Genealogy is something that countless people find enjoyable and rewarding. In this time of crisis, it’s natural to turn to it… but many of us have found ourselves unable to concentrate. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean we can’t do something. Here are 7 family history activities that we can do, even when we can’t focus.
Generations Cafe Podcast, Episode 45
It can feel frustrating, even discouraging, to have time on your hands but an inability to focus on research. After all, haven’t many of us joked, “Oh if only I had all day where I could sit at home and work on my genealogy…” Many of us now have that time, due to stay-at-home orders, but it certainly isn’t what we envisioned. But even though we might not be able to concentrate to do some in-depth research, we can still do meaningful and enjoyable family history activities.
1. Label Some Photographs
You know you need to do this (or maybe I’m just projecting). Grab a handful of photos and a soft pencil or archivally safe pen and label the back of the photo with the who-what-when-where-and-why. Record as much as you know about that image. Not only is this incredibly important in our family history, but it’s a fun activity, too!
2. Scan Some Photographs and Documents
Now that you have some photos labeled, get out the scanner, camera, or your smartphone, and make a digital copy. I have a stack of letters that my grandfather wrote to my grandmother while they were courting. Now would be the perfect time for me to digitize those.
3. Share With Family
Social distancing doesn’t mean no communication. Share some of those photos and documents with your family via email, Facebook, or even text. Not only does it get a copy of that image in another place (following the “Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe” principle), but it can also spark dialogue… which brings us to our next activity…
4. Interview Family Members and Share Stories
Humans are built for stories, and those stories are even more important in times of distress. Photos are a great way to spark conversation. They don’t even have to be old photos of our ancestors. Photos of family reunions or holidays can be a great starting point for sharing stories. Remember: We are all a part of our own family histories. We need to get our stories out there, too!
Here are some resources for gathering stories:
- “Great Questions” by StoryCorps
- “Creating Oral Histories” by FamilySearch
- Story prompts from StoryWorth
5. Journal Your Experience During the Pandemic
I’ll be honest — I hoard notebooks and journals. I don’t necessarily write in all of the ones that I buy, but I have quite a collection. Since things started getting crazy a few weeks ago, I started a journal to record my experience. It serves two purposes. If it’s ever discovered by a descendant years from now, they’ll have an idea of what this time was like. But it’s also been cathartic to write in it.
I’ve had trouble in the past keeping going with a journal, but I’ve been consistent this time. Two things that have helped me: I don’t force myself to write every day (which, ironically, has made me feel more free to write almost every day!) and I don’t feel the need to follow a set format. Some days are pages long, while other days are only a couple of sentences. I write down my experiences, my observations, and my feelings. As I said, it has been quite cathartic.
6. Index Records for FamilySearch
Did you know that many of the records that you use on FamilySearch were indexed by volunteers—people just like you and me. You can help right from home! FamilySearch has indexing projects for record sets around the world. (In fact, they’re always looking for people who can read languages other than English. But don’t worry, there are plenty of English-language records that you can work on, too.) You can find tutorials and get started on the FamilySearch Indexing website.
The batches are small, so you can make progress right away. I’ve been an indexer for quite some time. You might be amazed at how enjoyable it is!
7. Use the WANDER Method
What about when we really want to research? How can we stay focused then?
We genealogists sometimes joke about falling into rabbit holes in our research. Somehow, we find ourselves researching our 3rd-cousin’s grandfather’s next-door-neighbor’s son-in-law. How did we get there?!
When we want to do research, it’s always a good idea to be focused, and that’s especially true when our ability to concentrate is at a premium. Having a good research method is key.
The WANDER Method is a way of viewing the research process to help keep you focused and on track. The steps are:
- W – What do you want to find?
- A – Analyze what you already have
- N – Note what is missing
- D – Discover new records
- E – Evaluate everything
- R – Repeat as necessary
That first step – what do you want to find — by itself can help you stay focused. (You can learn more about the WANDER Method here.)
This is a confusing, stressful time we’re in. Fortunately, there are still things we can do to stay engaged with the family history that we love. How are you working on your genealogy right now?