On stopping to figure out where I’m trying to go


Somewhere in the depths of my memory is a little bit of half-remembered knowledge about how we go through different processes in the search for information. It comes from one of the courses I did in my Master of Information Studies degree and the bit I best remember – with some comfort at the moment – is the part about how confusion occurs at least once during a search as we go through the processes of finding and absorbing, re-thinking, finding and absorbing, until we have an answer – or even perhaps “the answer.”

I find this comforting because having taken on the huge task of researching my family history, I am beginning to realise not only how big this project could be, but also that there are so many potential ways I can go about doing it. I guess I thought names and dates, names and dates. But even if that were my approach; I find there are different emphases. Some people are only concerned with direct ancestors – lineage, while others want to fill in as many relatives as possible. One can be random or systematic – working one’s way through each person and generation, or zipping around wherever the urge or available data take one.

I don’t think I’ve finally decided on a technique or philosophy, but I do tend more to the random end of the continuum. That is partly because I’m partly using external subscriptions to ancestry databases and this necessitates physically going where the databases can be accessed (otherwise known as the fabulous Auckland public library service).

Who will comfort the mothers, weeping for their lost sons? A collage based on some of my family's stories.

Who will comfort the mothers, weeping for their lost sons? A collage based on some of my family’s stories.

I’ve also decided that names and dates are actually the least of my concern. I want to KNOW my ancestors, and to do that I need much more information about them or more likely, the environment in which they lived. I want to tell stories, not merely record lineage.

Shaking the tree is an attempt to tell those stories.


8 thoughts on “On stopping to figure out where I’m trying to go

  1. “zipping around wherever the urge or available data take one” is definitely my approach! For me, the names and dates are merely the bones, and it’s adding some flesh that makes it interesting.

    I agree very much that in getting anywhere with this kind of research, you have to go through “chaos” where everything seems to be just milling around you until, somehow, a pattern emerges and it starts to make coherent sense. I think this could be related to the human need to create a narrative: nothing makes much sense until a story starts to emerge.

  2. Yes; it’s creating the narrative that allows us to make sense of everything. Storytelling is so fundamental to who we are. Thanks.

  3. That sounds like a fantastic plan, I’m a mix of both approaches I started as a name and date person but as I discovered more I became more interested in who these people where, how they lived and how they felt. I think ordering some birth death and marriage certificates helped drive that these are real people home. I can’t wait to see what stories you unearth next!

    • Thanks. I had a day at the library recently using some of their resources and now have lots of leads. Am a bit overwhelmed and unsure what direction to go in. Perhaps eeny, meeny?

  4. Random’s more fun! Names & dates left me cold when my mum was doing all the research in to my dad’s family tree years ago, and as a mardy teenager I wasn’t in the slightest bit interested. But boy do I appreciate them now! They’re a terrific framework for the research I’m doing into my grandfather’s essays, and thanks to my mum’s hard work I’m at leisure to get to know him as a person. Your hard work will be appreciated!

  5. Thanks. I think what I’m starting to find is that some days I’m happy with the “names and dates, names and dates” stuff, and others I really need the story-making aspect of learning about the context of lives.
    … and thanks for “mardy” by the way. I haven’t heard anyone use that since I lived in England. One of my co-workers in a Birmingham firm used it a lot and I had to ask one of the other guys what it meant.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s