Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Genealogy Zombie

Some days are better than others even if the cause of the ‘better’ is our own absent mindedness. Witness the discovery today of notes and pages on the shelf of an out-of-sight book case in my office from a multiple day research trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

I try to spend as much time as possible preparing for visits to the FHL in Salt Lake so little of my precious research time is wasted during the visit. The preparation goes something like this:

  • Review of the research notes I’ve recorded on the Legacy database records of my brick-wall ancestors and other ancestral family members…. check.
  • Print out an individual or family report for each of the folks on my research agenda …. check.
  • Look at the family history library catalog on familysearch.org and copy the titles, authors and call numbers for books and records that may help find each of the folks on my agenda. Paste that info into a WordPad file and when the list is complete, flip over one or more pages of the associated reports and print the titles, call numbers, etc., on it… check.
  • Now I have their vital statistics, locations, family names and research notes together on the same sheets of paper. The ‘plan of attack’ is ready to implement… check.

At the library, I’ll also use the white space on the pages to record notes in permanent black ink. “Finds” will have a Star to the side of them. Thoughts and possible other research ideas will be jotted down. A bold “NO” will be to the side of the items that didn’t pan out.

Back home, I’ll transcribe my notes by updating and adjusting my research notes and plan. The research notes in Legacy will also include all of the research titles and call numbers and their relative worth. That information will be used to avoid digging through the same resources again or to point me back to the items that are full of information.

I then 3-hole punch the stapled package for each individual and put the notes in each persons file folder. Now I have a hard copy paper trail for reference even if all of my geographically scattered data backups go south at the same time.

“Yes”, you say. “Very organized. Very methodical.”

Well, don’t hand out accolades quite yet.

It seems I’ve forgotten that long ago, somewhere along the way, I purchased two identical zippered folders. I probably picked them up at different times at the same store in some oft visited distant city. They aren’t of a common design but are highly distinctive in fact. One glance and I recognize them.

It takes a while to transcribe all my research notes from ancestral research trips into the various files and databases I use. Lots of things happen in our lives and during the span of time between the library visit and final transcriptions and filing, some ‘stuff’ is pushed out of my memory. Apparently, it tumbles to the ground after exiting my ear. It is to be expected…. It only makes a small pile of dust on the floor. Hardly noticeable.

I’ve often wondered why I continue to absent mindedly leave the zippered folder on the wrong shelf and parking spot in that backwoods bookcase.

The discovery today provided the answer to this vexing riddle. I’ve been rotating the two identical zippered folders between my main work area and that bookcase all of this time. My mind is trained to not waste time observing fixed items in known locations but to rather put the body on auto-pilot and let it do its thing while the mind is reviewing the research plan, daily goals and the next step in the quest.

When the body sees an empty slot on a shelf that exactly matches the folder, it is used without further thought.

Apparently, I’ve been grabbing a folder, working on it very late at night over a period of a week or so and then replacing it back in the open slot.

Unfortunately, the assigned ‘to-do’ space on my work surface is not in direct line-of-sight near the monitors. Not immediately spotting the folder, I go into autopilot mode and again pull the folder from the bookshelf for transcription. When I’ve finished that work at around 4 a.m. a few days later, I put it back in the empty slot. At a later late night session, I’ll notice the folder in the to-do space, look inside and think that I’m becoming absent-minded and then send the body to file it in the bookcase.

The folders 'parking slot’ is open but on the opposite side of the case where I thought got it.

The banner: “I’m really getting absent minded” scrolls through my mind about this time.

zombie_attackToday, the mystery came into full light when I pulled the folder off the shelf to stock it for the next research trip. It contained my research notes and associated pages from a foray to the FHL over a year ago. How had I let them sit all of that time without completing the associated transcription and filing?

A few minutes ago, after I completed the transcriptions and filings, the body kicked into auto pilot and tried to put the folder back on the shelf. The slot was full! Since this morning, someone had cloned my folder and put it in the slot!

Confusion and finally laughter ensued. I’ve become a robot in the walls of my office and associated filing rooms. I don’t see anything other than the items related to the task at hand. Even some of the associated physical manipulations happens autonomously.

Oh bother! That probably explains the loss of the dried pineapple snacks too. My wife didn’t eat them. I did! I don’t even remember tasting them while my body vacated to the Genealogy Zombie mode.

I suppose genealogists can be a little too focused at times.

Look at that! Someone brought back all my missing pens too!

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