Friday, September 16, 2011

What I've Been Doing For 15 Minutes Every Day!

And no smart aleck comments from the peanut gallery, please!  I've been WRITING for 15 minutes each day ~ and here's why:

At FGS 2011 I was inspired by a talk give by Lisa Alzo called Write Your Family History Step by Step. One of the things she addressed was our excuses for not writing. One of those excuses - the one I use - is "I don't have time." As she's talking I'm sitting there thinking, "But I really don't. I work, I go to school, I get home late because of a project I'm working on..." and then she said, "Even if it's just 15 minutes every night, write something."

OK, so how could I say that I didn't have 15 minutes in a day? Heck I spend that much time checking Facebook and tweeting or even watching TV. So, I decided to put a separate page on my blog to start putting in my 15 minutes a day. It's not ideal because I have to update the page each day, but I do like having it out there in the open so to speak.  It keeps me more accountable!

Emma Zaugg age 16
Lisa encouraged us to have a focus - be it a person, a branch of the family, a geographic area etc. On the drive home from FGS I decided that my focus would be Emma ZAUGG, my great-great grandmother.

After just six days, here's what I've learned.

I realize what I don't know and what I want to know.  Oh I've always heard that writing helped to show the holes in your research, but then I didn't exactly think I had holes for this particular ancestor.  I don't when it comes to the events in her life.  I know and have documentation to show when she was born, married, when her children were born and when she died.  I have visited the cemetery where she is buried many times.  She lived her whole life in the same rural county in Ohio and I really didn't think there was much I needed to learn about Emma.

Boy, was I wrong!  Trying to write her life as a story shows me how much background material I need to explore. While she didn't leave a diary, there would be many histories of the area and time that I could read.  I've also pulled off my shelves, "The Expansion of Everyday Life: 1860 - 1876" and "Victorian America: Transformation in Everyday Life, 1876 - 1915" two books that I've had forever but not yet read.  (and by forever I mean almost 20 years - I KNEW I'd need them at some point)

The Graber Farm
And I do have research holes as well.  I don't have any information pertaining to their land - and I know there would be some.  The farm where they eventually lived is still standing and I have this old picture from their daughter's photo album as well as a picture which I took a number of years ago.  One of my questions is why and how this ended up with their oldest daughter and her husband (my great-grandparents) and not with one of their sons. 

 I also have a newspaper article written in 1980 featuring Emma's son Raymond Graber with a story about how his father Rudy had been the first cheese maker in the area.  It briefly mentions Emma as well.  There is a lot from that article that I could explore to add to Emma's story.

One of the totally unexpected benefits of this exercise has been that it takes my mind off my work problems.  That's certainly a good thing right before I turn in at the night! Now, instead of tossing and turning as I think about my current project, I find myself thinking about Emma Zaugg Graber and what her life was like.  With 8 children, a husband and a farm to care for, I'm sure she could have told me a thing or two about being busy!!


  1. Diana, what a brilliant approach! I thought this was going to be a post about writing your own life story for 15 minutes a day. Something I've tried several times and fallen off the wagon each time. Putting it on a separate page on your blog is a fabulous idea. And so it picking one ancestor with a specific focus!

  2. This is a good idea. I've found that focusing and writing about one ancestor does show the holes and makes me look for more information.

  3. Diana,

    Michelle is right! This is a brilliant approach! Thank you so much for sharing what you learned. Both books that you mentioned are great, BTW. I bought the entire set, also about 20 years ago, and use them on a fairly regular basis.

  4. Props to you for taking Lisa's suggestions and running with them! I've thought so long about doing this. Time to stop thinking and do it! I certainly fritter away far more than 15 minutes each day.

    Thanks so much for sharing your process. Great post!

  5. Just thought I'd let you know I still drop by for a read ...even though I dont comment.
    What a great post ...and such good advice about 15 mins a day ...that could apply to almost anything that one puts off because the task seems so huge.

  6. What a great idea! I am SO stealing this for my blog! Thanks Diana!

  7. Excellent post on how much really CAN be accomplished in small bites of time!

  8. I like this approach too...I do a post everyday, but it is not always 15 minutes worth of my thoughts and what I know and what I want to explore and find out. I think I am going to incorporate this in my writing too! Thank you for sharing!

  9. Wow - I post something on my blog, go out to dinner and there was a party here while I was gone!! Thanks everyone for stopping by and commenting - I have to say that I have really been enjoying the experience of doing this.

    Michelle - I've tried the journal thing...writing my own life and it never sticks for me either.

    Kristin - It's been amazing to me to find holes I never even thought about!

    Cynthia - Is the whole set 4 or are there more? I have 4 books in this series but can't tell if there are supposed to be more or not. I'd be interested to know.

    SusanC - Well, we will see how I'm doing a month from now...that will be the test!

    Angie - HEY THERE COUSIN!!! I should have chosen one of our mutual Ritchie relatives...maybe for my next go-around I'll chose James.

    Amanda - Steal away...all of my best ideas are "borrowed" from other blogs!

    SusanP - I seem to remember a great post of your on a 20 minute search & find :-)

    Yvette - I don't post every day or even every week anymore...but I have been able to accomplish this because it doesn't have to be finished sentences or thoughts. Just totally random ramblings but it's been so helpful...not to mention fun!

    Well all, I need to get ready for Geneablogger Radio tonight...because Lisa Alzo is one of the guests!!

  10. Diana, we must think alike, because I wrote a post today about how I was inspired by Lisa's talk too! Your idea to write on a separate page of your blog is great. It sounds like you've already got some good stuff to get started with. Have fun writing!

  11. Hi, Diana, I just had to add my congratulations for putting into practice such a novel approach. I liked the way you identified all the issues your writing raised and what you still wanted to find out. I also liked the way you set up a "page tab " for it so it is always in front of you. I could see me doing something similar for my great grandmother who is at the heart of my family history. Thank you for sharing the idea.

  12. Hey Shelly - absolutely great minds!! I was just reading your post on the subject and it made me think that I need to order Lisa's session so I can listen to it whenever I need fresh inspiration.

    Hi SusanD (Lots of Susans at this party!!) - Seems like there is always one or two ancestors that just call to us more than others!

  13. Hi folks - First time I have found this blog and I will be back! What a great idea to spend 15 minutes writing. Maybe I will actually get something accomplished if I do this. Where in Ohio did your Emma live? Joanne in Ohio

  14. Great advise. It certainly can feel overwhelming when you think about how many ancestors you need and wish to research and learn about. Taking it 15 minutes at a time makes it manageable and removes the stress. Baby steps will get you there faster than doing nothing.

  15. Hi Joanne ~ Emma lived in Wayne County, Ohio...near Apple Creek. So did her daughter and her daughter's daughter, my grandmother. :-)

    Kathryn - That's often my problem that I get so overwhelmed I do nothing! This is better :-)

  16. A very enjoyable blog post. 15 minutes a day is a wonderful idea. Soon you may find yourself expanding it to 30 minutes.

    My Mark family is from Wayne County, Ohio. I have taken research trips there. It is a beautiful area and I'm glad to know my roots are there.

    I have also have branches where I thought I knew all about a family. Then I put all the info together in a TIMELINE and discovered holes.I find timelines to be very useful tools to organize family information and to show what was happening in the state/country as the family was growing.

    Thanks for your post Diana.

  17. Hi Diana - Just to follow up, I do believe there are four books in the series.


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