Of Genealogy and UFOs. (It’s Not What You Think)

Harold Henderson has me thinking again. If you’re not familiar with Harold and his blog “Midwestern Microhistory,” I highly suggest you add it to your “must read” list. He is always digging up neat resources and giving his views on a variety of genealogy and history-related topics.

His post “Cleanup in Aisles 1-1,000” got me thinking about a couple of things. First, there was the reminder that I really do need to do something with the piles and files that have overtaken my office. I like his 10-minutes-at-a-time approach, though it is going to take me lots of “10 minutes” to make meaningful progress. But it’s his last sentence that really got me thinking:

“If it’s not worth writing up, it’s not worth researching in the first place.”

I wanted to agree. It seems like such a good rallying cry, especially to someone like me who encourages others to write down their stories and their research. But after mulling it over, grabbing another cup of coffee, and mulling it over some more, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t agree.


A current UFO.

Part of my beading tray with a current UFO.

In the craft world, a UFO is an UnFinished Object. (Believe me, it’s a concept I’m well acquainted with!) It’s that scarf that you never finished knitting or the bracelet you never finished beading. It’s the necklace that you still need to put the clasp on.

UFOs are annoying. They take up space. They taunt us with their unfinished-ness.

And I don’t regret any of mine.

This little bit of beading shown in the picture is one of my current UFOs. (Yes, I have more than one. I told you it’s a concept I’m well-acquainted with!) Honestly, it’s probably going to stay a UFO. I’m not happy with the tension I used, nor am I particularly pleased with how the brown and gold beads look together.

Genealogical UFOs and Their Value

Research that you haven’t written is a genealogical UFO. You’ve done a lot of work with that research, but you haven’t completed the final step: writing it down.

Even though I’m not going to complete that brown and gold bracelet, I learned a lot while working on it. I learned that I need to keep my tension a bit tighter while doing that particular stitch. I learned that I don’t like those two beads together. I learned that if I do this again, I need a way to attach a clasp that isn’t going to be all lopsided. I also relaxed while I was working on it, which was probably good for my health.

It’s the same with the research that I’ve done but haven’t written. I learned a lot while doing it. I learned about different records and resources and how they fit together. I learned how to read documents and what certain words and phrases meant. And I relaxed while I was working on it, which was also probably good for my health :)

Some of my genealogical UFOs also led to other research. Some of that, I have written about. (One even turned into my senior honors thesis in college.)

Let’s Be Clear

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t write about our research. I think everyone should! Write about it how ever you want to — an article, a blog, a book, a series of photos on Flickr or Instagram, a PowerPoint, an iMovie. (You get the idea.) I firmly and passionately believe that turning your research into something more than your notes is the best way to preserve it for future generations.

I’m just not willing to say that research that you don’t write isn’t worth starting. There’s too much to be gained by those genealogical UFOs.

12 thoughts on “Of Genealogy and UFOs. (It’s Not What You Think)

  1. Annick H.

    I am a quilter and know first hand about UFO’s and I still like 90% of mine! Thank you for your encouragement: I have accumulated research but am also scared witless of putting things into words. Hopefully, that will change in the future.

    1. Amy Johnson Crow Post author

      Don’t be scared of your own words! Start small. You probably didn’t start quilting by making a king-size quilt. :) Write about one thing about one ancestor or maybe even just one document and what it means. Pretty soon, you’ll be writing bigger things, just like you did with your quilting.

      1. Annick H.

        That is the funny part! My first ever quilt was for a contest, it toured Texas for one year, was exhibited at Houston twice and made it into a book!!! But you are right, I just need to start even in a small way. My French magazine “La revue francaise de Genealogie” is asking for a text of 1,500 characters about our ancestors in WWII. I think I will try to do it about my Grand-Father who fought bravely in it for 3 years. Thanks.

        1. Amy Johnson Crow Post author

          1500 characters is only about 11 tweets :-) Even if it’s 1,500 words, that’s only about 3 pages. As they say, “You got this!” :)

  2. T. Gentry

    You are a good reminder to myself to quit delaying and get my writing down as time is truly fleeting by for me. I too have UFOs in my bead craft as well as genealogy. Thanks for the push better yet give me another boot to the tush.

  3. Eileen

    I have loads of UFO, crafty ones and genealogical ones. Maybe this post will give me the push I need to start documenting my ancestors – all the research is done, I just need to get it all down on paper!

  4. thegenealogygirl

    I wholeheartedly agree! There is so much learning and benefit even from the unfinished projects. I also see people who are afraid to teach or write or share what they know because they are always waiting to be an expert or something. Just dive in and go I say!


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