Saturday, June 2, 2012

3 Side Benefits of Being a Genealogist

Being a genealogist is great fun but we benefit from it beyond the realm of genealogy. There are at least three ways that genealogy improves our non-genealogy life.

1) Patience

Being a genealogist makes me more patient.Nearly everything I have researched has happened in the past. There is no urgent need for immediacy (though sometimes we would like it). The two things that taught me patience in genealogy were surname boards and requesting information.

I can post a query to a surname board and then walk away. It may be answered in a week or in five years. I'm in no rush. My main goal is that somebody, someday will see it and answer it. Likewise for information requests. Genealogy has taught me not to get my hopes up when writing to a cemetery for information about my ancestors. They may get back to me in a month or in a year. I simply mail the letter and forget about it (with a note in the log, of course). When it arrives it's a pleasant surprise that I had probably forgotten about.

2) Friends of All Ages

The funny thing about being a genealogist is that you are more interested in what people know and can share than you are about how old they are. In a kind of funny way being a genealogist has made me oblivious to age. My friends range in ages from the 20s to the 80s. And these are genuine friends. Most of them I can't tell you how old they are. I've just stopped bothering to even wonder. One of my friends in 86. We try to meet for coffee several times a month. She makes me appreciate life, her example teaches me how to grow older with grace and she makes me laugh. I feel the tension from the normal work day slip away during that one hour. 

3) We Can Find Anything

Our fine-tuned research skills are good for much more than historical research.  Need to find that long lost high school friend that you haven't spoken to in 25 years? Ask a genealogist! They'll likely find him quicker than anyone.

At Christmas-time when I'm stuck with a friend or family member without a current address - no problem! I check the local registry of deeds for where they are supposed to live and get the address there.  How many regular people know to do that?!!

Most non-genealogists are unaware of how much information is freely and publicly available on the internet.  Having the skills to find the information we need for everyday life makes the daily grind so much easier.

I'm sure you must have some other side benefits of your own. What's on your list?

Photo credit: Photo by jfleischmann and used under the creative commons license


  1. Very well put, Marian! I love the dynamics of genealogy research, too. Considering what you mentioned about the surname boards, I find genealogy much like I see investing: you must see your work, at times, as salting away little deposits in reasonable places. It is also like growing living things: we plant, someone else may water, and eventually we will get to reap that increase.

  2. So true. We can be proud we have the advantage over most people just in our personal lives.

  3. On my list of side benefits:

    1. Extracting Pertinent Information

    Slogging my way through a lot of records (both directly related to my ancestors as well as historical records indirectly related) have made me very good at extracting pertinent information from among all the rest of the information. A skill that's very timesaving in my day-job.

    2. Citing Sources (So You Can Find Things Again)

    Citing my sources is not something I learned by doing genealogy, but it became a habit due to genealogy. Find a recipe I like - write down the site/book it came from; find a good bit of information on - write down where you saw it. It's probably saved me tons of time over the years.

    3. Asking For Help

    The great genealogy community and the general nice-ness of genealogists (internet-based and real-life) have made it easy for me to ask for help. Considering I'm fairly shy, that's a great accomplishment for me, and something that I find easier to do in non-genealogy situations now as well.

    And of course what you said is true as well :D.

  4. Genealogy teaches us the past, while we are in the present to protect the future.
    History always repeats itself, it's getting others to listen & learn what you know so the same mistakes are not made again..

  5. I enjoy the ability to answer questions/problem solve for my family. My uncle was thrilled when I was able to find the military enrollment information he needed for a VA benefit. My father was able to update his French pension forms after I showed him how to use Google Translate. They always seem stunned when I explain or fix. No clue at all what I actually do.

  6. Great post Marian! Yes, I've had to learn the patience thing: waiting for the vital record to come in the mail, waiting for the microfilm to come to the FHC, etc. And I too have had success with those message boards. It's one of the topics I have mentioned while teaching my Family History class.

    Another benefit of being a genealogist is that we can teach our children about our ancestors' lives, thus fostering an appreciation for them.

  7. #1: Patience patience patience... we definitely learn that in genealogy research! #2: Deciding what is and is not important. And #3: we also learn HOW to search and research in many many venues.
    I like Jana Last's comment that we can also teach our children about our ancestors' lives - I do "Ancestor Birthday Alerts" for our direct ancestors, on Facebook, for my very-adult kids, cousins, and other interested parties. I add in whatever details I can do in a quick summary, plus include a link to a place, map, book, or other interesting item online for them to see.
    Great post, Marian - thanks for making me think today while I'm listening to Tosca on the radio!

  8. Friends of All Ages, how true. I have always had friends of all ages but I tend to notice ages even less than I use to. When I find out the ages of some of my genealogy friends I am surprised. Patience, a definite. How many things would you be willing to search years for and not give up. In addition it has taught me persistence which goes along with patience. We can find anything, well who else can find a female who has remarried without knowing her married name. Thanks for another great blog post.

  9. Excellent post! I'm always amazed to receive emails from surname boards saying someone responded to one of my posts. But perhaps more special are the ones that stumble upon my blog posts of ancestors and send me an email.

    People always call me a 'hacker' for my computer snooping skills. Thanks to you, I now have something to say back to them. "Nope, just a genealogist!"

  10. I love it! Add to it: appreciating life's little details. I love hearing about the jobs and beliefs of others and how they spend their daily lives because it's those pieces that I truly hunt for in my ancestors. Great post, Marian!

  11. I agree with all three of your observations, Marian. Friends of all ages is a particularly nice benefit of being a genealogist, I think.

    Another one I would add is a general embracing of family members, no matter what their quirks or even how ordinary their lives seemed on the surface. I used to think my family was the only one with little oddities, but the more I learn, the more I realize every family has them. And even though generation after generation of my ancestors were "just farmers," I can really appreciate their contributions to their communities. So in addition to the other things, I think genealogy makes us more accepting as well.

  12. Thanks so much for mentioning the Massachusetts deed registry, I had never encountered that before and they have so much available! After just a quick search it has proved a treasure-trove for my Massachusetts research. Thanks again.

  13. Marian, not only did I enjoy your 3 side effects, but also loved the comments that you generated. You touched a nerve within your followers. Thanks.