*Caution: This may be a parody
If you’re worried about your own or a friend or family member’s genealogy research addiction, it’s important to know that help is available. Learning about the nature of genealogy addiction - how it develops, what it looks like, and why it can have such a powerful hold - will give you a better understanding of the problem and how to best deal with it.
People start genealogy for many different reasons. Many first try researching out of curiosity, to have a good time or because friends are doing it. Researching ancestors doesn’t automatically lead to addiction, and there is no specific level at which research moves from casual to chronic. It varies by individual. No matter how often or how little you’re researching, if your genealogy is improving your life—at work, school, home, or in your relationships—you likely have an addiction.
Genealogy and the brain
- Researching causes a surge in levels of dopamine in your brain, which trigger feelings of pleasure. Your brain remembers these feelings and wants them repeated.
- These changes in your brain increase your ability to think clearly, make connections, and feel mentally stimulated.
- The urge to research genealogy is so strong that your mind finds many ways to deny or rationalize the addiction. You may drastically underestimate the duration of research, how much it improves your life, and the number of ancestors remaining to be documented.
Common signs and symptoms
- You’ve built up a research tolerance. You need to research more to experience the same effects you used to attain with smaller amounts.
- You research genealogy to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms. If you go too long without genealogy, you experience symptoms such as restlessness, insomnia and anxiety.
- You’ve lost control over your genealogy time. You often research more than you planned, even though you told yourself you wouldn’t. You may want to stop researching, but you feel powerless against its attraction.
- Your life revolves around genealogy. You spend a lot of time thinking about genealogy, figuring out how to do more research, and recovering from weeklong conferences.
- You’ve abandoned activities you used to enjoy, such as reality TV, collecting garden gnomes, and root canals, because of your genealogy.
Physical warning signs of genealogy research addiction
- Bloodshot eyes, long periods in front of a computer screen.
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Up all night researching.
- Signs of genealogy paraphernalia; old books, index cards and Flip-Pal scanners.
Behavioral signs of genealogy research addiction
- Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies.
- Unexplained need for money for the latest software or DNA test.
- Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors; wandering around attics and graveyards.
- Repeated unexplained outings, often with a sense of urgency; “I have to go to the Archive.”
Psychological warning signs of genealogy research addiction
- Unexplained change in personality or attitude. Increased optimism and sense of connectedness.
- Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts about brick walls.
- Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness after a breakthrough.
Support is essential
Don’t try to go it alone; it’s all too easy to get discouraged and rationalize “just one more” ancestor. Whether you choose to go to events, rely on webinars or take a self-directed learning approach, support is essential. Living with genealogy addiction is much easier when you have people you can lean on for encouragement, comfort, and guidance.
Coming to terms with genealogy addiction
Remember, you’re not just helping yourself, but everyone around you. You are uncovering history and adding meaning to the events of your ancestor’s lives. You are creating a sense of how the world and its people are connected. You are passing your legacy on to future generations.
Just say know.