Monday, September 12, 2011

Seasons of the Genealogist

Seasons play a major part in our lives, not to mention their effect on sports and television. Genealogists are not immune to the seasonality of their interest. Maybe our seasons are not as well-known or noted on a calendar as they come and go, but for many researchers they are as real as the dates on your family tree (at least the dates your have confirmed yourself through years of work). Seasons may vary from genealogist to genealogist and likely vary from geographically locations, however I thought I would share the “Seasons of the Genealogist” for researchers in my neck of the woods…

Spring - This season is primarily the time where you start hitting those “roadblocks” that you have uncovered during those wintry days reviewing your family database. It’s still too wet outside to venture into cemeteries and some smaller archives/museums are still closed. By now, most of your relatives living nearby are tired of you and no longer find interest in your “exciting” stories of the past. The weather is better so you can now venture out to review collections at archives or libraries further away than that of your local library where by now the staff is well aware of your research and may even know your name. You’ve become such a familiar face that even amateur researchers are asking for your help with loading the microfilm reader. You now take pride in your speed at loading the microfilm reader and have even given pet names to a couple of the readers, like “Squeaky Susie” or “Dim-light Donna”.

Summer - Warm weather and green grass makes this the perfect season for touring cemeteries or making long trips to visit far-off relatives or distant archives. Many museums and archives now have extra staff so inquiries have a fast turn around time. This is the season of family reunions and other life events such as weddings where a family historian can easily talk with relatives and jot down names and dates on a napkin (get their phone number and call! Napkins disappear and make terrible reference material!). This is also the season where you must decide between yard-work or visiting a cemetery a few hours away… it’s a beautiful day for a drive; the lawn can wait! Plenty of sunlight allows for long days in the cemetery. By the end of this season, the cemetery groundskeepers are familiar with your car and tend to go in the opposite direction when they see you come.

Fall - The leaves are on the ground and the cold wind starts to blow. Life gets busy and your paperwork begins to pile up in your home office or research corner. Not only does Remembrance Day provide you with a time to share your family’s military history with other family members but it also marks the last time that you will likely be in a cemetery until spring. This season is also a time where you make visits to all of those family members that you made promises with during the summer. Hopefully they will provide a few tidbits of data or family photos that you have never seen before. On your trip back home from visiting a distant cousin you run into a snow storm… Duho! You forgot to put on winter tire on your car!! With school in, you receive a few requests from younger family members on material from their school project: their family tree. Oh how you wish you could be back in school and make that presentation because you know you would get a great mark with your material!! Sigh…

Winter - During the cold and snowy days of winter, time is spent inputting data into databases. On clear days, you might venture out to your local library and take a seat in front of a microfilm reader in search of a few “stranglers”. At the close of this season, you feel that you family database is nearly complete… then you find a section of your family tree that you did not notice before… what the!? You spend a few long nights sending information request via email but not all data can be found through email or letters. Now you have compiled a list of “research needs” and anxiously wait for the icy roads to clear and snow to melt away. It is during this season that you even ponder whether or not you could locate a headstone in a cemetery with 3 feet of snow on the ground (thankfully cemeteries are officially closed during this time or many researchers would like have been lost in snow drifts). Wait it out, this is what some call “cabin-fever”!