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How To…Stay Motivated When Your Branches Won’t Fork

You’ve just spent the day with your extended family at your annual reunion. Full of food and anecdotes, you blithely agree to research a seven times great aunt who supposedly was a seamstress alongside Betsy Ross.

Full of inspiration, you begin searching through records on the internet, as well as handwritten notes, letters, pictures, and faded family trees on onion paper. The first two days are fun; it’s like a puzzle with all the pieces being flipped over and ready to fit together. The next couple of days are, well. a little less exciting. There is more than one ancestor with the same name and after chasing down those leads, you still come up with very little information. Or. you are only able to go back four generations with the resources you have available.

Finally, at the end of the week, the papers are still scattered around your computer, but you are in the other room with little intent on returning. Meanwhile, your family members are beginning to plan the next year’s reunion and look forward to what you have found.

So what do you do to stay focused?

1. Set realistic expectations: researching an ancestor with an exciting or unique past is intriguing and exciting. We would all love to be related to a heroic historical figure and have the paperwork to prove it. Usually, families have some written proof to supplement the oral history that they pass through generations, especially if it surrounds a notable character or story. If you have difficulty proving family claims and stories, it may just have to remain a story, preceded by the caveat “I can’t prove it, but I always heard…” These stories are important within families, just for the staying power and they can remain legendary in status.

2. Find an ancestor that lived a “regular” life: find a census and track that ancestor as far back as you can. Find out what they did for a living, if they stayed in the same location, if they had a family. etc. Then, do some research on the time period of when they lived. what were wages like? what did it cost to buy a house? What about education? You can really enter their world with a little curiosity.

3. Pick a partner: ask another family member for help in research. Maybe they have a few more resources that can help you bring your ancestor’s story into view. And in the process, you could start a great bond with your other family member. Hopefully , it’s someone you like!

4. Pictures: make some copies of family pictures and put them in the room where you research. Having a connection with the folks you are learning about can help keep you focused.

5. Eliminate distractions: as much as possible, have a room that is free of electronic devices other than your computer. It’s also beneficial if you can work without disruption from other family members. Also, set a time schedule to help keep you on track.

Now that you are ready to research again, there’s no telling what you might find. A cousin who won a blue ribbon three years running in the state fair for her coconut cream pie? An uncle who ran “afowl” of the law after stealing a neighbor’s chicken? The truth is out there!

The most important thing to remember however, is to have fun. Recall why you got into genealogy in the first place and try to recapture that spark you first felt when you started researching. Who knows? Someday, a family member may be presenting to a room full of holograms, telling them (through telepathy) about how you inspired them to keep family history alive.

Now, THAT’S motivating!

Enjoy your journey!


  1. Being a paranormal investigator myself and having a few digital voice recorders, I’ve always carried one any time I was given a “window” of opportunity with a family member and actually interview them! I did it with my late grandfather before he passed. The recording is now part of the local library archives! So ALWAYS have a digital voice recorder with you! They are very affordable, easy to carry and will save you frustrating hours of researching. ALSO keep fully charged batteries with you as well for the voice recorder 😉

    1. That’s a fantastic tip, Kit. You never know when a family member will want to share a story! It must have been an overwhelming experience for you as an investigator to interview your grandfather. Thanks for your support of the blog:)

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