Time for a bit of seasonal fun.
The scenario is familiar. You start out with a general interest in your forefathers. An idle curiosity, perhaps fuelled by TV shows such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Find My Past”. A Family History Society membership here and a Family History subscription site there, and before your know it you’re hooked.
So how addicted are you? Here’s a short quiz to establish the level of your obsession.
You’re making preparations for a family holiday. What is your motive?
a) A crafty nudge here; a gentle steer there. Before anyone notices you’ve influenced the destination decision with the clear intention of fitting in some ancestral home, graveyard and family location visits. These to be sprung on your unsuspecting family on visit day, couched in terms of “Ooo I’ve just realised Great Aunt Annie is buried near here” or “The mill my great grandad worked in is just up the road. I wouldn’t mind taking a look”.
b) You go ahead with planning, all family history thoughts erased. This, after all, is a family holiday and is purely about focusing on living loved ones, not dead.
c) No influencing. You tell it to them straight. There will be family history location visits, multiple graveyards, and the odd archive thrown in for good measure.
d) The destination is chosen. It’s one picked in consultation with all the family. Only then do you look to see if there are any nearby family history connections. At which point you ask the family if a brief visit is possible. And if it isn’t, you don’t sulk. You get on with enjoying time away with your nearest and dearest.
How many Family History Society and genealogy-related organisations are you a member of?
a) None. You’re interested, but not that serious as to want to part with money.
b) Several. You attend meetings, regularly contribute to forums and journals, volunteer to help with events and projects, and now even have the odd Committee-level post with one society. In fact your before you know it you’re devoting many hours a month to supporting an organisation.
c) Maybe one or two. Linked to the locations of the ancestors you have the greatest fascination with. But you’re not involved in activities to any great extent, other than perhaps submitting members interests or forum queries.
d) More than two. These cover a broader range of ancestral locations. You take a more active role by attending meetings or actively contributing to forums, publications and projects.
Do you visit archives in the course of your research? Do you know your microfiche from your microfilm? Do you keep a stock of pencils at the ready?
a) A couple of times a year. But you’re not really sure what you’re looking for, and you still find it a little bit intimidating.
b) At least once a month, after making preparations and plans for your visit including sussing out in advance the documents you wish to peruse.
c) Weekly. So often that you’re on first name terms with the staff. In fact you wish they were open longer.
d) Never. Why would you need to? Everything you want is online. Pencils were left behind at school art lesson stage.
Do you build on your family history knowledge by attending formal learning sessions, either online courses, webinars or classroom based?
a) You’ve signed up to quite a few one-off learning sessions and webinars, but no long-term course commitments.
b) You participate in the occasional webinar or library session, but rely mainly on magazine subscriptions, a few core books and information available on the Internet.
c) No, you’re entirely self-taught and have no desire to undertake formal learning.
d) You’ve become an eternal family history student. You jump from courses to webinars. Your diary is full. You have even signed up to long-running courses, possibly with the intention of obtaining a formal qualification at the end. In fact you may even find you end up teaching courses.
Do you have annual subscriptions to websites and magazines? (This is a tricky one as these things don’t come cheap. But it is a big indication of obsession, when you forgo money on other pleasures/essentials to fuel your family history interest).
a) No annual subscriptions. You rely on free library/society access, and free sites such as FreeBMD. You perhaps call on help from others in various forums or websites. And you may occasionally get a short-term subscription.
b) A maximum of five and you stick to this….whether you use them all or not.
c) A couple of key annual subscriptions, and you may rotate these. So one year Ancestry and “Who Do You Think You Are?” magazine; the next a switch to FindMyPast and “Your Family History” magazine.
d) You subscribe to so many of the things you’re thinking about taking a second mortgage! It started off with one, but you kept adding to them and couldn’t bear to drop any. Now it’s a skill in itself keeping up with which subscription needs renewing when.
How many hours a week do you spend on Family History?
a) It is the way you spend most of your time. In fact everything else you do must fit around it.
b) A couple of hours a week on average.
c) Around seven to ten hours a week. You’d like to spend longer, but have to fit it around other priorities.
d) You can go for weeks on end without picking up your research.
How many family history books do you own?
b) Around about 10. Mainly general works, but with the beginnings of a more specialised stock around key interests, be it location, occupation or period.
c) None – you borrow them from the library or consult the reference library holdings.
d) Between 10 – 50. Now specialist books are increasingly outnumbering general works. Books about apprentices, criminal ancestors, the manorial system, wills and deeds compete for shelf-space with your early introduction to family history purchases.
See the bottom of this post for the marks.
Less than 9 You are only just embarking on your family history journey. For now you’re only an occasionally dabbler. It could go either way. Who knows where you’ll be in 12 months from now? With a bit more time and effort, a few tantalising discoveries and you could easily be lured into a lifetime of pleasure. Then again, you may just get bored. You may hit a brick wall and give up. It’s been a brief, but interesting, interlude in your life. And you move onto something else.
9 to 14 You are gradually being sucked into this wonderful, alluring world full of history and mystery. Your ancestors are beginning to take shape. Bit by bit, piece by piece you are forming a picture of them. But it is not too late. You can still turn back. Though to do so will be your loss, and one which will occasionally cause you to feel the prick of wonder: what did become of the great grandparents?
15 to 20 You are well down the slippery slope to whiling away hours attempting to meet the ancestors. You’re being drawn into a world of workhouses, disease, high infant mortality, long gone occupations, religious turmoil and wars. Love, marriage, births and deaths. You’re discovering your roots. All the individuals and experiences which have lead to you. A bygone world inhabited by your flesh and blood. You want to know what happened to these people. But it’s not the be all and end all of your life.
21 to 27 It is too late. You’ve been ensnared. Yes, you do make time for other hobbies and interests. But this is your number one pastime. The thing you return to time after time. Finding out about the lives and times of your ancestors, their neighbours and their communities. Each piece of knowledge drives you on. Each mystery and gap must be solved and plugged. It may take time, but it’s time you’re willing to spend.
28 Congratulations! You are a bona fide family history addict. You live, eat, breathe and sleep family history. It is your oxygen. Your love. Your obsession. It is your reason for living. From getting up in the morning, to bedtime it is never too far away from your mind: Your family history, or that of others. You have been trapped.
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Photograph of Coventry History Centre is by Herry Lawford – Flickr: Herbert History, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18118733