I recently had a comment on my post, What Is A Family Tree? – A Detailed Breakdown of What Genealogy Really Is, asking how long it actually takes to complete genealogy research and I answered probably with a vague answer. The truth is, I’m not sure genealogy research is ever done!
Now before you click away, please read on and I’ll explain my reasons for saying this. This post is all about genealogy research and why it has taken me fifteen years and I’m still not done!
How Your Family Dynamic Affects Your Genealogy Research
Researching your family history does take time and depending on your family dynamic, may take longer than others to research. There are a lot of factors which could cause difficulties in your research such as:
- Adoption within the family
- Loss of contact with relatives
- Name changes or variations in spellings
- Natural and man-made disasters affecting documentation
- International searching
- International record keeping
- Your personal situation
- Tightly held family secrets!
- Diversified families
- And so many other reasons
This is by far not a complete list of reasons that could cause your research to slow down, but it a list of some I have personally encountered and heard from other researchers as well.
How Adoption Affects Your Family Tree Research
Adoption can be a royal pain in the rear when researching because typically names have changed or you may or may not have any information to go on. In my family we have a few cases, that I know of, where someone has been adopted and information is lacking. One of the biggest problems with adoption is that typically family members do not want to rock the boat so to speak. The family closes ranks and doesn’t want to give details they may know about the situation and over time no one knows anything as memories fade and/or those that know have passed on.
I have two aunts which are biologically my cousins raised by my grandparents. One was legally adopted and the other wasn’t. However, in my family we do not differentiate them. They are, and have always been, both my aunts. I grew up calling them each aunt and still do all these years later. I’ve asked my mom several times about them and she doesn’t really know who their biological dad(s) are. They have the same mother.
I also have a niece and nephew, biologically brother and sister, that my sister adopted. They were foster children that she legally adopted last year. She took them in at less than a year old and two years old. They are now five and six years old. She also has three children biologically, two of which her husband legally adopted.
Very recently I found out an uncle of mine had a child out of wedlock with a young girl back in like 1968-1969 prior to him marrying my aunt. The child (I say child, but he isn’t a child anymore!) found my youngest cousin from that uncle on social media and the two have had some contact.
Adoption makes your research a lot more difficult, but certainly not impossible. It helps when you at least know one biological parent to research as I do in all of these cases. When you are an adopted child, and know nothing about your biological parents, it can pose some challenges. I will delve into this area in a further post. This is a topic that could go on for a good length of time.
Loss Of Contact With Relatives
This day in age, with social media and cell phones, it is probably a lot more difficult to “lose” family members, but in days of yesteryear it was actually quite easy to do. We are all so connected now, it is hard to imagine a time when people didn’t carry phones, let alone even own one!
In my family, we have a whole branch that segregated from the rest on my dad’s side. His father left home in the 1950s to head to Michigan. He is from Kentucky. He left behind family there; brothers, uncles and aunts, cousins, etc. Back in that time period telephones were pricey and long distance calling was expensive. Letters were the method of communication choice, but snail mail, let’s face it is just plain slow. Life gets to us and staying in touch is cumbersome.
For many years I didn’t even know that part of the family existed. My parents didn’t really talk about it much except that some of my aunts and uncles would visit Kentucky and I always wondered why. I know they went to the Kentucky Derby so I just thought that was why. In later years, my dad starting talking about his dad more and how he had family in Kentucky. He didn’t know a lot about them though.
Name Changes or Variations In Spellings
Over time sometimes people change the way their name is spelled or use a completely new name. My name is Chastity, but I’ve been called Chas my whole life so I shorten it. I have a sister-in-law named Kati that was born Katherine, shortened it to Katie and over the years dropped the “e” at the end.
The shortening of names, and/or using nicknames, is pretty common . It can really make researching family a pain because sometimes you don’t even know it is a nickname at all. I have an aunt that I always knew as “Dockie.” I actually thought that was her name because I never heard otherwise until about the time I started doing the family history research.
Another example is that my dad’s family in Kentucky spells their last name Cobern and my grandpa spelled his Coburn. It isn’t a huge difference, but when you are researching and you see inconsistencies, it is sometimes hard to determine if the people you have found are actually relatives because names are spelled differently and information doesn’t match completely.
How Natural or Man-Made Disasters Affect Research
A man-made disaster is like when someone alters information either by intent or accident. Something like setting fire to a county building where records are stored would be a man-made disaster. Natural disasters are things like hurricane Michael that just caused serious devastation or hurricane Katrina from years ago. Natural disasters can cause documentation to become unreadable or obliterate documents all together.
My father’s family lost all record of their existence when the courthouse (where vital records were stored) burned down in a fire when my father was a child. As a result he nor any of his siblings have a birth certificate. I have an aunt whose name was changed during that time because my grandparents decided to change it. There is no record of her birth given name so when she started school, they changed it!
How exactly does this affect your genealogy research? Well, tracing records is a huge way to determine family history. There are almost no records for me to find for that branch of the family. Of course newer generations have records to find, but the records of all aunts, uncles, cousins, great-uncles and aunts, etc. are non-existent. I have had to turn to alternative methods of search.
International Searching & Record Keeping
Depending on the country, completing research that spans overseas can also cause some problems. Irish, Scottish and English records are fairly well documented as there are many researchers researching family histories within those countries and many databases available to utilize for searching those areas.
My husband is Mexican though and researching his family history is like hitting a brick wall. First of all, the records are pretty non-existent. Mexico does not keep records like we do in the US and finding records is also more difficult because of the difference in names. My husband has a lot of people named Manual in his family. Of course, they all have the same last name as well. Men typically take on their mother’s maiden name as their middle name. The records are in Spanish. There are a lot of reasons researching foreign records can be cumbersome.
I switch it up and research my mom’s dad’s side sometimes and then her mom’s side and then switch to my dad’s mom’s or dad’s. In between I search my husband’s dad’s or mom’s side. I don’t stick to one side or the other for too long, especially with his family history because it is so much harder to research. I choose to skip around and when I find something new in whatever branch I’m working on, I follow it until I hit that figurative brick wall.
Family Secrets Can Cause A Lot Of Headache Regarding Your Research!
Family secrets can really affect your research. These days many families no longer keep some things secret like having children out of wedlock, but back some years ago that was definitely a hush-hush situation. I remember sitting in my mom’s sister’s house listening to the adults at the table and they were discussing a young girl who had a baby at sixteen and died during childbirth. She was unwed and her and the baby were buried together on a hill by a tree.
At the time I was probably 8-10 years old. I did not have any cousins my age to play with, so when we were at this aunt’s house I typically sat with the adults and heard some juicy family stories that one just didn’t discuss in civilized society. I never brought up that story until recently when my mom and I made a genealogy trip to Michigan to visit cemeteries. I asked her about it and she couldn’t recall who it was in regard to. She asked her sisters, who were also there, and neither of them could recall either. Dealing with aging relatives is also an issue that impedes family history research!
Diversified Families Can Impede Research
What do I mean diversified families? Well families come in all types. Many families have two moms and dads. Some people are raised by other relatives than their parents. Recently we lost a young member of our family to cancer. She wasn’t even 30 years old and has two kids. Her children are now being raised by her sister. That is a diversified family. Many families these days are diversified and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, but it can make your family research take longer.
Some people have never known one or the other, sometimes either, of their parents. Of course, you can research based on what you actually do know, but if you do not have all the details about your biological parents, it can slow things down.
Your Situation Can Greatly Impact Your Family History Research
You may have noticed I skipped over this category when I started giving details about each one. This was intentional because this category is what truly caused my research to take so long.
What I mean by your situation is that your personal life can affect your research in terms of time limits for when you have available to work on your research projects. I work full-time, go to school full-time and have other things I like to do as well such as online gaming! I love games and like to relax with them.
To me genealogy is a hobby and in my opinion is never done. It is something I do when the mood hits. Some days I am sitting around thinking of my dad and start looking at pictures and researching names. I start researching when I am feeling nostalgic or when I feel like I don’t want to do my homework. Sometimes I get into kicks where all I do in my free time is research and other times I am just too tired after work and school to do any research at all.
I have been working on my family history research for fifteen years, but there have been times when I did nothing on it for a few years at a time so to say I spent fifteen whole years working on it isn’t the case. My dad died in Feb of 2016 and until May of this year (2018) I didn’t research anything. I didn’t have the heart to research. I was in Arizona and had absolutely no family around me. I worked as many hours as work would allow me to and did homework when I was at home.
Your situation could be completely different from mine and maybe you want to research with no interruptions. That is completely OK and of course it won’t take you as long as me depending on your family dynamic. I am choosing to take longer at it because I view it as a hobby I enjoy.
I also do other things while I am researching such as visit cemeteries and take photos for sites like findagrave.com, I get obsessed with looking through old photos at my mom’s house and get her reminiscing about stories of yesteryear, I take trips to Michigan to visit graves and get information for my research, etc. I spend a lot of time tracking down my hundreds and hundreds of cousins and getting their information on children, birthdays, Facebook profiles, addresses, etc. I do not spend all of my time researching the ancestors, because what is it all about anyways? It is about the living. Discovering your family tree is about documenting your family history for future generations and leaving the legacy behind.
And of course there’s the “it’s not finished until you say it’s finished” reference. That is one my favorite lines from Stephen King’s Rose Red, which of course is fictional, but the point is that I don’t feel my family tree will ever be “completed.” A family tree is a living, breathing entity as I discussed in a previous article. A family tree is always evolving. Some branches are dying out as the people within it are aging and other branches are newly forming as new additions come to the family.
History In The Making
I’ve always heard that history happens all around us and that statement is so true. Every day is history in the making because that day can never be repeated. Researching your family history is about enjoying the time you have with your loved ones and documenting your family heritage for the living as a legacy to be handed down through the future generations to come.
If you are researching your family tree, you will understand what I am saying surely because it is addictive when you find those new clues and just cannot stop following them to wherever they lead. Some of you I have heard from have complete family histories back for centuries. Some of you may be considering starting your journey to finding your ancestors and I am here to help in whatever capacity I can.
Please leave any comments or questions below and if you loved this post, please feel free to share it using the social media icons below! Thank you so much for reading my post! I wish you the best with your genealogy research!