Friday, August 27, 2010

On publishing genealogy -- still a viable option?

The hallmark of the published genealogy is a thick book of names, reported relationships, brief narratives and NO sources. I have a number of these books on my own shelves at home. Most are treasured as family heirlooms, written by someone's great grandmother or aunt, long since passed away and unavailable to make corrections or even defend their work. In a past post, out of a sense of self preservation, I have declined to identify any particular book. Now, don't get me wrong, I have actually seen family history books that were meticulously sourced and filled with valuable data. I laud any one who has published such a book and recommend it to anyone who wants to know about their family. Unfortunately, I do not happen to be related to any such people.

At the moment, I am looking at a large and impressive book with gold lettering celebrating the posterity of one of my great-great aunts and her husband. I find one passing reference to a source, another descendancy book by another relative which is also missing any source references. Other than this reference there is not one birth certificate, census reference or military record in the entire tome. There is a very nice picture of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, who I am certain I am not related to.

In answer to a question from a reader, yes, these books find their way into a multitude of libraries, even the shelves of the venerable Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. But as Randy Seaver writes in Confessions of a Name Collector, in his early research, he recorded the information because it was there essentially. So what is the big deal with having sources for information in your family history, don't we all know who are parents and grandparents were? Well, not exactly.

Saying that someone was born on such and such a date in 1870 is not helpful to future generations unless the date can be verified from a contemporary source. Without sources, how do you tell the difference between the made up parts and the real facts? Or better, how do you know if there are any real facts at all and the entire book isn't made up and entirely fictitious? The answer is simple, you don't. Sources are that important.

So is publishing your genealogy still a viable option? Only if the book, either paper or electronic, has a firm foundation in source material.

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