Why You Might Be Failing At Your Genealogy Research


No this article isn’t about brick walls – it is about present day BAD HABITS!

Please bear with me as I talk about the “old days.” In business when I started about 50 years ago, we communicated via meetings, phone calls and typewritten memos. It is important to know that in a memo, one discussed in detail possibly 5 or 6 “bullet points” about one entire subject.  If you received a memo that required a response, you answered every single bullet point in your response.

Today we have email, Twitter and texting by phone.  People have become used to short bursts of information and having to deal with only one bullet point or question at a time.

This actually came to light today as I reflected on several people, who when receiving an email from me – invariably only responded to the first paragraph.  So if there were multiple requests, they almost always didn’t read or ignored the rest of the email.

We have developed bad habits because we almost always deal with these short bursts of information or one question at a time. And that is because of the tools that we use currently. That is a trap.

So you ask – what the hell does this have to do with genealogy?

A lot. Because we have trained ourselves to deal with just one piece of information and because a lot of our research is online – we tend to gather one piece of data about our ancestors and then move on to someone or something else. And of course, we are multi-tasking way too much.

This creates lousy research habits and makes us miss what is the one of the core elements of the Genealogy Proof Standard. That is – a reasonably exhaustive search. Gathering one record does not make for an exhaustive search.

So this is a warning – do not let today’s easy to use tools change how you research, or your mindset. You must concentrate, read everything in a record, and focus. That is hard to do when bombarded with emails, tweets and texts. Not to mention that we are losing the ability to deal with details in a reasoned and thorough manner.

Don’t let “it takes too much time” foil your research.


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  1. Kenneth, thankyou for this post. It is something that I have seen happening too,

  2. Wow – this is one of my pet peeves when it comes to others’ responses to me – now I need to take a look at my genealogy research practices, and make sure the shoe doesn’t fit…

  3. Great article- and yes I am guilty sometimes. I think having so much technology at our fingertips can be both a blessing and a curse. says:
  4. Hmm. All right, guilty as charged. I have often gotten caught up in the race for names and dates, without taking the time to review, catalog, synthesize… And the worst part is, I know better. I’ve found some awesome stories by searching beyond basic vital statistic.
    Thanks for the swift kick in the rear! Most of us need it now and again!

  5. I agree with everything you shared. Recently I was going through some “old” letters. I remember reading the letter but, was surprised that I had only used part of the details in my research.
    When I first read the letter I didn’t understand all the information before me. Going back a year later I know understand! I had fresh new information to help me go in another direction.

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