I gave my younger son an early birthday present the other day — a Lego set that I figured he’d get going on and have completed by the day he actually turns 9. But it’s not going happen, because he’s got way more discipline at building with Legos than I do with researching.
Legos sets come divided into plastic pouches numbered 1 through whatever, and my son announced that rather than get caught in mid-build when he had to go do something else, he would stop with pouch #1 for that first day. I doubted he would stick to that limit; I fully expected to hear, “Okay, maybe just one pouch more” a few times before the day was done. But he proved me wrong. He finished the first pouch and called it a day, spending the next long while playing with what he’d built so far instead of proceeding to the next phase of the instructions.
Contrast that with the research I’m doing now — not for a book, but for my own family tree. Once I get going (which is frequently), I have a hard time stopping. There are lots of resources out there, and I’ve made lots of progress, but every bit of progress — every new name or date or place — leads to more research that I could do, more progress that I could make. And every dead end I hit just shifts my attention to a new way of searching for the piece of information I’m trying to find.
For example, if I can’t find what I’m looking for on a great-grandparent’s parents, I can just switch to looking for that great-grandparent’s siblings, and that can lead to what I was looking for in the first place. Or not, in which cases there’s always something else I can try, even if it’s just hopping over to another line of my family where I haven’t hit a wall.
Now, that sort of doggedness can come in handy. It allowed me to find details about a great-great-great-grandmother who previously I knew of only as a name. But I get the sense that it also means that I’m missing out on some of the joy in savoring what I’ve already discovered. Now that I’ve found that great-great-great-grandmother, do I hurry on to her parents and siblings, or do I pause to appreciate the efforts — mine and others’ — that have made this discovery possible? Do I take a little time to ponder what her 39 years on this planet might have been like?
I ought to, it seems. If nothing else, I’ve learned from my son that the next pouch will still be there waiting even if I don’t hurry to it right away.