I think I have Genealogy Attention Disorder and it is not my fault. There are others to blame.

I blame my family.

Many of my ancestral families lived in the same rural areas for generations. This increases the chance that I’m related by blood or by marriage to a significant proportion of the local population. It is common to search for one family in a record series and recognize another ancestral family name in that same record. And then there are always the last names of people who used to “live up the road.” Who can’t resist looking at that other document? Next thing I know it’s three hours later.

I blame FANs.

One of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ key research suggestions is the FAN approach (documenting the friends, associates, and neighbors of your ancestor in order to learn more about your ancestor).  It’s a sound method (which I used for years before I ever heard it called “FAN”) and can help when records on the ancestor in question are inconclusive or lacking in sufficient detail. The problem is that this method requires the research to expand to even more people. And more names means more distraction.

I blame the Internet.

I no longer have to wait for things to arrive in the mail. I can get a number of materials and documents without ever leaving my home–the moment I think of looking for them. It’s possible to spend hours searching on Google, GoogleBooksHathitrust, Archive.org, etc. looking for materials, digital books, etc.

I blame needing to learn about context.

Fully understanding records requires knowing about the legal, social, and cultural environment in which they were created. More details to confuse and distract me. Reading old state statute books is advised to get a partial understanding of laws and ages of consent, but then I see the page on the bounties paid for wolf scalps and I’m diverted for another hour.

I blame the need for reasonably exhaustive searches.

The Genealogy Proof Standard requires that a reasonably exhaustive search be conducted before a conclusion is reached. If a reasonably exhaustive search is good, it stands to reason that a totally and completely exhaustive search is better. That means even more items to distract me and cause me to lose my focus.

Genealogists are, by their nature, inquisitive. That’s a good thing. The problem that reasonably researching an ancestor who died in Amherst County, Virginia, in 1820 probably should not morph into researching his great-great-grandson who died in the San Francisco Earthquake.


Take advantage of those reasons your have Genealogy Attention Disorder. Just try and keep your focus.





15 Responses

  1. Let’s face it… following ‘rabbit trails’ is fun! 🙂 And, I would totally be finding more information about the earthquake. Who can resist?

  2. I guess I’m too curious about all the neighbors! It’s amazing how the families in a small community are all related to each other. You learn not to say anything bad for the fear of offending someone’s relatives!

    • I work with a lady from another small town who went to school with my cousin. She married a man from another small town where my ancesters on the other side of the family lived and my grandad’s father married the “hired girl of her husband’s grand parens

  3. Rabbit trails… so many of them! What interesting trails they have become. Tracing the stories of 22 orphans and British Home Children staring with my father, linking them to the wealthy 2x great grandparents who funded the orphanage they came through, and tracing back to a common ancestor of the Royal Family of Britain!

    So many stories to trace, but the connecting generations of my parents and grandparents are proving to be the most interesting.

  4. I don’t know where I found this quote but your article reminded me: “If you are lucky enough to be a genealogist, you are lucky enough.” – Ruth Padilla

  5. Love it! So many of us who started years ago are now realizing how inconsistent or lacking our source citing was. Going back and validating all those “facts” has made for some exhaustive searches itself, without even starting on the new people!! 🙂

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