2013 Goals for Writing My Family History, Part 1

2013 Goals for Writing My Family History, Part 1

New Year’s resolutions can set you up to fail if they’re too numerous and too vague. I’ve learned to go for simple and specific. One year my only resolution was to floss every day. I could — and did — stick to that.

This year, I’m working on a large, unwieldy project that doesn’t have any structure except the one I decide to impose on it:  writing my family history.  Since January is the designated month for making life changes, I thought I would take advantage of the tradition to try to tame this major time eater, even though this process can be neither simple nor specific. Hmmm. Maybe with a linguistic shift…. The word “resolutions” has all those must-do, jaw-jutting connotations. “Goals” seems more forgiving.

Postcards from 1915, Wikimedia Commons

Postcards from 1915, Wikimedia Commons

At the same time, making my goals public adds accountability — not to mention potential guilt and shame.

Okay, here goes.

1. Try not to meander too much.

My overarching idea is to re-create the everyday lives of the members of the Kornmehl family who lived in Vienna from the 1870s until 1938. In addition to identifying all the players, this includes finding out where they lived and worked in relation to each other as well as creating a historical context. What did it mean to be a butcher in Viennese society? A cafe owner? A doctor? A Jew? Since one of my great uncles had a shop for 44 years in the same building where Sigmund Freud lived and worked — and since my mother claimed one of her cousins was sent to see Dr. Freud — I’d like to find out about any interactions of various Kornmehls with the father of psychoanalysis.

To that end…discussing whether Freud had a sense of humor and therefore might have schmoozed with members of my family: Relevant. Posting information about bands with Freud in their name…maybe not so much.

2. Go back and document everything.

In the throes of my excitement about this new project, I gathered information and took notes, saving things in email and Word files. But I didn’t do what every beginning genealogist needs to do: Download genealogy software to organize and document the information. I have rationalized this omission by saying that I need to move ahead and that my notes and the information from my various sources are trustworthy.

But that doesn’t mean they are mistake-free.

If I duplicate the labor of others who sent information to me without vital record references, that’s a small price to pay, especially at this early stage, for laying a solid foundation for the future. Trust but verify.

3. Go with the flow.

This would seem to contradict #1 and #2 but these goals are not mutually exclusive. I started this blog so I could figure out what kind of book I wanted to write. Why defeat that purpose by being too restrictive?  I have been getting stories about non-Viennese Kornmehls from other sources — especially the tireless Jill Leibman Kornmehl — which have not only been fascinating in and of themselves, but have also ended up yielding vital information about family in Vienna.

And yesterday I came across a piece about the Los Angeles version of Freud’s Last Session that compared the way the play, an imagined dialogue between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, was received in different parts of the country. The critic wrote: “In New York…Freud was the main draw initially. That was perhaps unsurprising: of the men, Freud is the more powerful brand.”

If I am going to write a book with the name Freud in the title, then perhaps it is important to keep up with “brand” research — which includes tracking bands with the name Freud in them.

4. Go to Vienna.
Frankie says, "You're leaving me behind? Seriously?"

Frankie says, “You’re leaving me behind? Seriously?”

This is an obvious goal for anyone researching family in Vienna, but it’s a bit complicated and not only because of finances. I have a geriatric, diabetic dog who is getting dotty (technically, it’s called canine cognitive dysfunction). Being shy, Frankie was never a candidate for a kennel, even in his prime, and he is very attached to me, and only me. So even though I have a great pet sitter who stays in the house with him and gives him his insulin shots, he is depressed the entire time I am away. And a trip from Tucson to Vienna can’t be a brief jaunt.

This doesn’t mean I won’t go to Vienna, just that I will agonize over it and feel guilty before I leave.

5. Write shorter posts.

When I complained to my friend Karyn about the time I spend on my blog, she said, “Why don’t you write shorter posts, or break them up.”  I try, but I end up getting carried away and writing series of long posts.

I’m going to prove to her — and to myself — that I can do it.

To be continued…

In the meantime, I’d be very interested to know: What are your goals for family history — and other writing and research — projects? Maybe I can steal adopt them.

30 Responses to 2013 Goals for Writing My Family History, Part 1

  1. Tara Cajacob says:

    Best of luck to you!! I struggle with writing shorter blog posts too. I also really like your goal to not meander too much.

    My goal is to begin work a book I have been contemplating for eons in 2013! I am planning to write a historical fiction revolving around real characters and real events, every time I set pen to paper I find myself too petrified to get a good start. There are a million reasons, all excuses, really. There is something solid and comforting about writing non-fiction, which is where my strength is. What has happened to those people already, unquestionably, unalterably happened; whereas, in fiction, the writer makes the determination as to what happens and doesn’t happen and how the character reacts to those events.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Good luck, Tara! I feel exactly as you do about fiction vs. nonfiction. People often ask me why I don’t use my family stories and write a novel, but I’ve never felt comfortable with fiction. Who knows — it may come to that for me too. Good for you for going out of your comfort zone. Please keep me posted on your progress.

  2. Leo says:

    Remember a certain accountability project? Thrilled to see you make plans for a whole year: you did find your cause and passion in this project. And going to Vienna is so exciting to think about what you will find out of. Frankie, I am sure, will agree for old guilt-free-zone sake. Btw. loved to see a peek of super dog Frankie again :)

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Ah yes, I do seem to feel the need for public accountability, don’t I? And thank you for reminding me that Frankie is part of a guilt-free zone. Somehow I haven’t managed to construct one for this blog… I guess guilt is part of the Jewish territory!

      Glad you enjoyed seeing Frankie again. I couldn’t write about leaving town without mentioning him.

  3. Ann Hinds says:

    I didn’t make resolutions either. I’m like everyone else and scattered through several families. I spent last year finding my husband’s missing siblings. His biological mother had 13 children and gave them all away. We found seven and I wrote a small book for the family. The book wasn’t great but trying to cover all the years and the cast of characters was difficult. I’m still looking for the rest of the siblings but really want to go back to my family this year. I need to pull records and add to my documentation. I would like to write my family as a historical fiction but non-fiction is so much easier. I completely understand Tara’s reluctance.

    Frankie may not understand your being away. When you have “pets”, planning trips has to revolve around what is best for them and you. Our dog gets depressed when we leave her and stops eating but sometimes, we have to put our needs above hers. However, they love us unconditionally and forgive. Wish that could be said about people.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Now there’s a topic for speculation and — maybe — your next book: A psychological study of your husband’s biological mother! Amazing that she continued bearing and giving away children.

      I will be interested to hear if you too take the plunge and go into historical fiction, like Tara. Maybe you will both inspire me!

      Ah, Frankie is the subject of endless speculation in my former blog, Will My Dog Hate Me. Among other things, he hates to travel! Otherwise I would consider taking him with me and staying in Vienna for a longer period. But yes, he will forgive me. And yes, that’s not true of a lot of people…

      Thanks for coming by!

  4. Judy Burns says:

    When I read that you wanted to write a family history I was reminded that my daughter gave me a “Journaling Jar” a few years ago. She filled a jar with strips of paper with different topics that I was to read and respond to in a journal she provided. However, when I read about your project, I thought that some of those “strips” might be applied to our family histories. “Describe a typical school day in elementary school” “What do you feel was the most significant world event in your lifetime?” “Were there any events, world or local, that changed your life directly?” Of course, some of the strips become personal, such as, how did you feel about your placement in your family – youngest, middle, oldest child? I just realized that many of these topics could be applied to a family history. I have purchased speech recognition software to use with this “Journaling Jar” with the thought that I will be more likely to follow thru on the project.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      I’ve never heard of a “Journaling Jar” — what a wonderful idea, and how nice that your daughter thought to provide you with one. It would definitely be a great tool for a family history. And getting speech recognition software is a great idea on your part; that way you can record random thoughts and memories as they come to you without having to set aside a formal time to write.

      Thanks for sharing this.

      • Judy Burns says:

        She is a scrapbooker and I imagine you could find the “Journaling Jar” on-line. I’m glad you liked the idea.

  5. Clare says:

    Looking at the first line of Goal #1 I could see that the idea of abandoning meandering just wasn’t right for you. After all, your psychological slip-of-finger caused you to say that your “overaching” idea was to…. If it aches to put on blinders, go on and meander. Your readers love your meanderings!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Busted! How funny… [I just made the correction — thank you]
      And I’m sure I’ll keep meandering. Focusing just seemed like a good idea.

  6. jill kornmehl says:

    It is exciting to share your journeys with you, some have taken you off the path, but all have been worthwhile jaunts into your family history. Once in a while take that detour and meander just a bit with your readers. Go ahead and spend the time writing and documenting, checking and shortening your posts. Vienna will always be there. And so will your readers…

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      You know what they say about the journey being more important than the destination. I’m finding that’s true. I enjoy getting off the beaten path and your research has taken me on some very interesting detours.

  7. Awwe, there’s our little Frankie! Traveling without your pets is always an issue. We have an opportunity to go to Baku, Azerbaijan this summer and I don’t know if it’s going to work out because we have the same issues with our dogs. I guess it’s a matter of weighing how much we want to go with how guilty we’re going to feel and basing our decision on that. The good part is that dogs have short memories, I guess.
    Amy@GoPetFriendly recently posted..I’m Not Dead – Pet Travel Blog On BreakMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      That sounds like an amazing opportunity, Amy. And dogs do have short memories — especially ones with canine cognitive dysfunction (sorry, Frankie).

  8. I loved your comment about keeping one resolution for a whole year: flossing. I suspect that discipline held influence in other areas

  9. Pup Fan says:

    To be continued, huh? Love it.

    I think that’s a lesson I need to take to heart as well – I tend to go on… and on… and I never think to break the posts up into a series. :)

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      This was not easy to do. I had to force myself to stop. I’ve written other series but the posts in them tend to be long; there were just more of them!

  10. Traveling to Vienna will be fun and if you stay for two weeks, that’s not too long for Frankie. Right? Pet Mr. Frankileh for me :D
    Karen Friesecke recently posted..That’s Damn Interesting! Lovely Links 01-10-2013My Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      I hope not; I don’t think I’ve ever been away longer than a week, but he’ll probably forgive me. Consider Mr. Frankileh petted from you.

  11. […] Part 1 of my 2013 Goals series — can a series have only two parts? even a mini-series? or is this […]

  12. But I would think guilt is a necessary component of the Freud brand, no?
    Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted..8 Best Articles on Cultural TravelMy Profile

  13. Marvin Reed says:

    Just discovered your blog, Edie, and like your writing style. Look forward to following you via my recent e-mail subscription to Freud’s Butcher.

  14. I swear you are tapping into my brain! I’ve got a lot of the same goals on my list… well except going to Vienna. I’d love to travel overseas, but my days off from my day job are already spoken for by other trips. I understand about the challenges of having a diabetic dog that needs you. I often think of my dogs as my kids and feel bad when I am away for extended time. On the bright side, the experts say dogs have no concept of time. I sure hope that’s true! Can’t wait to see what 2013 brings for you. Best of luck on these goals!
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  15. […] although I have to backtrack a bit on my vow to curtail my meandering — at least without documenting it, and at least where it serves the greater goal of […]

  16. […] It will also force me to focus, as I promised in my New Year’s goals. […]

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