Sunday 8 August 2021

Genealife in Lockdown - A wasted(?) week

Alex Daw has challenged fellow geneabloggers to write about their lockdown experiences in a series of blog posts on Sundays during National Family History Month in Australia. Read more at

Well, that was very different week! Sunday August 1 was meant to be the day that our "short sharp" lockdown ended but on Saturday morning came the announcement that restrictions would be extended for a further week.

Day 1 would surely be business as usual. My recurring task is to finalise the Tween-meeting Newsletter for our local family history group ready for email distribution on Monday morning. But when the lockdown began on Friday, I had begun that job early and it was already completed. Time for a quick scroll through Twitter where an historical photo from Queensland State Archives caught my eye. This is a regular feature that usually attracts little more than a cursory glance, but (with time on my hands) I switched to the big screen and examined the South Brisbane streetscape at full magnification.

A few hours later, I had contributed three reply Tweets and a Facebook comment! Not (only) because I am a very inefficient (some say reluctant) user of "the socials"; but because I had found so many fascinating rabbit holes to explore. War-time rent controls on a private hotel, the historical location of a brewery, the alignment of tram tracks and the challenge of deciphering the (unlit) second layer of a neon advertisement meant that I had easily filled what might have been wasted hours. I guess that is what is meant by the "opportunity cost" of a habit - the experiences that we miss when choosing to focus on getting jobs done.

The second day of my lockdown week began with a slightly guilty feeling. Not only was I breakfasting "late" but the joyous glow from simply rambling through historical sources without a goal in sight persisted. Clearly I needed to get down to proper "work".

And the spur was the realisation that a lockdown (extended once) could become even longer. If we were not released as scheduled on the 8th, what would become of our Family History Group meeting with a guest presenter on the 10th? We had seen the impact of an extended period without interactions in 2020 and were determined to provide continuity. The thought of delivering a livestream session (as we had done last year) flickered briefly but was replaced with the (less stressful) option of pre-recording segments that could be uploaded to YouTube when (if) the face-to-face meeting could not proceed.

By Monday evening, the outline of a worthwhile program had been established and the individual components were beginning to come together. But once I added the third scratch to the wall on Tuesday morning, the time to complete the necessary work seemed to stretch endlessly before me and any sense of urgency evaporated into it. Surely it would be more efficient to spend a few minutes developing a template in a new piece of software for a standard process for creating each 5 minute video segment than to simply blunder around making one (or even three) in an ad hoc manner.

At the end of Tuesday, I had adaptations of several very promising checklist templates but none of them were exactly what I had imagined. Surely, the breakthrough would come early on day 4, or I could simply start recording the first video.

Upon awakening, my first thought was the shock that I did not know what day of the week it was. Where was I meant to be? Then I remembered, my scheduled visit to Miegunyah House Museum to continue cataloguing the 70 year collection of "family files" was not deemed to be essential work that justified leaving my home. So there was ample opportunity to recover from the effects of my procrastination research into process enhancement of the previous day. By nightfall, there were rough cuts of two segments in the (digital) can and solid progress on a third. I had reluctantly decided that the best form of template for production would not be produced a priori but rather arise inductively from the experience of competing the task repeatedly.

Thursday dawned (figuratively speaking) with a repeat of that feeling of dread that I had missed an appointment the details of which I could not remember. (Is this a reported effect of lockdown in chronic workaholics?) My scheduled role as a guide at the House Museum for a group of primary students completing a unit on 19th century domestic arrangements had, of course, been wiped from my diary (and their's). I wonder who was the more disappointed?

However, the full day was now available to finalise (or at least make substantial progress on) the recorded replacement for next week's meeting. I soon learned that I was not the only one considering the risk of enforced cancellation. A staff member from the library that generously hosts our gatherings wondered whether (if our speaker agreed) a Zoom meeting would be an appropriate substitute. Of course it was far preferable to my plan, so the professionals took on the organisation of setting up the event and advising prospective attendees. And I now had a day free.

A colleague who phoned wondering "if I had a moment" to talk through some potential confusion about (incomplete) names on passenger lists probably was not expecting our conversation to be quite so extended; but I relished the opportunity the work things through at some length. After a coffee, I remembered that last time I was at Miegunyah (it seemed so long ago) I had scanned some hand-written letters to be transcribed. Some cleaning up in image-manipulation software would make that process both easier and more reliable. The afternoon passed quickly.

Friday was not just the sixth day of my week in lockdown, it was the day that I had been most looking forward to getting out. I had arranged to visit the premises of Brisbane City Council Archives (for the first time) to extend my searches beyond what I had been able to do online. The date had been chosen to be my fun day for research after two work days on Wednesday and Thursday. Now it was just another 8 to 10 empty hours to be filled.

The day did not start well. Even the QSA photo Tweets did not stir me. Perhaps some blog browsing would spark enthusiasm. Which is how I came across Alex's suggestion for an NFHM blogging challenge. My first thought was that I had nothing to say on that theme, but I did read through a couple of couple of contributions from others. At that point, I was distracted by the realisation that I had been confined to barracks for ever a week and not once had I thought of catching up on a recorded webinar, such as Helen Smith's Burying the body in England (soon to disappear behind the paywall).

Saturday ought to have been my rostered duty as a House Guide and server of afternoon teas to visitors to Miegunyah but that too was impossible under the lockdown restrictions. Perhaps it would be worth devoting a few moments to reflecting on the week that was, just to see whether I could contrive some sort of a blog post!


Even after this was written, it almost did not make it on-line when I realised that it revealed that with 168 hours of potentially uninterrupted time available, I had not devoted a single minute to research into my own family history. That surely disqualified it from inclusion under the Genealife banner. But if I did not publish, then what would I have to show for the week!

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