Do successful genealogists need to have an insatiable curiosity?

I think so!

A few days ago Judy Russell posted a blog about randomly looking at wills and how they piqued her interest because of the untold stories…even tho’ she wasn’t related to any of the individuals there.  They each had a story to tell and no one to tell it. Each seemed to “beg the question” of wanting to know more.  You can read that blog here:

Today, I looked through a new book I had just gotten and I was struck by the same thing.  The book was The Union: A Guide to Federal Archives Related to the Civil War.  I had quickly leafed through this very “dense” book upon its arrival, but decided to pick it up again today.  I stopped randomly on pages 254/5 and started to really read.  Here are some of the items on those two pages that captured my attention, not unlike Judy and her looking at wills and ….wondering:

  • “Papers on the court-martial of Fitz-John Porter”:  Who is this guy?  What is his story?
  • “Papers concerning the health and treatment of Jefferson Davis as a prisoner in Fort Monroe, VA”: You don’t hear much about his imprisonment.  Could you contrast and compare to Guantanamo?
  • “Papers concerning the claims of British citizens residing in the US who suffered property and other losses in war areas”: Was there a post CW “Marshall Plan” for the British?
  • “…the testimony of Union soldiers concerning “outrages” committed by the citizens of Winchester, Va.”:  What outrages?  How bad were they?
  • “List of monies taken from banks and banking institutions in New Orleans”:  I wonder how much?  Was it returned?  Who took it? Was there a punishment for the takers or were they rewarded?
  • “Data concerning officers of the U.S. regular Army who joined the Confederate Army”:  Not much is ever written about that!  What happened to them? Could they go back home? Or, did they go west?  If one wanted to “get away” now, where would they go?
  • “Papers concerning the board to examine Dr. Solomon Andrew’s “aerial machine” “:  Oh, I knew they used balloons for reconnaissance but what is this?
  • “Articles of Agreement between Maj. C.C. Sibley, U.S.A. and Col. Earl Van Dorn, C.S.A., relative to U.S. army officers and men who might become prisoners of war”,:  This probably has to do with prisoner exchanges and the value of a person based on their rank but wouldn’t it make interesting reading?

These are just the selected entries on two pages!  How can one not be mesmerized by each of these or on any of the almost 600 pages of content? What I thought was a dry book listing the collections of NARA related to the Civil War is actually fascinating reading.  And, I thought all I was interested in was the draft riots in New York!  And, yes, I think you do have to have an insatiable curiosity to be a good genealogist–every where you turn there is another story waiting to be told by you.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  worked more on Susan’s book, finished up another client’s report who wanted to know the Norwegian village of origin prior to a trip to Norway (I found it!), finished up my Education Plan assignment for ProGen, reentered all my books into website LibraryThing (wish they had an app) in preparation for completing the next portion of the assignment–the personal library list.

Source materials:

Kenneth W. Munden, The Union: A Guide to Federal Archives Relating to the Civil War (Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2004) 254-255.  First published as Guide to Federal Archives Relating to the Civil War in 1962, reprinted under present title in 1986.

Judy Russell, “Questions of Will,” The Legal Genealogist, 15 February 2013 ( : accessed 18 February 2013).


One comment on “Do successful genealogists need to have an insatiable curiosity?

  1. Allen says:

    Do successful genealogists need to have an insatiable curiosity? Absolutely! Anyone can copy down birth and death dates, etc., but it takes someone with an insatiable curiosity to ferret out what it means. Not everyone can do that.

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