about me
blog author
Meet the Author
I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.

Read These Posts First

Posts contain affiliate links. See my disclosures page for details.


Is Your Genealogy Knowledge "Fuzzy?"

Every so often I need a "refresher" on certain topics. You probably get the same kind of feeling. Do you listen to it? Do you answer?
Why I need a refresher varies. Sometimes I need a refresher on a topic I don't use a lot or don't know a lot about (such as researching a particular ethnic group or researching in a specific location).

Sometimes I need a refresher because I just feel like I've forgotten some important concept or part of a process. Sometimes I think I've forgotten something but sometimes my knowledge feels "fuzzy." I can't always tell which.
image of a book with glasses on it, half of image is out of focus, text overlay Is Your Genealogy Knowledge Fuzzy?

That's what happened this time. Had I forgotte some important detail? If I did, I really forgot it because nothing was surfacing to resolve the feeling I had.

The topic was research planning. I have to plan research all the time, but I felt as if I was overcomplicating the process. I had already pulled out all my at-home resources, but they weren't helping. What was I doing wrong?

Naturally, I chose to attend several lectures related to research planning while I was at the NGS Conference, recently. One particular lecture made me understand why I was having this feeling.

The lecture is "Developing a Successful and Efficient Research Plan" presented by Gail Jackson Miller. Unfortunately you can no longer purchase older recordings from NGS conferences (for topics like this, I really hate this. Conferences don't like to offer the same lectures repeatedly so you may not get a chance to hear this or a similar lecture. At least you have the lecture title and lecturer name).

How the Lecture Helped Me

What was so helpful for me was simply a different way of thinking about the research planning process. That is why the issue I was having was a "feeling." I knew the steps to a successful research plan; I hadn't even forgotten anything. In this case, my knowledge was just fuzzy.

"Developing a Successful and Efficient Research Plan"

What I liked about Ms. Miller's lecture was it looked at research planning from the view of the scientific method. In one way, what clicked for me was almost semantics. I'm comfortable with the scientific method, even though I'm not a scientist. Apparently this "scientific" approach is how my brain works.

This conference seemed to have a theme of a research goal or research question being called a hypothesis or stressing you should test a hypothesis for your goal/question. If semantics were my only issue, most of the lectures would have clicked for me, but Ms. Miller's lecture was the only one that clearly fit my way of thinking.

From Fuzzy to Focused

I won't go into a lot more detail about the lecture because it will be specific to me. I do want to try and give you an idea of what might be the indication that you need to find educational material that approaches a topic from a different way of thinking.

As I said, I knew all the steps for a successful research plan. I hadn't forgotten anything---which was a possibility. I've had this kind of "feeling" about topics before, and I had forgotten a small but crucial part.

"Developing a Successful and Efficient Research Plan" suddenly made everything I knew seem clear. A visual analogy would be a photo just out of focus, not so much as to be unrecognizable, just a bit fuzzy. When you haven't seen the perfectly focused picture, you might not realize there is a problem.

If there is a genealogy skill you "know" but are still struggling with, see if it is in-focus for you. First, make sure you really do know everything you should be doing for success. Sometimes it is a small issue you've forgotten.

If your knowledge is sound and complete, seek out more variety in educational materials. I find lectures are very helpful for this problem because hearing the "right" explanation for you usually allows a better understanding of written material. We all learn differently. You might prefer written educational material (I need to hear and read to learn best).

Maximizing Your Chance for Success

This particular lecture helped me but a different one might help you. How do you know?

It's beneficial to attend lectures, on closely related topics, presented by different lecturers. When you are new or newer to genealogy, this exposes you to the variety of ways you can do genealogy "right." It will also help you see what is consistent from presenter to presenter. Those are the things that are essential for success.

When I was less experienced (and this can also be less experienced with attending educational events, not just doing research), I learned so much from lectures that didn't exactly fit the way I think. I usually didn't know one method or another would be better for me. That was something I would learn later. In other words, at first, any education will be beneficial. It's only after you develop your style that some lectures will be more beneficial.

Continuing to educate yourself, even on topics where you "know" how to do something, like research planning, can make you more efficient and a better researcher. If you struggle to do something, you are less likely to do it. This can be keeping a research log, creating a research plan, taking good notes, writing a report, or any genealogical skill.

Your self-education needs to educate you about the "right" way to do genealogy, which is generic, and the "right" way to do a skill for you, which is very specific. Only doing one or the other can lead to problems.

It may be minor problems such as being inefficient (the task will be done and done correctly, just not efficiently) or it may be major, such as leaving out vital information (although you are very efficient with what you did).

Start out with education, then begin focusing your education to fit your needs and preferences. Your knowledge is just like a photo but you don't come with an autofocus setting. Your knowledge starts out as a blur and you focus it until you see all the details. 

Don't stop when you recognize the picture, remove all fuzziness. It'll take time, that's OK.

Go Beyond Lectures 

Lectures usually cannot be extremely in-depth so you may need to take your education to another level once you focus your understanding.

If hearing information is best for you, consider an institute in person or on-line. This will focus on a subject for multiple sessions (in person these are usually five days but on-line can vary). If reading is best for you, you can try a book or create your own in-depth education with a series of shorter works, each progressively more in-depth and covering specific topics.

Don't Cheat, Even Accidentally!

Once you find what works for you, it is much easier to perform mundane tasks every time you should. Make sure you aren't excluding an important part or step to make the task easier, though. You should be finding a method that works for you and still includes all the necessary information or steps.

If you take an inappropriate shortcut, you may not even know it is causing you problems.

RELATED POST: Three Genealogy Shortcuts That Aren't Cheats

Inappropriate shortcuts aren't always obvious cheats. You can't fix a problem you don't know you have so this is a big problem. It's a problem you can solve with education. In genealogy, problems caused by cheats often rear their heads later. If they were obvious and immediate, you wouldn't do it. You're only cheating yourself, after all.

You may have built your brick wall by trying to simplify something (taking a shortcut). Experience usually shows us where we went wrong but at that point, you have to go back and repeat work.

Luckily you can learn from the experience of other genealogists. We learn from others through education, whether lectures, articles, case studies, courses, etc. These are your only two options, education and experience. You need both but gaining an education is much faster than gaining experience. Don't accidentally cheat yourself by skimping on education.

If you're struggling to do a task, check and see if your knowledge is fuzzy. Make sure you know and remember what you should. If that doesn't focus your knowledge, look for a different explanation of the same information. By always continuing your genealogy education, you increase your chance for success.

Psst, there's an NGS Conference every year. Learn more about the upcoming NGS Conference where you can attend lectures all day for several days. Unlike RootsTech, the NGS Conference moves locations giving you a chance to find one you can travel to. There are also virtual options.

Is Your Genealogy Knowledge "Fuzzy"
Is Your Genealogy Knowledge "Fuzzy"