One of my Philibert cousins discovered genealogy in her early 40s. This discovery led her on a journey where she did everything she could to find the answers to her family history mysteries. She learned French so she could read the records of our French-Canadian ancestors. She interviewed the neighbors of her immigrant grandmother to discover insights into her life. She strolled the grounds of the asylum where that same grandmother's life ended. She scanned and preserved the World War II letters of her parents, before that was a “thing” to do. She even took a trip to visit her paternal Eastern European homeland.
And then after almost two decades of enthusiastic research, travel, and sharing her findings with family via her annual Christmas letter she stopped. She took a break.
Now of course, genealogy is never “done.” She wasn't done. But she felt she came to a point where she could take a break. She took a genealogical break until I came around asking questions. She then picked it up and together we talked about family, looked over photos, and she generously shared the documents she had devoted years her to collecting.
My article A Genealogical To-Do List While You Keep Your Distance provides different ideas about what you could do if you are sheltering in place. I wanted to share those ideas because I know that sometimes I can lose focus and need a reminder of what I could do next. I thought that those who find themselves with a little extra time right now might enjoy some fresh ideas to choose from.
Some of us have been sheltering in place for over a month, I know that this time can be filled with stress. For some, this time of quarantine is filled with more to-do items than normal life requires. Some of you might be homeschooling, something you would have never volunteered to do. I homeschooled two kids so I know what type of effort that takes. Some of you might be taking care of loved ones who are sick. Even if your family is well, they are now home 24/7 which requires a lot of cooking, cleaning, and patience. I know this is a difficult time and emotions and feelings are raw and at the surface. Those feelings will continue the longer everyone's routines are disrupted.
That’s why I want you to know that I also think it’s ok to take a break. Put the genealogy research away. One of my friends said it best when he told me, “our dead ancestors aren’t going anywhere.”
Genealogy isn’t a contest. We don’t get a prize for having researched the most ancestors, writing the most narratives, or citing the most sources during a pandemic. It’s ok to say that you want to take a break. In fact, I think that taking a break can make us better researchers. I know I get some of my better ideas when I’m not doing anything related to research.
So this is a good time to binge watch that weird show everyone is talking about or to finally learn how to crochet, or to go photograph the birds outside. In addition to working I’m also trying to work on my GoodReads reading goal for the year (38 more books to go!).
Now’s the time to consider doing genealogy in a different way. We are so lucky to have access to online tools. Focus on your living family. Use video calls, online meeting rooms, instant messaging, social network websites, and email to connect with family. Ask them questions or provide prompts that will have them talking about memories of holidays, recipes, photographs, and family. Start a Facebook group for an ancestor and invite everyone to post what they know including photos of documents and heirlooms.
Use this time to create your own genealogy conference by creating a playlist of webinars. Use the Libby app to check-out books about genealogy and history. Connect with some of your online genealogy friends and meet virtually.
This is a great time to do genealogy differently. It’s ok to take a break.
Best of all, do what’s best for you and stay healthy. Genealogy will always be here.