What is a BSO in genealogy?

It’s common in the genealogy world to talk about the excitement of chasing BSOs – those bright shiny objects that can assist us with our research, or occasionally, just distract us. However, I find myself wondering if we are all “on the same page” when we’re talking about them, or do we each have our own special interpretation.

Is a BSO an attractive hint or clue at the start of a trail, or is it an alternative name for a research path? Is a BSO our reward at the end of the trail?

I thought I’d put some of my own ideas together and see if I could classify different ways we might discover BSOs. In almost all of these cases I had no idea, or expectation of, the sparkly outcomes.


Trove has to be the quintessential wonderland for sparkly discoveries. It’s incredible to think of the family stories that have come from the freely available digitised newspapers since its inception. Stories that otherwise would have been lost to us. Just one example: a news story about my grandchildren’s great grandmother’s life as a lighthouse keeper’s wife. Yes, they had been told some of the stories, but to be able to read her contemporaneous comments in her own words has to be a BSO of distinction. Blog post link: https://cassmobfamilyhistory.com/2020/11/01/sepia-saturday-lighthouse-lives/


Of course Facebook can be a combination of rabbit hole and genealogical temptations, but it can also turn up real treats. Just this week I found a photo and story about my father’s cousin on the Gatton & District Family History Facebook page. I had been unaware of both previously. The image of Aileen Brinkely is reproduced here with permission.

Or when an Irish FB page gives you a brief story of some kin from personal knowledge.


Some years ago on this blog, I shared a WWI photo postcard that I’d been given by my Sydney cousin. Imagine my surprise, and that of a fellow GeneaBlogger, when it turned out the man was a relative of hers and again, a story she hadn’t known. A BSO for my friend’s research. Blog post link: https://cassmobfamilyhistory.com/2013/11/11/remembrance-day-2013-erle-victor-weiss/

Similarly, who would anticipate that stopping to pat an Irish cat would lead to meeting a relative or obtaining a photo of a great-great uncle, drowned as a young man. Blog post link: https://cassmobfamilyhistory.com/2017/06/11/of-cats-and-callaghans-at-courtown/

Unproductive Clues

It’s not really surprising that all that glitters is not gold and some clues will tempt us but be unrewarding. I recently followed up a small news clipping about my great-grandmother’s stay in Townsville hospital. She apparently had been there for some time and I wondered what the illness had been. Exploration of various sites told me it had been a private hospital, where it was located, who the doctor and senior nurse were, and what they’d done during WWII. However, nothing at all was revealed about the cause of her illness. This was less a BSO than a few uninspiring stones. News story link: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/60113816

Targeted Paths

These are the times when you’re hunting for clues of any sort about a particular topic. You venture into the Internet rabbit warren, widening or narrowing your search parameters.Before you know it, you’ve got countless web pages open, screen shots and notes. Not all will be key to your research outcomes, but without drawing the results together none of it will progress your research or answer your questions. Beware focusing only on the search. Right now I’m immersed in just such a search of Scottish local history.

Networking Clues

We all have networks of genimates met at conferences, at local meetings or online, not to mention the cousin connections we’ve made. Conversations can open up new search BSOs such as the one I talked about in this blog post – a combination of previously eliminated oral history, new additions to the story, and fortuitous networking and follow up research. Without any component, this story would have remained just that, not a sparkling BSO jewel in our family’s  story. Blog post link: https://cassmobfamilyhistory.com/2019/10/11/serendipity-meets-genea-generosity/

Lightbulb Moments

You’re sitting in a genealogy presentation focused on new skills and information you may learn. Then something in how the presenter talks about an idea sets the lightbulb off in your mind. Not so much about the topic in question, but a whole new way of thinking about something. It’s a very special type of BSO.

Your thoughts

So how do you see the BSOs you track down in your research? Which comes first? The research idea and plan, or the BSO/clue?

Is it a case of the harder you research, the luckier you get, and the shinier BSO you may find at the end of the trail? Were you ”lucky” like the photographer who gets a great shot….f8 and be there.

Are you tempted like an Aussie bower bird to accumulate shiny baubles? 

Please share your thoughts and BSO concepts in the comments or on your own blog pages and, if inclined, feed back here. It will be interesting to see whether we have a common concept of BSOs or variations on the theme.

Satin Bower Bird with his neat and BSOs. Image by Joseph C Boone from Wikimedia under Creative Commons.

4 thoughts on “What is a BSO in genealogy?

  1. Thank you for writing a clear and concise post illustrated with relevant examples. I am a great fan of BSOs and feel that they should be celebrated.

    I agree that all that glitters is not gold but, if we fail to follow every lead (or BSO) as we research, we may miss out on a vital clue or interesting anecdote to add to our ancestors’ stories.

    Unfortunately the term BSO is seen in some quarters as trivial and of little concern, perhaps we should find a term that indicates the value of these research clues. For our research to be comprehensive we must leave no stone (or BSO) unturned.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Jill. A lot comes down to nomenclature and how we use the words. For me, it’s the research process not the sparkle that is key. The research is the cake, the sparkle/BSO is the icing if you’re lucky.


  2. In trying to get my records organized in the “Genealogy Do Over” I came to think of BSO’s as distracting — never mind that, like you, I have made some surprising discoveries by following just such a trail of shiny genealogy gems. Now I am adopting the new term that emerged during the pandemic: “hybrid” (as in hybrid online/in-person meeting/training). My hybrid is to try to be methodical in my searching…but if a glittering gem presents itself? Well, off I go!


  3. I too love BSOs but I work hard to use them appropriately. One method for this is that I only follow the BSO at the time if it is clearly on the topic and related to the question I am investigating at the time. For all others, I save them in my Work in Progress folder under the appropriate surname and/or family couple so that I can deal with them later in the context of other research which is relevant to the BSO.

    Liked by 1 person

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