Thursday night was painful. At least it started out that way. You know that feeling of being brain-dead and tongue-tied while someone has just professed their undying confusion and their eyes are pleading with you to fix their problem, but all you want to say is, “You lost me at ‘Hello’”?
What do YOU do?
I smile and silently pray my guts out that we both don’t go careening over the embankment into the “She Has No Idea What She’s Doing” ditch. It works every time, as long as I keep asking questions. But not too many. That could be annoying. It’s a slippery slope.
Here’s what I learned. You are confused. Family history/genealogy can seem overwhelming, especially for us older folks who resisted technology until we couldn’t any more, and are in the process of rewiring the circuits in our brains- the ones that come with the newer models like my 10-year-old daughter who can see the same Facebook game that I see for the first time and knows immediately how to play it, whereas I feel like all of my clicking is going to make something REALLY bad happen.
Second thing I found out about myself? As good a listener and smiler as I might profess to be, I ain’t no mind reader! And I’m not on speaking terms with Alexander who “knows all”, or Zoltar , his brother, which I established in a previous post.
And neither is your computer. If you are going to enjoy genealogy and family history you have to know what you can find to help you on the Internet and what you can’t.
Not everything about a person’s life will be searchable on the WorldWideWeb (unless you blogged about it or added it to LegacyStories.org). I might be able to find out when someone came to America, but not when the tooth fairy collected her first installment of baby teeth from my 4th great grandfather. And that’s important to know!
It took about 10 minutes with each patron to get an idea of what they were seeing when they thought of genealogy so that I could give them a new picture, one that made sense and would never confuse them. Honestly, I felt like I was cutting new paths in the Amazon Rain Forest.
One had gaps in his ancestor’s lives that he wanted to fill with facts. Facts from documents. Facts from documents that may or may not be digitized or put on the Internet, yet. He had to figure out not only what his question was, like, “How can I find my great grandparents?”, or, “Did they own land in the 1800′s?”, but he also had to have a basic understanding of how to map a life and know what type of document would have the answers he was looking for.
I’ve said it before, but here goes again. Timelines. You can read and return. I’ll wait. Once he understood, his searching was a piece of cake. (Exaggeration!)
The other man was dealing with overwhelm. Well-meaning people had given him software that was taking too much of his time to figure out and was leaving him too tired to focus on what mattered to him.
While sitting and talking with him I felt a quiet desperation. When he walked in the door at the beginning of his session I heard him say, “I’m confused, overwhelmed, and disorganized.” Most of us, when faced with those feelings get in our figurative car and drive in the other direction. But he also said ,”I need help. I want to leave something for my children when I’m gone.”
THAT was the motivator. That was the goal. THAT was what I kept bringing him back to when I knew his brain was on overload. We agreed that he needed to simplify and focus on writing his ancestors’ stories sooner than later. And he had to remember to share his works-in-progress, whether it be a family tree or a story.
I showed him LegacyStories.org where he could create his own family tree website to share with family and friends NOW. He would have to learn how to upload a Gedcom file and I promised to help. I showed him my dad’s talking photo and explained how all of his could be scanned and shared, too. He agreed and was quite relieved to recommit to his main objective of being able to leave something behind that would matter to his family.
I was so happy for him. He’d reached out for some help and had actually helped me! It’s easy for me to get overwhelmed by people’s confusion and to forget that I’m pretty simple-minded…in a good way.
I’m so thrilled that I can’t read your mind, and I’m more than happy to declutter and refocus yours if you want!