Monday, July 29, 2013

Genealogy From The Blueberry Patch

My family loves blueberries. Fortunately for us, we can satisfy our cravings every summer by picking our own at a local farm. Every July, we start to pay attention to the ripening rumors from the Tammen Treeberry Farm near Braidwood, Illinois.

Weather is a big factor. The last few years have seen extreme heat and extreme rain in northern Illinois. There are always blueberries, but how big, how many and how sweet depends on the weather. This summer it suddenly cooled and the farm was ready to open!

Years ago, my mom, her best friend and all of us kids headed to the farm. I recall it being child labor! Now I appreciate it as a nice outdoor activity with a great payoff. Often my kids join me, but this time they felt their teenager activities were more important. No matter - I will keep the tradition alive on my own. On this spectacularly cool Saturday last, I ventured out and about two hours later, I had 12 pounds of huge, sweet blueberries!

While picking, several ideas came to me that applied not only to gathering the most blueberries, but also to approaching my genealogy research.

Gather the Low-Hanging Fruit

The blueberry bushes grow to around eight feet tall. But the berries grow all over. There are plenty right in your view. Often the young kids wander through the fields, picking and eating what they can reach. Genealogy can be the same way: reach for those ancestors that are right in front of you. Don't make genealogy hard. And you can't keep moving back in time until you have a good handle on what is right in front of you.

Seek a Different Perspective

Blueberry bushes hide their bounty well. Moving to a different side of the bush, pulling down a tall branch or even ducking down underneath yields hidden fruit. Genealogy uses the FAN rule - friends, associates, neighbors - to find parallel tracks of your ancestors. Using collateral lines often exposes links and connections you never expected. Move the branches aside and you may find what you were searching for.

Get Your Hands Dirty

No doubt about it - blueberry pickin' is work. You'll probably stain your shirt and your hands. But you keep at it because you know how good those berries will taste! You also have to keep working at your genealogy to enjoy the fruits of your labor. You may have to get outside your comfort zone by working with records in a new state or country, maybe using a new language. You need to seek out new repositories of data sets you have never worked with before. But you pick through records and pick through bushes because you know the payoff will be worth it.

Do It Your Way

No one wanted to join me on my picking trip this year, but I went anyway. I wasn't going to worry about anyone's choices except my own because I wanted blueberries! So much discussion in the greater genealogy world has lately been focusing on how you do your work, how it is presented and preserved, and if you are doing it according to standards. Your research legacy is important - but first it should matter to you. Do research that makes you happy. If you are stuck at a brick wall - and we all are - reach out in a new way to break it down. If you are no longer satisfied with the results of your favorite online database - unsubscribe. Money talks louder than whining. If your social sharing arena isn't giving back the way you hoped or need, find new bloggers, tweeters, and posters that do. Create an online family history tree, or website, or book, or blog, or art project. Or don't. Research because you want to and be happy!

I am off to heed my own genealogy advice... and eat more blueberries!

© 2013 Sally Knudsen


  1. Ooooh, this is a very good four-sided analogy. It's all true, too -- even the "get your hands dirty" part. (I just found two local genealogy books on a side trip to a library many states away -- and they are awesome.)

    That blueberry in your first pictures looks as big as a watermelon! Great camera angle!

    1. Thanks Mariann! They taste as good as they look :) Good luck with your new books!

  2. Great advice and analogies about genealogy here Sally! And those photos are just so fun too!

  3. Sally,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Great post with some great insights! I especially like "do it your own way." After all, it is "our" hobby we should be happy in the way that we do it!

    1. Thanks Heather! Sometimes I start to feel "talked at" rather than "communicated with" and just needed to say my piece ;) Thanks for reading!

  5. Enjoyed the visit and the read, Sally. Your perspective as presented in the post is refreshing - now, if you could just find a way to share those enticing blueberries.

    1. Thank you Tracy! I'd share if I could :)