Friday, November 05, 2010

Genealogy Lesson 25 - Where/how should I spend my time and money on genealogy?

Something I have never done much of is traveling for the purpose of genealogy research.  I feel guilty if I spend money or waste vacation time on such a selfish pursuit.  Genealogy is my hobby, not that of my wife and kids.  They would much rather use those resources to visit Disney World or go to the beach.  I want to visit a few places, but I cannot bring myself to do it.

Once in awhile I am able to squeeze a genealogy adventure in with a family trip.  Perhaps we are driving through a town where someone I am researching was buried.  I might stop off at the cemetery for a few minutes but I never get to let loose and take my time.  In no way does my wife prevent me from doing these things.  It is my own conscience that keeps me from chasing these dreams.  I feel compelled to put the wants and need of my wife and children before my own.

Think about it like this...a day off of work costs me either a day of pay or a day of vacation.  That assumes I go on a Friday and I get Saturday off as my regular weekend.  A hotel will set me back $100 plus another $100 for gas, food, supplies, etc.  For the sake of argument, let's say that it costs me $300 per day to indulge in an overnight genealogy trip (that includes $100 in lost wages).  I am by no means financially destitute but $300 is a lot of money, any way you look at it.

Now that we know the cost, let's weigh cost versus the benefits I would get for the $300.  I might get to find a few graves, maybe go to a courthouse and copy a couple of deeds.  Perhaps I would get lucky and meet a few locals, getting some firsthand perspective on the area and its people.  Some trips like this pay big dividends but many end with marginal results.  How then can I justify the financial risk when the rewards are not guaranteed?

The only way I can pull a trip like this off, and feel good about myself, is to take my wife and kids along with the understanding that I am going to leave them at the hotel.  The biggest factor is that the hotel has to have an indoor swimming pool.  My kids love to swim so it seems like a mini-vacation to them.  Despite these amenities, I still feel a little guilty while I am out running around.  I cannot help but think that I should be at the pool, swimming with them and making memories, instead of checking out tombstones of dead people.

So, what does all of this mean?  Where is the lesson here?

In genealogy, you constantly have to make choices.  We have to decide which families to research and which ones to let go.  There are so many possibilities out there, we have to limit our focus and find out what really matters.  There is no right or wrong answer here; you just have to pick a specific family name, individual ancestor, county, event or some other topic to focus your research upon.  You cannot be an expert on everything so you need to zoom in on one thing.  For me, I have always focused on the Letts from a small area in Mecklenburg County, between Union Level and Baskerville.  There is more information on that one group than I could digest in a lifetime.

As for spending time and money, I can justify what I spend learning about these specific Letts.  They are the driving force behind my research.  Anything I discover about them means more to me than it would for any other family I have researched.  Even if I went on a trip surrounding that family, and found nothing, I would still have a great time just being immersed in their former environment.  I doubt any other genealogy trip would give me as much excitement as going to Mecklenburg does.  With that in mind, I can justify the money spent and the time that it required away from my family.  It is not just SOME trip that I am going on, it is THE trip.

There is a book called The Dip by Seth Godin.  It is not a genealogy book but the author makes a good point that relates to this situation.  Mr. Godin tells us that any activity we do where we cannot be the best, we must stop doing it.  Unless you can be great at something, you might as well let someone else do it.  I cannot be an expert on the Lett family, the Brock family, the Golden family, the Stinnett family, the Pettis family, etc.  I have to pick one and be the best historian I can be when it comes to that specific family.

Genealogy is great fun and we want to know about all of our ancestors.  In reality, that is an impossible dream.  There are not enough hours in the day or money in the bank to make that a reality.  I have told you before, focus on quality not quantity.  If you are going to spend money from your genealogy budget, make sure you get the most out of it.  If you are going to take time off work, make sure you get the most out of it.  If you are going to take time away from your spouse and kids, make sure you get the most out.

I know I am being a little dramatic and taking this to the extreme.  However, the truth remains that time and money, once spent are gone.  Resolve to be more focused and use your resources to further your research on a specific topic.  Stop wasting effort on projects where you cannot be the best.  If it is that important to you, I am sure your spouse and children will understand.

UPDATE:  Shortly after writing this lesson I decided to stop creating and sending them out.  I wrote the following note to my email subscribers:

After much thought, I am concluding this series of lessons.  I know this might seem a little abrupt but I have thought it out and I have decided to shut them down.  I am thankful for all of your kind words and hope that you have enjoyed the lessons as much as I did creating them. 

The cost of running this time and taking its toll.  I have therefore stopped accepting new sign-ups as of May 19, 2010 but will allow those in the system to finish their lessons before wrapping things up.  
(I guess I took this last lesson to heart, looked at where my time and money was going, and made a decision.)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for 25 great lessons.

Anonymous said...

Your genealogy lessons explained many questions of mine that I have had during 30 years of genealogy research. You just spoke so clearly on so many aspects. Many thanks.