27 November 2012

Tuesday's Tip - Something For Everyone

I was going through all the things I haven't had time to read and found Tim Forsythe's blog post titled, 'The Drive-By Genealogist's Lament'. I started to write a comment, then realized it'd be way too long. And I've really been itching to address this issue for a number of important reasons. I believe, if you bear with me and read on, there will be something for everyone. That's my goal: something for everyone.

If you didn't want to take the time to read Tim's excellent post, here's how I started my response: 

Well, now that you've called 95% of the family history/genealogy community lazy, I have to comment. I don't know if I'd slap the word 'lazy' umbrella-style over every person who found a relative in an online tree, downloaded the file and got jazzed by the fact they just found 1,000 new relatives. I did it when I first started in 1996. I was elated

Then I got hammered by a Professional Genealogist who told me (paraphrasing) that I was full of crap and didn't know crap and I better learn something if I'm going to do this (genealogy). *fakes cowering* So I did. Learn something...on my own. Poorly. And I posted a tree out there using Family Tree Maker software and created my little family page and was so happy

At this point I realized I was going to probably end up writing more than Tim's original post, and didn't think that was appropriate or professional. So, here's the rest of my story:

I took a break. A long break. Oh, I looked at my genealogy stuff a couple of times a year, but between the loss of family members, friends and a bunch of other life stuff, it wasn't a priority. Then I came back. I was an Archivist now. My research skills were sharply honed in college and I wanted to get back to Genealogy. I started to think about it as a profession. So, I got online, started a blog about my experience as a family historian and future professional, and started to read the blogs of Professional Genealogists. And what they said about source citations made sense, even though I didn't want it to. I looked back at my old research and online tree and saw that it was like Swiss cheese without the cheese. All holes. I had propagated incorrect information. Well shoot.

Then, about that same time, someone posted somewhere on Social Media that ALL trees MUST be cited or they have no place on the Internet. *Said in my best Genealogy Police voice* My first thought was, "wow, that's harsh...I wouldn't have posted that old tree if..."  *face palm*  Oh, OK. I guess I can *see* that point. I might not like it or agree with it, but I can understand that side of the argument. I propagated incorrect information via an on-line tree. That information will be out there in perpetuity and a researcher may copy it and use it and so on and so on.

Just a few weeks later, my study group was learning about Source Citations. Talk about brutal. Someone could write a book about all the iterations...oh. Heh. There IS a book. And a website (now). But it's a bit like giving the current Tax Code to a third grader and expecting him/her to understand it. After much discussion, we determined the real key is that the citation should be clear enough for the person using it to FIND the source of the evidence that's being cited, which makes sense from a researcher's standpoint. You want to get as close to the primary source as you can and, if someone else has already done that, and they explain (cite) where that was (source), you've found what you were looking for (evidence)! And you're happy

Then I had a brilliant idea and I posted it on Social Media. I said that companies like Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org and every site that holds family trees should filter the trees into different buckets. BAM!! I got slammed to the ground by several people saying I was being divisive and non-inclusive and a hater of beginning genealogists. Really?! I was shocked and taken by surprise that they hadn't taken the time to even read my complete suggestion which is this: that family history sites have the technological ability to filter trees by the number of entries which have sources. That with that ability, they could create two places where trees reside: a place for trees without sources and a place for trees with sources. There's no exclusion of information; it's still all there. If you want to pull 10,000 people into your beginning tree and post it, go right ahead. If you don't want to put a single bit of data into your tree without using the Genealogical Proof Standard, that's fine too. And EVERYONE in between those two extremes is welcome to post whatever they want in whatever unsourced/sourced state they choose because the site will determine which bucket it goes in, automatically. 

A RESEARCHER can then choose whether or not they want to look at sourced and cited trees or those without sources and citations. That's the root of what we do as family historians and/or genealogists of any stripe. We research. We don't sit passively and wait for the information to come to us, we go get it. And we all have different levels of ability with regard to that research and different reasons for doing the research in the first place. This solution excludes no one and provides more efficient access for the researcher, be they the lazy *tongue in cheek* professional who is seeking sourced material or the beginner who has yet to learn the difference between evidence and a source and just wants to pull 1,000 people into a database and go through it piece by piece to uncover whether that information is accurate. 

It's a suggested solution, rather than simply a comment. We were all beginners once. We should openly welcome people who are simply hoping to find out where their grandfather was born, or if their 2nd great grandfather really went to Brazil. And if they get the bug and want to take the step of learning how the Genealogical profession works and what its standards are, there are lots of resources for them to do that and plenty of us out here willing to share. To find solutions to problems. Because there really can be something for everyone.


  1. Awesome as usual my friend! I can't de IDE which part I liked best. Right now I debate between the Swiss cheese missing the Swiss and the image of handing MY 3rd grader the tax code and having some hope she will understand ANYTHING in it! I'm a tax geek and still feel like hitting my head against a brick wall sometimes when I read sections of the code! I did not realize there was such a dither going on about this of late, but you make me feel the need to blog myself before completely filling your comment section. All I know is that I am grateful for the genealogists that do attempt to help newbies without making them feel like they can't do it or shouldn't do it until they are perfect. None of us get here without trying an screwing up a bunch along the path of learning. Thanks for the post!

    1. Katie, obviously I was hungry when I was writing. Heh. I just believe, perhaps naively, that Professional Genealogists should have a bit more heart than to just say you either have to know all the rules or don't play. And on the opposite side, as a newbie, welcoming reasonable requests for clarification or corrections is just good manners. And the MOST important lesson about genealogy? NOTHING is 'perfect'. :-)

  2. I do genealogy because I enjoy it. I don't have an urge or drive to do this professionally, and don't have a need to prove to anyone but myself that I'm right about certain genealogical conclusions. That doesn't mean I will not try to be the best darn amateur genealogist I can be.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Taco (BTW, I think you had the hiccups...LOL).

      One of the greatest lessons I've learned is that there are some INCREDIBLY talented family historians out there who, like yourself, have no inclination of ever becoming professionals. Their level of commitment to the research is remarkable, and their ability to problem solve is inspiring.

      You are, I assure you, an excellent genealogist. There is nothing 'amateur' about the research you do. I, in particular, am very thankful for that!

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  5. Good post Laura,

    I too, like the 3rd Grader/Tax Code ananlogy. Since Evidence Explained is open on my desk all the time now I know how daunting it can be.

    In my own post on this subject, I tried to talk a little about the success I've had reaching out to owners of even the worst trees. Because we are interested in the same people.

    I understand the objection. There is alot of bad info out there. There always will be. But the original article was objectionable in its tone. I don't think Tim's calling large swaths of people lazy improved the discussion.

    Your solution is a good one. The more welcoming we are, the more opportunity we have to both help and influence newcomers to the field.

    1. Rorey,

      Thanks so much for reading and especially for commenting. I too rely on EE for my entries into my professional work; as challenging as it is I believe it does frame our work as Professional.

      I concur that the original article was just really not helpful and while I thought Tim had something interesting to say, I would agree his post wasn't helpful either.

      I don't believe that most people would object to having information that is factually inaccurate being removed from their trees. But reaching out in a non-confrontational way will get far better results than running them over with a car. (Heh.)

      I'm glad you like my solution. I dislike confrontation immensely. And, I get re-energized every time I get to talk to someone new who is so excited by the thought of finding out about their family. That's really all it's about.

  6. Your suggestion makes plenty of sense to me, Laura! And I enjoyed learning your history with genealogy -- so many, many people must be "wowed" at the outset by all those not-completely-sourced public family trees. And why not?

    You show so much common sense: You're describing what many family researchers today actually do, I believe. Case in point:

    Right now I'm adding Frasers to my family tree on Ancestry. When I type in my g-g-grandfather Fraser to the family tree, whose name and BD dates I got from (gasp) family tradition, the Ancestry program immediately offers me a bunch of (cite-able) Sources: DCs, census records, tombstones. Great! So g-g-grandfather Fraser began as a family rumor, and now he's getting all sourced and verified. (If I wrote about him for a genealogical magazine, I'd add my sources in good footnote form. No biggie. That's just the academic dance.)

    Along with these cite-able sources, Ancestry also offers public trees. Many of them! So? I skim the public trees to find areas of interest. Oh. Looks like g-g-grandfather Fraser had 10 children, maybe. Huh. First I've heard of them. But that's a fair enough hypothesis. I type in one of his alleged children, with their alleged BD dates, and Ancestry kicks in by offering sources (those little leaves) for this new person. I accept the "legitimate" sources, then muse over the added public trees, to pick up more ideas to check out.

    Here's my point. The (unverified) public trees give you HYPOTHESES for possible ancestors. How else would I even know what names to look for? The 1790 census certainly isn't going to give me a list of 10 possible g-g uncle Frasers and aunt Frasers, with posited BD dates! And SC has no pre-1915 vitals. I totally respect searching for local records and local genealogy societies, but I can't camp out in SC for the long periods that would take. I'm inclined to save site visits for fine-tuning, or brick walls, or intractable puzzles.

    Ancestry in its present form gives us some gold sources along with the more speculative public family trees. We're capable of telling the difference. Then we move on.

    1. Mariann,

      As usual, thank you for being so gracious in your comments.

      Your point at the end is well taken. As I mentioned, all the unverified information would still be there, because nearly all of us use it at one point or another for the clues they can provide. However, I would challenge you on your "we're capable of telling the difference" comment. You, as an academician, are certainly capable. But I have met, and even know, a few people who would NOT know the difference.

      My solution is there to help those people probably more than those of us who are more skilled researchers. For someone who has never researched before, having a clearly defined area of verified trees might actually help them be more discerning consumers of the unverified trees.

      I may be naive in that thought, but I just want something for everyone. :-)

  7. Laura, Nice post, thanks for including me.

    1. Thank you, Tim, for sharing your views on this issue and being kind enough to allow me to reference your post.


Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my blog!