Climbing the Ladder One Rung at a Time

Build your family tree one step at a time

I was watching some painters painting the interior of my daughter's house. She has a stairwell with walls that are quite high. The painters were using a series of ladders to reach the higher parts of the walls. At one point, one of the painters ended up standing on the top of an extended ladder. I mean, right on top of a ladder in the form of an "A," balanced on the very point of the top. This is not something I would ever have tried as he had no support at all except for his exceptional balance.

I am sure that there were a number of safety violations in the way that the work was done. But the comparison to my own work in genealogy was obvious. At times even though we climb one rung at a time up our ancestral ladder, we reach the top and sometimes it takes some substantial risk to go further. It takes a great deal of balance and some considerable risk. Genealogy is not a competitive sport. It isn't even a situation where there are winners and losers. In a real sense, everyone who participates in genealogy, wins. But on the other hand, all of the factors that go into successfully competing or, in the case of the painters, completing a difficult job, apply to genealogy.

We can only progress in finding our ancestors is we take the job one rung at a time. If we skip a rung or skimp on our research, we may get stuck and never get to the top of the ladder. But by making sure we can make it to the next rung, we will inevitably get to the top of the ladder. That's where balance and skill start to come in. I am sure that this was not the first time the painter had balanced on the top of a tall ladder. His experience had given him a sense of confidence that I, a rank amateur could never have. Likewise, as we climb the rungs of our genealogical ladders, we need to accumulate experience that will give us the ability to stretch beyond the end and reach higher into areas of real difficulty.

Where the ladder analogy breaks down with genealogy, is the fact that as you climb your ancestral lines you will cross with others looking for the same information. Genealogy doesn't come to a point with no support. As you climb, you get more and more opportunities to interact with other relatives descended from the same people. If you are lucky, you will end up building the same support structure and the risks at the end of lines will be substantially diminished.

Remember it takes a significant effort to get to the top.

Written by James L. Tanner. Used with permission.

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