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It's OK to Take a Break

It's OK to Take A Break

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.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



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Excellent, thanks for the reminder, and the great ideas.

Gena, Thanks for such an uplifting post. We are all dealing with this social distancing differently.
Thank you for reminding us that whatever we do...take a break, do it differently or plunge into it; it is all OK. Stay healthy!

Good article, over 35 years I've often taken breaks for months and when back into it I am mentally refreshed.
Lately during the virus quarantining I've been spending hours day & night with Cornish parish records, finding far more ancestors than I did a few years ago.
I don't think I will ever finish, it goes on and on but I am pleased to be able to bring names of the centuries long deceased to the fore again.
I have over the years written several indexes and/or name charts for my family to make it easier to understand my computer files (11 trees) and my numerous printouts in various folders.

I have been at this for 40 or more years actively and mostly sporadic. As more time goes by, I find myself overwhelmed by all the information and sources. I have lately come to believe I have attention deficit (order or disorder). At 83, I'm still hoping to find information on my gggrandfather, so I carry on. It seems that my search is like an eddy, always circling back on itself. Taking a break only seems to widen the gap between me and progress. Thanks for the article.

Thank you for all the tips and encouragement that you give. Sometimes we just need that permission to take a break! Myself, I keep saying that I will get the spring house cleaning started, but tomorrow.

Then again, there may be fellow researchers that we know that are also searching the same lines as we are, and we have not had contact with them in a long time. This is a perfect time to call and reach out to see how their search is going. You never know they might just be so happy to hear from a non-family member that we may find that missing brick for our wall that we need!
Happy Spring. We will get through this and be better when the flowers are out.

Hi Gena. I found it very difficult to focus when all this began. I couldn’t research or write blog posts. I’m retired so you would think "what’s different about staying home?"
Good question. But, somehow this was different. I found myself cleaning and organizing. More mindless kind of chores that don’t take focus. I’ve noticed that when there are events going on in my life that cause me to be concerned, I do take a genealogy break.
After four weeks, I seem to have settled down and am now able to research and hope to write some blog posts.
Thanks for this article and I hope you and your family are safe. Look forward to hearing you speak at our SDGS meeting soon.

I have felt guilty for not doing research during this time of isolation. But I have been busy going thru family stuff that I have inherited. Then yesterday I went thru some excel sheets of information that I had downloaded from family search. I'm trying to find out information on my maternal grandmother. There are about 7000 entries for the family name. I'm half way done and found information on her sister who has an unusual name. So now I know to center my time on researching her to find the information on my grandmother.

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