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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

Finding Joy During Difficult Times With Genealogy

Has your life been hard recently? So hard that the thought of doing any mentally tasking genealogy-related task is downright laughable?

Within the past 10 years, I have many times when life was too hard to think about figuring out DNA matches or finding records to build out my family tree.

In recent months, Andy and I needed an extended break from Family History Fanatics to focus on the behind-the-scenes struggles. We have found a new normal, but check out just a few things we have faced in the past decade:

  • Death of my last living grandmother and last living parent in the same year.

  • Moving to two different states.

  • Andy lost his job for the first time in his career.

  • Finding out I had bone cancer.

  • The bone cancer removal surgery and learning to walk again.

  • Schooling my children during Covid.

  • My father-in-law having heart surgery.

  • Helping fellow Houstonians impacted by Hurricane Harvey

  • Readjusting to live after Hurricane Harvey when many of my children’s programs were no longer in existence.

  • Dealing with the mental health challenges of a loved one.

  • Traveling hours and hours to get medical care for my children or take them to extracurricular activities.

  • Learning coping strategies for my own challenges of post-partum depression, seasonal depression (Iowa, I’m talking about you), anxiety, and the continuous battle to master an eating disorder.

Am I missing anything? I probably am. But that’s enough for now.

We all face many challenges in life. Many viewers participating in our live shows or premiers have discussed various mental health, relationship, economic, and other crises. During these trials, many in the genealogy community have encouraging words to comfort our souls.

So, how do we find joy in difficult times when we do not have the mental energy to climb our family tree, but we miss it desperately?

A Lesson From a Trip to China

When I visited China a few years ago, Andy and I climbed Mt. Tai. While we had thought we had prepared for this 9,000-step adventure, we soon realized we were out of shape.

Climbing Mt. Tai
Filipe Fortes from Seattle, United States, CC BY-SA 2., via Wikimedia Commons

Many friendly Chinese people would say a phrase that is loosely translated to “Add Gas, Add Gas” to encourage us to do this climb. Mind you, these were typically men at least 20 years older than us, carrying toddlers on their shoulders.

Whenever I face a challenging situation or trial in my life, I think of the Chinese men telling Andy and me to “Add Gas.”

And yet, there are times in my life when I have an empty tank and no gas station to draw from. Or do I?

Over the past 10 years, I have found three things that help me fill my tank with the joy of genealogy when I have little capacity to do very much. Let me know in the comments section which of these help you or which ideas that work for you that I might have missed.

1. Indexing / Get Involved

FamilySearch is a free genealogy website that provides searchable records to help us build our family tree. They have digitized millions of records that are currently unsearchable. One low mentally tasking activity includes indexing or the new “Get Involved” handwriting recognition assistance program.

FamilySearch Get Involved Desktop View
Validate Names with FamilySearch Get Involved

Both activities help me keep my genealogy skills sharp when I can not spare any energy searching and researching the smallest clue, keeping notes of my searches, managing source citations, or writing conclusions about my discoveries.

I love how the Get Involved App allows me to simply validate names. This quick task is easy to do on the go.

Often I find myself stuck. Stuck waiting for children. Stuck in waiting rooms, hospital rooms, parking lots, airports, etc. The Get Involved App shows me a document, highlights a name, shows me the name it could be, and asks, "Is this correct?"

  • If it is accurate, I approve of the fact.

  • If it is not, I can make a quick change.

  • If I’m unsure, I can skip it.

The brain power required to utilize the name review app is very low. The benefits of this work are practicing handwriting recognition and giving back to the genealogy community.

During trials, service provides mental and spiritual benefits that help lighten our burdens. Indexing and the Get Involved App have blessed me with so much joy when I can not work on my family tree.

2. Decluttering My Home



How does decluttering our home support our genealogy research efforts during times of trial?

When the going gets hard, Devon needs to throw stuff out.

By decluttering my home, I free up the energy I need to handle the trials. The more stuff we have, the more time and energy we spend maintaining and managing everything. As we pare down to the most necessary items, we conserve our resources for the most important things for our daily lives and our genealogy research efforts. Additionally, when the trial passes or becomes manageable, we do not have a disorganized home preventing us from jumping back into genealogy with both feet.

clutter in home
by Jonathan Billinger, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

But the dirty little secret is that downsizing with family history in mind helps me corral the records, photos, and other family history items that have spread throughout my home. Also, I gather all of my children's momentos to scan or photograph. When I return to writing family histories, I know exactly where everything is. Such a time saver in the end!

If my home is downsized, then I tackle the digital mess that lurks on my computer(s).

A clean and organized house (and computer) makes for an efficient genealogist.

During times of trial, throwing things out and cleaning things up is like free therapy.

3. Cleaning Up My Family Tree Databases

Another low-energy task is cleaning up my family trees in genealogy software. However, it does require more mental energy than the previous two tasks.

RootsMagic Source List
RootsMagic Source List That Needs Cleaning

Database clean-up tasks in genealogy software, such as Family Tree Maker or RootsMagic, include:

  • cleaning up place names

  • fixing broken links to media

  • merging duplicate profiles

  • standardizing names and date formats

  • running a spell and grammar check on my notes

  • correcting and standardizing source citations

While actively engaging in genealogy research, our trees can quickly run wild and need some pruning. During the threat of evacuation from the fires across New Mexico this summer, I trimmed up my family tree gone wild.

When I’m ready to dive back into genealogy research, my tree is in good shape and ready to go.

Difficult Times Come to an End

Trails rarely become a permanent part of our lives, preventing us from finding joy in genealogy research. However, we may need to take a break from time to time. Hopefully, these ideas help you "Add Gas" to your tank when it’s running on empty.

If I have offered something valuable in this video, please click the like button and leave a comment to show your support for myself or others in the community.

If you want to learn why I find connections through family history, check out this video I made a few years ago about how family history helps me connect and belong.

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