You can learn a lot about a discipline by examining the metaphors used to discuss it. On that basis, the landscape of genealogy looks rural and rather idyllic.
This is how one newbie has been experiencing it.
Venturing Into the Forest
First and foremost, the terrain is filled with trees, family trees. A mere sapling of a handwritten chart made by my mother led to the discovery that a cousin had put together a vast tree dating back to 18th century Poland — a venerable oak.
And when another cousin invited us to join him on GENi.com, that tree turned out to be part of a grove that I had just begun to explore slowly until…
…a few days ago, when GENi and MyHeritage merged. I suddenly started getting notifications from a forum filled with people I had never heard of.
I checked to see how one of them might be related to me and learned: “J. H. is your third cousin once removed’s wife’s first cousin’s husband’s sister’s husband’s first cousin’s wife’s father.”
That’s a tangle of branches, a thicket. I’m lost in that forest.
If I find my way out, I’m likely to run into a brick wall and not only because I am a klutz. Hitting a brick wall is a term used in genealogy for encountering seemingly insurmountable problems. In a post entitled “Overcoming ‘Brick Wall’ Problems” on what was formerly ProGenealogist’s site:
‘Brick wall’ problems are those genealogical research problems that seem too hard to solve. Wherever we look, we find no answers. Perhaps the name we are tracing is too common, and we cannot sort out all the ‘John Smiths.’ Perhaps the family lived in a “burned county” in the South, and the records all seem destroyed. Perhaps we are looking for an ancestor’s wife, and we don’t know her surname. Perhaps the ancestor is an immigrant, and we don’t know where he came from in Europe. Perhaps, … well, you get the idea.
Is the brick wall solely a rural image? Not necessarily, but for the metaphor to work, those brick walls would need to surround a castle or other fortified property with treasures inside, don’t you think? There are city castles, but they don’t fit with the forests. In my mind.
Of course the brick wall I chose for the picture at the top of this post is part of an 1800s distillery. I got it from GenealogyInTime Magazine, which generously offers free brick wall images to use as computer wallpaper, to mix a couple of wall metaphors.
I don’t think research difficulties caused by inebriation are what these blogs have in mind — both sites have many excellent solutions, incidentally, none of which involve alcohol — but I can certainly see drinking as a temporary palliative for close encounters with metaphorical hard objects.
But wait! I see a clearing with a body of water… a lake or even just a pond. It seems that just by starting a genealogy(ish) blog I am fishing for relatives, providing “cousin bait.”
Moreover, there are ways to enhance your catch. Among the suggestions in “How to Write a ‘Cousin’ Bait Genealogy Blog Post”:
Put some thought into selecting people for your cousin bait post. Pick one or more people, but not too many. Don’t ask for “all the information you have on the Miller family.” Readers won’t bite at that request because it’s too much work and you just look lazy.
And, only yesterday, Wikitree announced the debut of cousin bait toolkits.
Of course, there’s always going to be a spoiler in the bunch, someone who wants to restrict access to what most people consider an enjoyable hobby rather than a profession. One blogger suggested genealogists get a license to go fishing.
Luckily, most genealogy bloggers are far more welcoming. There was quite a stir in this neck of the woods — to go back to the tree metaphor — about that idea. The Path of a Beginner is just one example, and it links to several other excellent ones.
Not that I was planning to stop anyway. I’m having too much fun — ok, I’ll just say it, I’m hooked — and I tend to be a bit of a rule breaker. In fact, I should announce here and now: If I lure any cousins, I’m not planning to practice catch and release.