Dead People, Dead People, Dead People, SQUIRREL!

Dead People, Dead People, Dead People, SQUIRREL!

by Kerry Scott on 9 April 2013

Post image for Dead People, Dead People, Dead People, SQUIRREL!

I’ve been so good. Really.

I’ve been diligently picking away at my research plan for one of my Norwegian lines. I have a DNA cousin who I’m working with to find our connection so she can find her dad, and I’m motivated to be a good citizen. I’ve been impressed with myself for weeks. It was like when you have an apple for dessert instead of ice cream, and you feel all virtuous and stuff.

Here’s what went wrong:

I watched TV.

I saw a guy who sort of looked like my second great-grandfather.

I paused the show, reached for my iPad, and googled my second great-grandfather.

I found a Find a Grave entry for him. Then I found a genealogy blog for the person who “owned” the grave (or “managed” or “reigned over” or whatever the term is…Find a Grave drama continues to blow my mind).

I got all excited, because this blog has enough info that the blogger is probably a cousin. Then I felt a wave of shame as I remembered the state that line’s documents, papers, and photos are in. They’re a mess. I can’t possible have company in those files right now.

I got the files out right then, and started trying to sort through them. Then I remembered that, no, I’m supposed to be working on those Norwegians. I’m supposed to be working the plan. I’m supposed to be a good citizen who eats genea-apples for dessert.

Now I’m working on my whole can’t-have-company-in-my-files problem in general (more on that in another post soon), but in the meantime, I’m curious. Do you work on one line until you come to an appropriate stopping point? What exactly IS an appropriate stopping point…when you run out of money for ordering documents and films, when you hit a brick wall, or what? Would you contact the cousin right now, or wait until you’ve finished the task at hand and/or have your files in order so you can actually share info?

Photo by Navicore

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Graben April 9, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I bounce from one line to another like a ball…’s too hard to stay focused on just one surname. And a lot of the time, I will accidently “back into” another relative who just happened to marry into the “other” line! So, I’m off to the races again…..


Missy April 10, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Me too!


Heather Wilkinson Rojo April 9, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I definitely have genea-ADD when it comes to working on the family tree. I flit from one project to the other and back again. I get distracted on the internet and look up cousins when I was supposed to look up siblings. I find other books on the shelves and start looking up surnames instead of sticking to one name. But I always come back to my original goals eventually. As long as you go back again to your Norweigans, why not take a side trip down this new path?


Sally June 14, 2013 at 10:35 am

This is how I found my long lost half-brother that did not even know he had a half-sister! It was VERY convoluted and I still can’t really tell you 100% how I did it. I think you just develope a “nose” – like when I’ve found graves in cemeteries whose locations were lost by family. I totally trust my “nose” now!


Barb Conner April 9, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Go for the gusto! Wander off track and who cares if the papers are in order or not. That will give you a reason to chat with the new-found relative again and again. And I have often found that by veering down the side roads I often find even more new family. The Norwegians will still be there another day. And you will have fresh eyes and may notice something you missed the first time around.


Paradox April 9, 2013 at 3:47 pm

I don’t let anyone tell me what to do, not even me. Plans don’t really work for me anyway.

I work entirely online and digitally, so adding things to my files only involves right click, copy, go to the folder organized by last name, paste, and rename the document to be “last name, first name_what the document is. i look at all of my information and I know exactly what it is.


Paradox April 9, 2013 at 3:49 pm

I don’t let anyone tell me what to do, not even me. Plans don’t really work for me anyway.

I work entirely online and digitally, so adding things to my files only involves right click, copy, go to the folder organized by last name, paste, and rename the document to be “last name, first name_what the document is.” i look at all of my information and I know exactly what it is. I find the best way to avoid the messes I was making in my genealogy was to not make them in the first place. It’s all habit building.


Kerry Scott April 9, 2013 at 5:53 pm

What do you you with stuff from repositories that aren’t online? For example, I received a few death certificates in the mail today, and I’ve received probably 30 in the past month alone. How are you managing the offline info?


Sally June 14, 2013 at 10:41 am

I would scan as much as you can. That way if you have say, a chapter out of a book that you’re pretty sure deals with your Smith family but also mentions your Jones you can save the scan in more than 1 spot. Just keep the names consistant (; Paperless is just so much more easier.


AndreaKelleher April 9, 2013 at 4:13 pm

I am like Heather and have Genea-ADD. I bounce around. Often this is how I come across my most interesting discoveries. Besides what’s more interesting, organizing papers or finding a new mystery to solve.


Kerry Scott April 9, 2013 at 5:52 pm

That’s totally true…but unfortunately, 20 years of not organizing papers in favor of finding a new mystery to solve have left me with stacks of papers that actually have the answers in them, if only I had them organized. So my decades of folly have finally caught up with me.


Kenneth W. Spangler April 21, 2013 at 9:53 pm

I know exactly how that feels Kerry! I’ve just come to that realization myself, although I’ve only been doing it for 13 years. It’s still a lot of work to get caught up on and I can definitely say I have done tons of double work! :-(


Natalie Parker April 9, 2013 at 5:35 pm

LOL! This sounds so much like me that we are probably related, but I’m not going to check cause all of my files are disorganized, and I’m not inviting anyone over right now.


Jana Last April 9, 2013 at 6:00 pm

I don’t see anything wrong with contacting your potential cousin right now. In fact, I think it’s important to do so a.s.a.p. And really, who cares if your files, etc. are not in perfect company order?

I’m also one of those who doesn’t focus on just one line at a time.

By the way, I have Norwegian ancestry too. Where are your Norway ancestors from?


Kerry Scott April 9, 2013 at 7:16 pm

So far, they’re from Luster in Sogn og Fjordane, Nordland, Valdres in Oppland, and possibly Troms. I’m finding a ton of DNA cousins whose roots are all over Norway, though, and I don’t have all of my own nailed down. I’ve recently learned that some people moved north within Norway before they came to America, so those Nordlanders may have been from further south originally.

I did contact the cousin and let her know I’d be in touch in greater detail when I get my files sorted out. Much of my genealogy stuff is still jumbled up from when we moved to Albuquerque (having movers pack for you is great, but never let them pack your files. EVER.).


Jana Last April 9, 2013 at 10:09 pm

It’s awesome that you contacted that cousin already. And thanks for the tip about not letting movers pack any genealogy stuff. Ya, I would definitely want to be the one to do that job myself.

My Norwegian ancestors mainly came from Seljord and Bo in Telemark, Nes in Buskerud, Kristiansund in Romsdal, and Nord Aurdal, Lom, and Vestre Slidre in Oppland.


Jana Last April 12, 2013 at 8:21 am


I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at

Have a great weekend!


Kerry Scott April 12, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Thank you so much, Jana!

Rita Ackerman April 9, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Sounds about right.
I remember my friend doing her Norwegian ancestry about 20 years ago and she kept getting the “big books” on interlibrary loan. With the budget cuts I don’t know if that is still possible but she solved all kinds of family questions.


Rorey Cathcart April 9, 2013 at 8:20 pm

Squirrels run rampant through my research process but I’m on a big project now also on which I really must stay focused. I’m jotting out quick research plans as I come across new and distracting items to pursue.

As to the organization…I just spent much of today scouring my files for interview notes from a trip last year. I’ve yet to find the file. I’m heartsick over it. Don’t put organization off. It will come back to bite you in the end.


Kerry Scott April 9, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Exactly. I’m sorting through stuff from research trips I took in 2004. It’s ridiculous. You can’t work effectively if you don’t get your act together at some point.


Teresa Hall April 9, 2013 at 8:34 pm

I have genealogical ADHD, my attention gets pulled in so many directions and I dash right after it! I got a new batch of Ancestry DNA matches today and was compelled to send notes to seventh cousins and second cousins six times removed and on and on… so you know what my vote it!

In a parallel universe my files are organized enough to “have company” and take a quick note that I will be sure to find later and still know what it means, but unfortunately I live here and not there.


Israel P. April 10, 2013 at 1:50 am

My genealogy research is electric. It follows the path of least resistance.

Then I go do something else – probably dictated by my incoming email.

Occasionally, I look at one of the piles on my desk or one of the list-items on my bulletin board. Even more occasionally, I do something with them.


Alona Tester April 10, 2013 at 5:27 am

When I do get time to do my own research I do have an intention to look for someone or something, but that usually gets thrown out the window pretty quick when I either rediscover something in my own stuff that I have filed, so re-pick up one that, or find something interesting online.


Patricia Desmond Biallas April 10, 2013 at 9:14 am

Send that prospective cousin a copy of this post by way of introduction! They will totally understand. You don’t want to miss an opportunity for connections–they occur so rarely. Let us know how it turns out!


Elroy Davis April 10, 2013 at 9:14 am

I wrote a post about my process not too long ago:

In general I stick to that plan, but occasionally I’ll wander off onto something that’s interesting at the moment. I always come back to my spiral though.



Leslie April 10, 2013 at 9:36 am

I have recently returned to genealogy after some time off. I have files and files of unorganized research from my earlier work, but this time decided to ‘do it right.’ I finally bought a genealogy program and I try to use it religiously. And this works well for my recent research because most of the people are new to me (in one connection I gained 6 generations of family.) But every time I spin off from my new Greenwood ancestors because something made me think of someone else — I try to dig into what I have first, and ‘do it right’ by digitizing the resource and putting it into my program. It slows me down but it also takes chunks out of the huge backlog of organization I have gifted myself.


Debbie April 10, 2013 at 10:47 am

First, I got my sister involved and we split the families: She does Dad’s side and I do Mom’s. So I guess that cuts the headache in half. When either hits gold we have an evening together to update and celebrate. When we hit a really cnfusing turn, we get together to put all the documents and all the information on the table (literally and figuratively), until we see either a ray of light (usually a list of questions) or get to Eureka!
Second, I started with my grandmother’s paternal line for which I had only family myths. On her maternal line, a second cousin had made a family tree going back to the 1750′s. Then, one of the sites I followed –without taking part— asked how and when families came to the States from the “old world”. So I wrote how my grandfather’s family came — and a third cousin found me and we started pooling our info.
So, I try to remain focused, but when serendipity knocks I never turn away.


Mary Anne Sharpe April 10, 2013 at 11:23 am

I’m supposed to have a PLAN?!

If I ever did, the squirrels definitely shredded it … and the pigeons probably pooped on the shreds …

I try to believe the ancestors ‘contact’ me when they are ready to reveal something (or I am ready to absorb it) and I follow the signals (all over the place …)

That’s the only plan I gots ;-))


Bambi Woods April 10, 2013 at 6:01 pm

A plan, oh my, I always have a plan, I rarely follow it. I find that trails followed as I find them often lead to answers I didn’t even know I needed yet. It also expands my lines much more quickly and if I don’t do it when I find it, I may never get back to it again. As for the offline documents, I use Ancestry for keeping my working file, so I scan the documents and add the media file to the event timeline of any relatives mentioned in the documents, and create a reference. Then I stick the document rather inelegantly in the most prominent surname file both online and in my filing cabinet. Works for me…
Since I put Every document I get into my ancestry media files, if I find a cousin who wants info I just add them as visitors to my Ancestry file and let them roam freely, without editing rights. Surprisingly once I invite them, they feel rather attached to my files and they constantly send me new information they find to include. Helps my research immensely.
I love squirrels…feed them every chance I get


Jenna April 10, 2013 at 7:37 pm

I feel your pain. My name is Jenna, I have Genealogy ADD and I love chasing squirrels!!! :\


Patricia Nemeth April 10, 2013 at 8:51 pm

I work on what I now call rabbit trails, where facts or my thoughts lead me. Yes, my files are NOT ready for company but I do keep plugging away on the problem. Please call your cousin, some of my most memorable stories are from talking to a found cousin. Those cousins died before we did very many talks and I would have missed their part in my family history. Time can be cruel. Files will be there late at night but your family member might not. Suggestion, have a small file box with folders for all incoming mail and label with ancestor’s name or family group.


George P. Farris April 11, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Dear Kerry:

Plans? Oh yeah, I create three, or four a year. However, what usually gets me off-track is someone sending an inquiry on someone for whom I actually have data, but I feel bad about sending something that’s untidy.

Weeks later I send a much cleaner file, and I’ve learned a great deal in the process. Sure, it’s usually a give and take process — I give and they take, better every now and then I get a great kin who provides wonderful population.

Kerry, this is perhaps the first time this contrarian has run with the consensus. However, I think a significant portion of your reluctance comes from your phobia, “Morbidus timor communicando cum viventem relativum,” — which translated loosely means a, “morbid fear of communicating with a living relative.”

Nevertheless, my congratulations for contacting your Norwegian cousin, particularly on a forum so foreign that you, more than likely, think you have to use Klingon to communicate.

You never know, she may be the ONLY source from whom you could gain the centerpiece in your genealogical crown. What is the credo of the big MBA mills — “opportunity missed is opportunity lost.”

Warm regards,


Ana April 11, 2013 at 7:52 pm

I keep to a surname at a time. I may get bored with a large family line, but I do my best to follow from the progenitor through all descendants I can document. I’ve done well with 3 of my grandparents’ surnames (the fourth is a mystery still to unravel past ggrandma). I generally call a stop to surnames at the in-laws with no blood ties. I’ll get their parents, and grandparents if easy to find, but I stick to what is blood/adopted family (I have enough to keep me going).


George P. Farris April 11, 2013 at 8:00 pm

NEVER, NEVER click submit when you’re sleepy, or in a hurry! Having declared that maxim, please replace the last dependent clause in the second paragraph with: “I give and they take, but every now and then I get a great kin who provides wonderful information.


George P. Farris April 11, 2013 at 8:01 pm



Cheryl Cayemberg April 16, 2013 at 10:46 am

Congrats on Family Tree’s Top 40, Kerry! Not surprised at all! :)


Kerry Scott April 16, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Thank you!


Loretta April 16, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Congrats on the Top 40 Kerry!
Well deserved :-)


Kerry Scott April 16, 2013 at 7:58 pm



Diane April 17, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Finish something before moving on to something else interesting? Don’t be silly. I got deep into the middle of my family history research in a little bit unusual way. Mom had already filled in names and dates in the FTB (Family Tree Book). A whole lot of the info came from the papers that my grandfather had collected. Since I got the boxes of documents from my sister’s garage last November I have been spinning around trying to figure out exactly what I had and what his research goal had been. None of them are in English making it a bit more challenging. I have spent a lot of time on FamilySearch confirming what I have and filling in holes. I have become more disciplined about citing my sources. But I have so many questions, and so many ancestors to follow up on that I when I want to relax on the Internet in the evening I just follow whichever ancestor question strikes my fancy at the moment. Squirrel!


Jana Last April 18, 2013 at 9:09 pm


Congratulations on your blog being listed in Family Tree Magazine’s Top 40 Genealogy Blogs list! This is an awesome and well-deserved honor. Kudos to you!


Susan Partlan April 22, 2013 at 9:58 am

I would prioritize contacting living relatives, even if you just say “hello” and let the person know you need more time to prepare documents, etc. before having the real conversation you want to have. It’s just that with living relatives, you never know what might come up and interfere with trying to make contact later on.


Kerry Scott April 22, 2013 at 11:23 am

That is an excellent point. Dead people stay dead, but living people don’t stay alive.


George P. Farris April 22, 2013 at 5:48 pm

It is an excellent point Susan, and I also admire Kerry’s succinct summation. Cheers to you both.


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