This being the end of summer, my husband and I decided that we needed to pick some blueberries before the farm closed. It was a beautiful morning, not too warm, not too cool, slightly overcast, with a breeze blowing. Late in the season, a lot of fruit had been harvested, but the farm told us there was plenty left in the fields.
It had been a long time since I picked blueberries, and I’d forgotten how relaxing blueberry picking is. As I picked, I began to notice things about the process of picking. I noticed also how my thoughts about picking blueberries apply to harvesting information about ancestors. (Warning: philosophical observations.)
Here are some of my thoughts:
- Blueberries don’t shout out, “Here I am, pick me!” Most of the time, neither do records about our ancestors. You have to look.
- You have to slow down and see what’s there. Once I stopped trying to move down the rows of bushes quickly in order to fill my bucket, I began to appreciate how much fruit really was left. Sometimes we search databases or indexes in registers fast, taking a quick look and moving on. I wonder how much fruit we miss by doing that.
- Sometimes you have to step back to go forward. The blueberry bushes were in rows, with plenty of space between the rows but not a lot of space between the bushes. I found myself getting into a bush, noticing berries on branches I couldn’t reach, and backing out so I could move into a better position to reach the fruit I wanted. I also had to position my feet so I could reach without falling. I do this often in research too–it’s not all forward movement and collecting. You have to back up and look at what you have in order to position yourself to get that new information. Sometimes you have to get your feet under you with new skills, languages, or vocabulary before you proceed.
- You have to care for the bush and pick without breaking branches. Native Americans are said to thank the plants and animals they harvest for food. Careful genealogists handle fragile materials appropriately. They thank the clerks, librarians, and archivists who care for the materials for their help, and they support efforts to maintain collections and preserve materials. (As I write today, Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist; D. Joshua Taylor; and colleagues raised more than $50,000 at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in San Antonio to digitize War of 1812 pensions, at once preserving the fragile originals from the wear and tear of use and making digitized copies free forever online at fold3.com. Genealogists at the conference and all over the country contributed.)
- Some of the best fruit isn’t easy to reach. In genealogy, not everything is on line. Not every set of records has a index. Not every courthouse register is on an accessible shelf. Not every arrangement of materials is user-friendly. But some of the most valuable information is in those hard-to-reach places.
- There is lots of good fruit that is low-hanging. Like blueberries, there are a lot of great genealogical resources that are easy to reach–online, well organized, accessible.
I wish you luck with your blueberries and your ancestors. I’m going to enjoy my harvest now.