04/11/2013 08:27 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

A Genealogy 'Prime Directive': Avoid the 'Rose-Colored Glasses Effect' at All Costs!

A Genealogy 'Prime Directive': Avoid the 'Rose-Colored Glasses Effect' at All Costs!

One of the frustrations in genealogy that folks often raise with me is when they can't find a record (census, parish, birth, death, marriage, etc.) where they 'think' it ought to be.


While I fully understand and appreciate their frustration, one of the factors I find that often influences this frustration is what I call the 'Rose-Colored Glasses Effect' and it needs to be avoided in everyone's family history and genealogy work.

I wear glasses. Trifocals actually. That lovely invention that allows me to keep my glasses on at all times and see when I read, when I watch TV, and when I am driving or looking at some scenery far away. It is only when I am missing my glasses that I fully realize how much they do for me to keep the world in focus!

I am also a photographer, an amateur, but I enjoy the hobby quite a bit. I love to see if I can capture and save what my eye is seeing through the use of my camera. While I understand all the filters and special effects that now can be slapped on a digital photo with ease, I prefer to see my images as they truly appeared to me, not enhanced, not changed, not altered. Just a true digital depiction of what it was that I saw that captured my attention at the time.

When conducting our genealogy and family history, we need to be sure we are not guilty of putting on our 'rose-colored glasses' when we conduct our research. This 'rose-colored glasses effect' as I call it takes what we are searching for and mentally makes us look for what we need in the place we wish or desire it to be. This can easily lead to our ignoring far too many options of where the desired information might be!

I see this 'rose-colored glasses effect' in genealogy most often when it comes to folks imagining their ancestral families as a paragon of normalcy, or perhaps as desiring them to be some sort of celebrity or quite often Royal in some connection. This 'rose-colored glasses effect' then leads these folks to spend bundles of their precious genealogy research time with a predetermined outcome in mind, rather than being open-minded and searching for leads, hints, and information in the widest variety of possibilities. It also tends to lend itself to the preclusion of life being unfair, difficult, mundane, and sometimes outright negative.

A few real world examples include these. A great, great uncle of mine, who described, in an interview, how he and his wife outlived all eleven of his children. Or the family who explained that of the 200 immigrants on board the ship they came to America on from Europe in 1853 some 100 died in route due to storms and disease. Or the family with the son who was convicted of a felony crime, sent to prison, then to a hospital for the criminally insane, and who then, upon release changed his name 'on the fly'. Or the family member who died as a wino on the streets of Chicago.

I found them all only because I was open to all options in my research and did not fancy one particular outcome of my research into their family history.

So remember. To make the most and best use of your genealogy research time, put those rose-colored glasses away and avoid the 'rose-colored glasses effect' at all costs because the cost is nil! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!