring, but also a reminder to be practical as well. Thank you!

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  10. Great article! Just began taking baby steps into the professional world of genealogy so it was perfect timing. Thanks❤

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