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.
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.
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.