Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Genealogy: My Addiction

I will admit that I have an addiction, and that addiction is genealogy.  Understand that I have been a part of my family's dedication to family history research since I was 7 years old.  My parents took me with them to cemeteries to find the graves of ancestors (in Great Britain and the United States), as well as to the basements of courthouses and genealogical libraries.  That was all back in the days of no computers much less internet and we had to actually find books and documents the old fashioned way -- travel.

You would think that as a child and as a youth, I would hate spending my summer  holidays traipsing around two countries looking for dead people, but not so.  I loved it.  There was more to it than that.  I saw a lot of places I had never been, and toured a lot of fascinating museums and houses.  History came to life for me, and it was not lost on me that I was literally walking in the steps of my ancestors.

So, why now, when so much is at our fingertips has genealogy become an obsession?  I sit down at the computer at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and look up to see it is suddenly 10 pm.  I've lost the day, as well as dinner.  I look up again and it is 1:30 in the morning.  I have been hyper focused and nothing around me has deterred me from my mission (except the occasional mandatory bathroom break).  The near 12 hours online researching has yielded a lot of useful information, but it has depleted my energy.  What's more, I want to keep going, but I force myself to stop and go to bed where I lie there processing the information I've obtained.

I have a son.  Since he was 7 years old he has been interested in video games.  I set limits for him because I knew that too much time focused on one thing is not healthy.  He threw fits and would sneak in the night to continue to play with his Gameboy under the covers the way we used to read books with a flashlight after lights out when we were kids.  Take away the electronic and we have a melt down.  The similarity between my son and his gaming addiction and me with my genealogy addiction is not lost on me.  I put myself in a time-out. You read that right.  Time-out.  It occasionally has to be done.  If anything, so I can do laundry, vacuum the house and feed my family.  They appreciate it. 

Now, I could go into a long analysis of the affects of electronics on the brain, and about ADD and various stimulation and addictions, but I won't.  We've read the studies.  What I will say is this.  I think having so much at our fingertips does lead us to wanting more and wanting it now.  There is a lot to be said for turning off the programs and getting out to do research.   Yes, I am aware it costs money to travel.  But not all research has to be done via flight to another state or country.  We can visit local genealogical libraries, plan trips and vacations to ancestral destinations, and take the time to visit local cemeteries.  Perhaps it isn't our family cemetery, but donating an afternoon digitizing a few graves not only gets us out of the house and into the fresh air and sunlight, but provides a resource for others doing their family research.

What is the longest timeout I've ever imposed on myself?  A year.  It had to be done.  But, when I returned to my (now outdated) laptop, I was thrilled to see that while I was resting and recharging myself, other fellow genealogists were out there continuing the work.  Waiting for me was a plethora of information that allowed me to break down a few walls and move forward with fresh eyes and fresh energy.

I understand now that what I have is a life long addiction that isn't going anywhere.  I can, however, take control of the situation by going back to my own roots and slowing down and taking the time to research the old fashioned way of getting out and about.  My ancestors will still be there.  If anything, they are more available to me now than ever and they would want me to enjoy the journey of finding them.