Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bulldozing your genealogy

There are times when you need the accuracy and fine control of surgical tools to do a job. Other times it is nice to have a really large D11T Cat Track-Type Tractor to do the job. Genealogy is the same way. Some of us think we can get a job done by using dainty little surgical tools when what is really needed is big push with a big pusher.

In the "old days" before computers, we all had to sit in front of microfilm readers and scroll through endless rolls of documents to try and find that one missing link that would let us continue on with our research. Guess what? The good old days are still here. We still have to plow the field to get the crop. Sometimes there is no substitute for brute force in trying find a missing individual or document. Such things as going page by page through a hundred years of town records or looking at every page of census records may be the only way to get the job done.

Unfortunately, instant gratification and having a happy ending in an hour, is about all most people can stand. You cannot believe the blank and sometimes hostile stares I get from patrons at the Family History Center when I suggest they may wish to go through every book in the library for a certain area to see if there is any information they might need. For example, when I am research Rhode Island in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, next to the section of books and systematically pull each and every book off the shelf and look at the contents to see if there is anything that might help me find what I am looking for. Have you ever done that? Unless there are new books, I can safely say that I have looked at every book in the library on the subject I am researching. I have been doing that since I worked in the University of Utah Library back in the dark ages of books and no computers.

Just this week, I had a lady who said she only had about two hours and wanted to enter her four generations with sources into a program! What?

I also look at every single page of the U.S. Census records for any of the smaller towns I am researching in, just to make sure that no one escapes due to poor indexing. If I can get to the original source records, I never believe my job is done by just looking in the index. That is one reason I am not too happy with indexes. It is not that I doubt the ability of the indexers, I just don't believe them.

I started my "survey" of my family lines by systematically working my way through all of the binders containing all of the user submitted Family Group Records in the Family History Library. One by one, looking for related families. I ended up with thousands of copies. I then went through each sheet and looked for discrepancies and resolved any by going back to the library and doing research. Name by name for years. You can probably guess why I don't have much sympathy for instant gratification.

Many of the really valuable jobs in genealogy are like moving mountains of dirt. Scanning, editing photos, going through old letters and documents, all of these types of jobs need a bulldozer approach just to get the job done. I am just finishing scanning just over 10,000 cemetery records. All this goes on in the background while I work on the day to day world of blogging, presenting, teaching, hand-holding and everything else.

Let's get out our heavy equipment operators and get some of these genealogy jobs done!


  1. I sometimes play a little game 'how many ways can I misspell a surname' searching indices to see if I can find subjects that way, before going through page after page.
    On the other hand, I've come across census forms (in Louisiana), where obvious non-french speaking enumerators attempted to write up French surnames. It makes an interesting read, but for genealogical research, it's a disaster.

  2. Sometimes you still need to go sit in front of a microfilm reader. Thanks for the reminder & the great post! Sometimes I think we have it too easy with all the indexes etc that are being posted on line. People sometimes forget what real researching in a library is like!

  3. I can't help feeling that learning how to do family history pre computers was a great grounding. another strategy I use when searching a newly release computer index is to search for a name that's should be there. If it's not I go hunting to see why not.

  4. Unfortunately, too many people today have the 'computers-can-do-it-all-for-me' mindset. Having done research for years, I still pull files at the courthouse, etc. even if everything has been digitally transcribed.

    If there is one thing I tell new genealogy researchers, it's to "document" everything. A URL or Screenshot just doesn't work as far as I'm concerned. Sometimes it takes "work" to dig out the documentation.