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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: What Happened to the Fun?
by Rhonda R. McClure

September 06, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

A hobby is fun, right? After all, a hobby is what we do to take us away from those day-to-day worries and pressures we have with our jobs. A hobby is supposed to help us to relax and recoup.

Genealogy is a hobby for most of us. Even though I am a professional genealogist, researching my own family history is still a hobby. And while I would never admit it to my husband, even those aspects of genealogy that I do professionally are fun. At least they are most of the time.

Genealogy is supposed to be fun.

An End to the Tunnel?

There is a saying "I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I just hope it isn't an oncoming train." This is how we feel sometimes when we are mired in a particularly difficult search. We are still too far away from the end of the tunnel to tell if that is indeed light from the outside world or an oncoming train.

One of the most frustrating aspects of this hobby is the dreaded brick wall. So often we find that we have worked hard on a line for two or three years only to discover that we appear to be no further along with the research at the end of that time than at the beginning.

In reality that is not quite true. Even though we may not have been able to take the family back another generation, our research was certainly successful in expanding the amount of information known about a family. The research may have found the spouses for all of the children. Records may have revealed the various land transactions for the patriarch of that family. Of course, we are all hoping to find out where he came from by viewing all of those land records, but perhaps that didn't happen.

Back to the Tunnel

As genealogists, we often develop tunnel vision. Sometimes it forces us to exclude records or resources that might actually be of use, thus prolonging our agony. Other times it hinders our research by causing us to berate a line that we should really set aside for a little while.

I think that most of you will agree that, eventually, banging your head against a brick wall becomes nothing but painful and there is no fun in pain. It's these moments when we forget that genealogy is fun. During times like that, we somehow refuse to allow ourselves the opportunity to work on another line. We have determined that we will crack that line, even if it kills us. Some where along the way we lost our perspective on the hobby.

Setting aside a line for a while is not admitting defeat. So often as new records are made available or we see changes in technology, a new research approach will come along. The key is to be able to say to yourself that you are going to set aside a line when you have exhausted all avenues presently available.

Did You Set Yourself Up?

Disappointment is another thing that often overshadows our thrill of the search. In the online world, disappointment is often more prevalent. After all, we have all heard the media hype — you can find everything, or in our case everyone, online. This, as most of you have probably discovered, is not always the case.

Usually there are pockets, time periods or locality that will be more fruitful than others. For example, going online and typing my father's or mother's name will end ing disappointment. This, by the way, makes my mother happy as she is big on the privacy issue right now. However, going online and typing in the name of my great-great-great-grandfather supplies me with hits in Web pages and in databases.

In Conclusion

Remember that your hobby should be fun. You should draw enjoyment and excitement from it. It should not be painful. If it is, look at what you have been doing and elect to make a change. Put aside that line for awhile or go back to a research project that you find enticing or intriguing. Get that thrill of research back and then return again to the brick wall. With a change in attitude you may find that you begin to make progress on that line, or that you at least take pride in fleshing out the family a little more even if you don't manage to find a new generation. With the passage of time you may find that new records will be made more readily available, and your next pass at that line will be much easier.

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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