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Genealogy Do-Over: The Value of a BSO

BSOs - Bright and Shiny Objects - can't be avoided in genealogy. Research success depends on how you handle these necessary distractions!

BSOs - Bright and Shiny Objects - can't be avoided in genealogy. Research success depends on how you handle these necessary distractions!

Click here to download this article in PDF format.

When you became a part of the Genealogy Do-Over, either as a participant or a “watcher,” you likely saw a new term “BSO” mentioned by others. Is it a genealogy term? Is it an archaic cause of death? Is it a new technology? Not exactly …

The term BSO is shorthand for “Bright and Shiny Object” and can be anything from a shaky leaf on a genealogy website, to a newly found record, to a box of photos sent to you from a relative. If not handled properly, a BSO can cause your research to be derailed while you lose focus on your original research goal.

Genealogy is a minefield of BSOs, many of which can be avoided while others require action within a specific time frame. Here’s how I handle BSOs in my genealogy research and why I believe conquering the BSO syndrome is the key to research success.

Your To-Do List – First Line Defense Against BSOs

I highly recommend the use of a To-Do List to track each “proof point” you are researching. A proof point is the fact you are trying to prove such as “Daniel OKEEFE was born in Ireland” or “Daniel OKEEFE married Catherine SULLIVAN.”

A good To-Do List system will help you track various proof points, the records to use when researching, the date you started tracking a proof point and more.

Click here to download an Excel file example of a To-Do List for Daniel OKEEFE, my 3rd great-grandfather born in Ireland in 1828. As I used the 1860 US Federal Census to track information, I discovered he had a wife Catherine and a daughter Ellen. Those became new proof points in my To-Do List.

In addition, you are welcome to save this To-Do List format and use it as a basis for your own.

SHOULD You Follow that BSO? A Litmus Test

Discovering New Leads

Finding new leads is one of the keys to keeping us interested in our genealogy research. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Even vendors like MyHeritage have capitalized on this “rush” of excitement we get when there is even the potential of finding a new ancestor. That is why we sign up for alerts such as Smart Matches or we click on a link that says “related record.”

A new lead could come about simply from evaluating a record. A recent example: the World War 1 draft card for my great-grandfather John Ralph AUSTIN in 1917 lists that he had a wife and child. This was my first evidence of such information and my instinct was to stop everything and find out more.

There’s a better way to handle these new leads:

  • Use your To-Do List mentioned above and record each proof element to be research based on the new information. Do this immediately so you don’t forget.
  • For the example above, one proof point entered would be “Determine name of wife of AUSTIN John Ralph” and another would be “Determine marriage date of AUSTIN John Ralph and UNKNOWN Wife of John Ralph AUSTIN.”
  • Enter the Start Date as the date you discovered the information and if you use a Notes field, briefly mention how you came about the information: “Based on World War I draft card for John Ralph AUSTIN reviewed on 14 April 2015.”

Make it a habit to “capture” new leads each and every time. Not only will you begin building a list of research items, but you’ll resist the temptation to follow that BSO!

Free Access Offers

Periodically, genealogy vendors will open up specific record sets to the public offering free access. Other times, for major events, such as the end of the US Civil War, the vendor will offer specific records with specific access dates. Here is my strategy that I employ when there is a free access period for genealogy records:

  • Do I already have access to the records? If it is part of a subscription I already pay for, I won’t be attracted by the BSO. In fact, if I am a regular user, a free access period means the website could be slow and crawl during that period. So I make a note to come back after the free access period.
  • Can I get the records elsewhere? Can I access them for free on FamilySearch or even Internet Archive? A BSO can become dull with just a little research as to available access points for those records.
  • Is it more cost and time-effective to hold off? Let’s face it, those records aren’t going anywhere. It is just the free access period that will expire. It might be a better use of my time to sign up for a special one-month subscription at the site when I have more time to fully dedicate my attention to the records. Also, by then, I might have a whole slew of items to search in my To-Do List using those records.

* * *

One skill that I’ve had to develop over the years of doing genealogy research, is how to best handle BSOs and make them work FOR me. Yes, it takes restraint. Yes, you can get “lost in the moment.” Yes, it can be frustrating not to go off on that side journey. But very few BSOs are so fleeting and ephemeral that they need to be followed right away.

Simply place the item in your To-Do List and follow the BSO when you have time and your mental focus is strong. Your genealogy research will thank you!

©2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

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