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The Curse of the Goal

By Daniel Hubbard | July 24, 2016

sistine_chapelA little while ago I was on my first vacation in years. Many puzzle pieces fit together and my family and I went back to Europe. In Rome we went to see the Sistine Chapel. The Chapel is a part of the Vatican Museum, one of the world’s truly great museums. It would be hard to deny that it is the museum’s crown jewel, but I also could not help but feel that it was something of a curse. It so dominated visitors’ thoughts that some of the finest objects of world culture were, at best, brief distractions as a crush of single-minded humanity flowed toward the chapel. There were few if any chances to pause and reflect on amazing things from the past. After waiting many hours in 95 degree heat in order to get in just before the museum closed, it is hard to deny that there was some sense to that rushing river of humanity. I can’t help though but be saddened at the thought of all that was missed as we moved as fast as we could, shoulder to shoulder, toward the one and only goal.

Genealogy can be like that, but it shouldn’t be. There is nothing wrong with having a goal, in fact it is generally a good thing—if it is the right sort of goal. Finding the home village of an elusive immigrant ancestor is a fine goal. Testing the truth of the family story that has had you intrigued for years is a fine goal. We often go into research with a single goal. It can give us focus, but it can also blind us. The more distant the goal is from where we are in our research, the greater the temptation to forge on, full steam ahead, instead of enjoying the farmers and millers, the saints and the scoundrels that we would encounter along the way, if we only took the time. Research should be thorough to be as sure as possible that it is correct, but there is more to it than that. Whatever you might consider the crown jewel of your genealogy to be, a Mayflower passenger, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, or an officer at Waterloo, all those men and women in between have lives and stories worth understanding. Genealogy can be like traveling, it isn’t just the destination that counts, there is also the journey that takes us there. You don’t want to finally reach your Sistine Chapel, look back, and realize that you have no idea how you got there, or what you might have missed along the way.

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