Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

big-prizeNeed some help with your genealogy?  Need direction? Need encouragement? Keep your eyes on the prize.

Alice Wine of Johns Island, South Carolina is credited with these words from the early days of the civil rights movement.  Various versions were sung in the battle for equal rights. Inspired by an earlier spiritual song entitled Gospel Plow, the words remind us that no matter how difficult things become, we must keep our eyes on the prize. Remember where you’re going, what you’re trying to accomplish. Refuse to allow problems to keep you from obtaining the prize.

I’m hesitant to use this phrase in the discussion of genealogy because of its origin. I don’t wish to lessen the struggle for civil rights in any way but I view the principle as almost universal in accomplishing anything with or without significance. If you want to get something done, obtain a goal, you must keep your eyes on the prize.

The family historian knows this struggle.

The Prize  

What’s the prize in your genealogy research? You tell me.  Why did you first get into genealogy? What are you trying to accomplish now?  Are your eyes fixed resolutely on your prize?

I was late to hunt. But I wanted to know about my father’s family because I knew so little. I needed to, as TV’s NCIS New Orleans character Dwayne Pride says, “learn things”. I now have a partial timeline for my Roberts family covering over 200 years. I have hundreds of pages of documents related to my direct line and have written several blogs about this family. I also have an equal amount of information, if not more, on my mother’s Byrd family. So, why has my research slowed to a crawl?

  • Life.  Like you, I’m busy, perhaps as busy as I’ve ever been. I’m near the end of my life’s journey and there are things I want to do, including but not limited to family research. There are, believe it or not, some things more important than genealogy.
  • Loss of focus. The reality is my family history research suffers more from a loss of focus than my busyness. I may not do as much when I’m busy with other things, but I can do some.  If I don’t, it’s probably a loss of focus.  I’ll explain more.
  • Laziness. I’m not typically a lazy person. Most of my life, however, I’ve worked more with my mind than with my hands. Watching others work so well and diligently with their hands often makes me feel lazy. In my research, I can see laziness creep in when I lose focus or things become difficult.  Laziness may also show itself in the constant clicking of internet links, chasing the “shiny objects” of genealogy, or building our family trees on the research of others without gaining the genealogical proof.

When I began

When I began, I wanted to know about my dad’s family. That was my prize. Having learned so many wonderful and at times fascinating things, I wanted to share these facts with my family and preserve their legacy for my children and grandchildren. This became my prize. It fueled the energy to begin this blog. It inspired me to take my grandchildren on family history trips. It’s the reason I may pause but can’t quit this “hobby” of family research.

Backtracking my family and leaving their stories for my children and grandchildren is still the prize on which I must keep my eyes in my genealogical research.

In my research, I discovered many stories to tell. It’s important to document these stories. What are the sources for the facts behind the story? Can others read my research and come to the same conclusions? What good is a legacy without proof? A tale? A myth?

Little Prizes

This brings me to the little prizes I must pursue to obtain my big prize. Think of it this way. If my big prize is well documented and written stories about my family left for my children and grandchildren, I need to pursue a series of smaller prizes along the way to obtain my big prize. Big prizes cannot be gained without taking many smaller steps. As I write these words, I’m reminded how many times I’ve read and heard versions of this same advice. Experienced genealogists and longtime family historians have written and shared these thoughts long before I began my sporadic research in 2012. I should apply their experience and pursue the little prizes which help me reach my big prize and document it all as I go.  Think about your own research.

  1. Have a goal. Have a goal before you boot up your computer or get in your car to go to a library or research facility. Discover and document ____________. What do you want to do? What are you trying to learn that will help you accomplish the “big prize”? the Familysearch Wiki page has an excellent article entitled “Principle of Family History Research”.  Click the title and give it a careful read. Learn more here and here.
  2. Develop a research plan to reach the goal you desire.  Amy Johnson Crow recently blogged on this subject. Other resources may be found here, here and here.
  3. Follow the Genealogical Proof Standards. If you don’t know what this is, please take time to click and read. This is the best way to create certainty about the stories we wish to pass to future generations.
  4. Write it all down.  Every fact I find will not make it into this blog but I need it recorded, documented, saved and backed up in at least two places for future generations to use

I may not always have something to say to the genealogical community at large but I’ll always have something to say to my grandchildren. I need to keep my eyes on this prize. One goal after another (small prizes) to reach one big prize. Perhaps as I do and write some of it down here, you’ll find something useful or entertaining in your own research.

Keep your eyes on your prize.

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