While walking to work last Friday morning I received a text with the devastating news that my college band director, George Parks, had died. George was more than just a band teacher. He was a mentor, colleague, and friend to all who came in touch with him. He believed in the positive in people. He was so beloved by his students, past and present, that the morning after he died his name was the top search on Google, and more than 9,500 people joined his Facebook memorial page by Monday. He taught us many lessons over the years, applicable not only to band, but to life in general. I have used a number of them in genealogical research, and would like to share a few with you.
"The first thing you need to be successful is a goal."
In genealogical research we have many of them. The number of unidentified individuals can be daunting. The number of women with no maiden names can sometimes make one want to scream. Research needs to be subdivided. Create goals for yourself. Make sure that they are specific and measurable; that way you will be able to definitively say that you succeeded in accomplishing that goal, and move on to the next one.
"If you fail to plan, plan to fail."
Genealogical research, like so many other areas of life, requires thoughtful planning. For any genealogical goal, you should develop a research plan that outlines the steps you will take and the sources you will utilize. The plan should be flexible, so that at every step of the way, as you obtain new evidence, you can update the next steps. Research plans are your roadmap. Without them, you can easily get lost, going down roads and following tangents that are far removed from your original goal.
"Working together, you can accomplish anything."
As a part of a band, you all must work together to successfully entertain your audience. The same holds true for genealogical research. We can each go off on our own, but we are so much more successful when working together. When researching a specific family, reach out to see if others are researching the same people. Reach out to those who have researched in that locality to discover what information and resources might be available. And find people researching in that locality so you can share experiences and resources.
"There are no problems in life, only tests of your creativity."
Genealogical puzzles are common. It is part of the fun, and one of the reasons we enjoy research. The thrill of the chase is half the battle. So when you are looking at a genealogical problem, try approaching it from different angles. How creative can you be about listing potential theories or potential resources to examine? Enlist the help of others, who can look at the problem with a fresh eye, and one that is not vested in all the research you have already performed.
"Raise your left hand in the air. Now raise it an inch higher. THAT is what’s wrong with your life!"
Too often we think we are reaching for our goals, but we don’t stretch ourselves enough. We give up too easily, saying we’ve done our best, when we can actually reach farther. The answer is out there somewhere. Keep looking, keep stretching, keep thinking, and don’t give up.
I'll bet you never thought you'd get genealogy advice from band practice! Many of the lessons I learned in band from George apply to all areas of my life, including family history. My friends and I are forever grateful to him, and he will be greatly missed. The eyes, George, though always With Pride, for now are also filled with tears. Thank you.