07 October 2015

Bright Shiny Objects

Bright Shiny Objects (BSO) catch our eye, I think it is human nature. In the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook group I have also heard some people call them rabbit holes. They have the potential to totally distract us from what we are trying to do, IF we let them. The trick is to acknowledge them without letting them divert us from what we are trying to do.

Let's start with an example, then we can talk about some of the ways to acknowledge a BSO without allowing it to get us off track of our current research goal.

Let's say my goal is to research everything I can find on my grandfather Frederick John Newman's WWI military service. My grandfather had a brother, Eric Alexander Newman, who also served in WWI. Both of them were born in England and living in the USA at the time period I am searching. Let's say I am on ancestry.com and I am searching for Frederick Newman in the military records. Chances are Eric's name will also pop up in search results.

It might be tempting to look at both Frederick's and Eric's results. But that isn't the goal for this search, only Frederick's military service is. Chances are if I click on something for Eric I will then see the "you might also be interested it" type of links, then there I go chasing those bright shiny objects relating to my great uncle and totally lose focus. Two hours later I will find that not only have I not found anything about my grandfather but I might not even be looking at things that relate to my great uncle but some distant relative in England!

You might be saying "But what's a person to do when those BSO cross my path?" Let's discuss strategies....

First and foremost, I hope before you start you have a research plan so you know the "Who, What, Where, When, How/Why" of your search. This allows you to focus your search so that you can make real progress, instead of wandering aimlessly through the ancestry website (or the findmypast. familysearch, genealogybank, etc websites).

Second comes some sort of research log.

I have to admit in my past research I have been BAD about this step. I can't tell you how much wasted time this has caused as I repeat searches for things I already have, or repeating searches with parameters that did not produce results instead of trying new parameters. Part of my problem with research logs has always been that those printed versions always seem to have such small boxes there was no way to efficiently use them, at least for me.

Genealogy Do-Over has encouraged me to start experimenting using a spreadsheet for my research log.

A spreadsheet allows me to make the boxes whatever size I need them to be (plus typing tends to take up less space than my handwriting). It also allows me to move columns around until I find a format that works for me WITHOUT losing the data that is already in the database. Plus I can sort by the different columns. Meaning if I want to find all my research on an individual I can sort by name. If I want to see all the vital records I have I can sort by Record Type. If I want to see all the records I have found on Ancestry I can sort by that. All of this without having to rewrite (or retype) lists or losing any information.

One of the benefits of using a spreadsheet program, especially when it comes to those BSO's, is I can have different pages in my document. I can have a page for my research log, or I can have separate pages for the different surnames.

I can also have a page for my to do list. This is where I can list those bright shiny objects. I can put their name as the site lists them and any other identifying information about that potential document. You can even copy and paste the information, including the url, to help you find the information again. Then I can go right back to working on my goal for that day's research without worrying about whether or not I will be able to find the information about that other potential lead at a later time.

If you have other ideas and suggestions on how to deal with BSO please feel free to share them in the comments section.

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