Don’t you get tired of that look? That glazed-over look? That blank stare? You know, the look you get when, in response to a family history question from a family member, you start explaining in great detail how you were able to find that small (And I mean, small.) village in what is now Poland, but once was a part of the Prussian Empire, where your great-grandfather was born.
And what I have to say next is going to shock and even dismay you. So sit down and get comfortable before reading any further. Ready?
- They could care less about how you successfully – after years and years of searching and pulling your hair out – found the name of that small (And I mean, small.) village in Poland that your great-grandfather was born in.
- They don’t care that your great-grandfather no doubt repeated several times for the clerk the name of that small (And I mean, small.) village so that the clerk could phonetically spell it on his declaration of intent to become a citizen of the United States.
- They don’t care that you spent days and days closing your eyes and sounding out the name of the small (I mean, small.) village trying to come up with possible spellings.
- They don’t care that you spent days and days Googling those silly spellings.
- They don’t care that you stared at his passport application and that blob of ink, that should have correctly identified that small (I mean, small.) village, did not once morph into perfectly shaped letters.
- They don’t care that you went through all the towns and cities that begin with the letter “G” listed in an index of a current European atlas hoping you can find one that sounds like the one phonetically spelled out on his declaration of intent.
- They don’t care that there are, like, a gazillion towns and cities in that index that start with the letter “G” or that you are practically blind now because of how small the type is in that index.
- They don’t care that you have spent countless hours poring over old maps online and offline looking for that small (I mean, small.) village.
- They don’t care that you bought a subscription to an historic map site so you could find that small (I mean, small.) village.
- They don’t care that you absolutely must have the name of that small (I mean, small.) village in order to go back any further.
- They don’t care that you queried on Twitter with a Twit Pic a Photoshop-enhanced copy of his passport application hoping that someone could see what you had not.
- They don’t care that you only received 2 responses, one of which was a good-hearted person from Germany who was unsuccessful at identifying that small (And I mean, small.) village.
- They don’t care that the second response led you to a site that led you to another site that had a database that allowed wild card searching of names of current and former cities and villages of the former Prussia and what is now Poland, where that small (And I mean, small) village was found.
- They don’t care that that village is so small (And I mean, small.) it probably only exists today because it’s an archaeological site.
Basically? They don’t care about all those details. And let’s face it. We do what we do because we love those details. We don’t just live in those details. We revel in them. For us, the difference between generations is in the details. The difference between failure and success is in those details.
And our loved ones? What do they care about? I’ll tell you what they care about.
- They care whether this same great-grandfather’s son, Big Paw Paw, fathered any other children with his many mistresses and/or wives.
- They want to know the details of Big Paw Paw’s will, and why he wrote it the way he did.
- They want to know why, if she’s still living, you haven’t contacted Big Paw Paw’s last mistress. (Awkward, much?)
- They want to see Big Paw Paw’s photos, and, wow, wasn’t he good looking?
- They want to know every last detail about each of Big Paw Paw’s divorces.
- They want to know why Big Paw Paw sued his sister.
- They want to know why Big Paw Paw was kicked out of his family.
- They want to know why Big Paw Paw was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
That’s right. While you’ve been carefully crafting research work that would (in your dreams) be worthy of The History Channel, your loved ones just want to know how the family compares to an episode of Jersey Shore.
So what to do? Don’t force the details on your family. [Yes. Give them ‘Snooki’ and ‘The Situation.’] Give them what they want in the format they’ll appreciate. Give them the stories, the photos, and give them a chance to add to all of that in a way they can understand. By engaging family members in a non-technical way, you’re more likely to get their input, their stories, their rumors, their secrets, and – dare I say – their details that may be just what you need to find the parish your great-grandfather was more than likely baptized in near that small (And I mean, small) village ~ all without that glazed-over look in their eyes.
Are you going to the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference (FGS2011) next week in Springfield, IL? Join 1000memories.com Thursday morning, Sept. 8th at their Engaging Your Family in Genealogy breakfast panel. I’ll be in attendance, but if that doesn’t do it for you [grin], D. Joshua Taylor (Co-chair 2011 FGS Conference), Dear Myrtle (Pat Richley), and Jonathan Good (Co-founder 1000memories) will be on the panel. Space is limited and you must RSVP. For more information please visit the 1000memories.com blog.