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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Frustrations in Communications
by Rhonda R. McClure

September 02, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

We live in a world where we can communicate in many ways: e-mail, telephone, letter, even face-to-face. And sometimes when the other person doesn't understand what we are saying, we get extremely frustrated. That frustration only serves to make it harder for us to listen to the other person and understand what they are saying. Unfortunately when trying to solve a genealogy problem, such frustrations can only cause more harm.

I have seen frustrations with software programs cause a person to be unable to listen to the suggestions being made to help them with their problem. There are times that computers somehow don't seem to be our friends after all. While I can completely understand where the frustration comes from, it is important that we do not misdirect it to the very people who are trying to help us.

Letting our own frustrations get the best of us can interfere with our genealogy.

They Are Trying to Be of Help

Perhaps not surprising, tech support people get the brunt of our frustrations. We usually don't call them until we have reached the end of our rope. And by that time, we have searched the manual, searched the online help and tried ten different ways to solve the problem ourselves. And when none of that works we begin to succumb to our frustrations. I know that for me, the frustration that comes is directed not at the program, but at my inability to solve the problem. Of course, like everyone else, I tend to take it out on the tech support person who is supposed to be helping me.

Because we are feeling so angry and bewildered, we actually make the tech support job more difficult. We sometimes don't know the right question to ask. In our mind we are trying to enter an event, and because we are not vocalizing it well enough, the tech support person is hearing something totally different.

The next time you have to call tech support, take that deep breath before you deal with them. Remember that they really do want to help you, but they are limited by what you can and do tell them. If you do not describe the error correctly they cannot follow where you are trying to take them. And that vicious circle progresses when they cannot lead you back out again. Try to be calm when you contact them and don't get upset when they ask you questions. It is the only way they can be of help to you.

Don't Abuse the Volunteers

If you go to very many genealogy libraries you are likely to be getting some help from volunteers. Nowhere is this more true than at your local Family History Center. Those who staff the centers are generally called to their position from within the LDS (Mormon) church. While a few of them had a previous interest in genealogy, many of them are taking up the challenge of their new calling because of their devotion to their religion.

These people are trained in the holdings of the local center, and in how to handle such things as ordering microfilm. However, they may or may not be on the same par as you in regards to genealogical knowledge. This can cause frustrations in a place where you least expected to find it.

There are often times when different words have different meanings and it can directly affect the help you get from staff members of the local Family History Center. Sometimes a word you are using is misunderstood. Other times you misunderstand what the staff person is suggesting.

An example of this was presented to me this last week. A woman came to the Center to use one of the computers. Unfortunately they were all full. She went home in disgust when she couldn't get on them. She returned the next week and had to wait an hour. During that hour she claims to have wasted time by having been directed to fiche that the staff member thought would be useful.

The misunderstanding arose when the patron mentioned parish records. She was working in Louisiana which does not use the term counties for its middle division. The staff member misunderstood and suggested church parish records.

Stoke that Fire

Perhaps I should not have been surprised when this patron returned this week. Her frustration fire had been stoked and she was back for blood. The unfortunate part of this story is that she was so frustrated at her next visit that no matter what was suggested for alternative records, she was combative about the suggestion.

I felt bad when I realized that we couldn't communicate with this woman. She left even more frustrated. I do hope that she will be able to calm down and perhaps do the research she was trying to do this week.

In Conclusion

So, the next time you want some information, don't let frustration get the better of you. Should you get frustrated, then shelve the research or walk away from the computer for a little while. It won't fix the problem, but it might help to calm you down. And when talking with tech support people or working on an elusive ancestor, the more clear headed you are, the better your chances of getting an answer that can truly be of help.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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