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Monday, March 1, 2010

Hunter or Gatherer?

Years ago my husband and I laughed while a comedian joked about the differences between men (hunters) and women (gatherers). There are strengths and weaknesses prevalent in both hunting and gathering. Genealogy offers many opportunities to play on one or the other side of this fence, but the best researchers combine the two.

When I started my research I waited weeks for documents to arrive in the mail, for films to reach my local FHC, for responses to those ever-popular "Are you my family?" inquiry letters. Now if my computer hesitates for a millisecond while I'm browsing through census pages, I wonder what is causing the delay. It isn't that I've become less patient. It's more that I've become accustomed to instant gratification when I'm on a genealogical mission.

But all that gathering takes a toll. I can accumulate record numbers of pages in record time. I know it's impossible to analyze seven thousand documents a week, yet the availability of so much information is seductive. Why shouldn't I download this page and that, print them, and add them to the ever-growing pile of paper on my desk?

The answer is simple: too many clues get lost in the shuffle. When I stop, drop, and roll through the ream of paper on my desk (figuratively, not literally), I find all sorts of new-to-me information:
  • Oh, so that's where he's buried!
  • Ah ha, her middle name was her grandmother's maiden name!
  • How ironic, this child was born on his late father's birthday!
  • This is the first time I saw her signature!
A great deal of willpower is needed to push ourselves away from our computers and read ~really read ~ the items we have already procured. In so doing, we learn remarkable things about what we know, how we know it, and what is yet unknown about our ancestors. This gives us better aim, so to speak, when we hunt for more information.

Gathering is great fun, and truly necessary now and again. Just don't fill your basket so full of miscellany that you miss a trophy catch lurking along the way.

1 comment:

Becky Higgins said...

Well said Laura. We really do need to take the tie to step back and analyse all of our big and little finds.
Thanks for the reminder.

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