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  Michael John Neill – 5/1/2001


Genealogy Yard Mowing

Like it or not, here in the Midwest it is time to get out the old lawnmower. Based upon the look of my yard, it's actually past time to get it out. Genealogy will have to wait while I mow the yard. However, there's nothing to stop me from thinking about genealogy while I am doing so. In fact, it seems like several lawn mowing considerations have their own family history counterparts.

Grass Too Wet?
Mowing the yard after a recent rain or before the dew has dried in the morning will easily leave grass clumps across your yard. Better to let it dry before you mow. Sometimes it is best to let our new genealogy information sit and give it a chance to "dry" too. Not because our information is really wet (although tombstone inscriptions made in a downpour are an exception), but because frequently a little time waiting allows information to "gel" in a person's mind. This reduces the chance we overlook the obvious and increases the chance we get the most out of the document or information we have found.

Mower Set Too Low?
Are you trying to take on too much research at one time? If it has been awhile since I've mowed the yard, the mower either constantly dies or I have to mow at a snail's pace. Simply setting the mower higher allows me to take on less at a time and move at a reasonable pace. And I can set the mower lower the next time. If your genealogy seems to overwhelm you, consider focusing on just one family or line for a while. Too much grass can clog the mower; too much research may clog your brain.

Bare Spots in Your Yard?
Some seed and some time will take care of those bare spots in your yard. While I personally believe the less grass to mow the better, bare spots are unsightly. Bare spots in your research may be those sources or families you have ignored or avoided searching. If you spend a little time working on those bare spots you might be surprised at what grows there.

Need Some Fertilizer?
One approach to deal with grass that does not grow is to fertilize it. From where I sit, the less it grows, the less often it has to be mowed. Others nurture their yards to enhance its growth. Perhaps it's time to fertilize your research as well. There are several things you can do to get your research growing again. Attending a conference, reading a how-to-book, working on a long-neglected line are all excellent ways to get your genealogical lawn growing again.

Bend Over and Pick It Up!
I occasionally mow over sticks instead of picking them up. Sticks are just details that slow down the process of mowing the yard. These minor details can however, fly up and hit me in the leg or injure someone walking by my home. I need to stop and take the time to pick up the sticks. Are there details in your own research that you are simply mowing over and ignoring? Perhaps it's time to pick them up and take a look.

Should You Move the Hostas?
In my opinion, a yard should be entirely grass, no flowers, lawn ornaments, etc (trees provide shade and will be tolerated). Precious time is wasted mowing around things. However, those that do plant flowers must consider carefully the location of the plant. Where the plant is planted partially determines how well it will flourish. Have you planted your ancestors in the wrong location based upon an assumption? Looking in the same place over and over again in the exact same way rarely brings success. Consider other areas where the family might have lived and where they might have traveled. You might be looking in the wrong place.

Need a Few Worms?
Every yard needs a few worms to work up the soil and keep it fertile. While your friends and genealogical acquaintances are not necessarily worms, it may be helpful to have one of them "work up" one of your family history problems. A fresh set of eyes frequently brings about a new perspective.

Do You Need a Riding Mower?
There are days where my half acre yard needs a riding lawn mower instead of my pusher. The pushing mower worked much better at our old house where saying our lawn was a quarter acre was an overestimate. The pusher stays though as using it is better exercise. That notwithstanding, do you have the right tool for the genealogical job you are doing? The type of records that might have worked well in one time and in one location might not work well in a new location or in a different time period. If you are looking for state birth records in Indiana in 1850, it's time to get a new tool to solve that genealogical problem. There simply are not vital records in Indiana that early.

Are They Flowers or Weed?
Wars have been fought over dandelions. One person's weed is another person's flower and I'm not going to get in the middle of that debate. Classifying everything as a weed does make for fewer items to mow around however. Nonetheless, weeds mar the image of the yard. Are there a few weeds in your own genealogical information? Some weeds may have been actually planted early on in your genealogical yard, when you really weren't quite certain what was a weed and what was not. You may wish to replant the weeds though in another part of your genealogical garden or you may wish to root them out entirely. Genealogy "weeds" occasionally are needed to solve other genealogical gardening problems and one should be wary of throwing out each and every weed. Genealogists may be better served by keeping some of their "weeds" in a compost pile should they need to refer to them later.


Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing.

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