Friday, May 25, 2012

Underused and unknown?

Quoting, in part, from a Press Release of Governor Rick Perry of Texas, "The ownership of land is in many ways the culmination of the American Dream..." It was and is this American Dream that creates a body of records that is commonly characterized by genealogical conference presenters as "vastly underused and misunderstood." Well, in my opinion, that could as easily be said about many, many other classes of records besides those pertaining to land. Claiming that such and such a record is "vastly underused" has become a cliche in genealogy circles and a standard conference topic.

Those types of records listed online as underused, besides land records, include:
The list could go on and on. So my question is why are so many different classes of records, including obviously useful records such as land records, classed as "underused?" Who doesn't use them?

As an aside, suppose I am a beginning genealogist and go to my local Family History Center and use their computers to look up my family on Ancestry.com. Except for the public library, aren't I essentially using all of those types of records? Checking the Ancestry.com Card Catalog, the listing of all of their collections, I find every single one of those categories. So aren't the millions of Ancestry.com users daily using those "vastly underused" records?

I am not so naive as to fail to recognize what most of the "experts" mean when they classify some type of record as underused. The fundamental issue is not underuse but lack of awareness of the existence of the various types of records. When I was getting serious about genealogy, I read the instruction manuals including such classics as:
  • Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 1990.  
  • Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006. 
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2001. 
and many, many others which I consider to be essential to the understanding of how to do genealogical research. Most recently, I read

 Jacobus, Donald Lines. Genealogy As Pastime and Profession. New Haven, Conn: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Co, 1930

and dozens and dozens of others. I did not just purchase these books and pile them up or put them on shelves, I read and re-read them from cover to cover. I also spent five years taking distance learning courses from BYU and finished all of the courses except one I dropped because I didn't care for the instructor.

You wouldn't walk into a law office, with no experience or education and expect to practice law, would you? Or a doctors office? or any involved and complicated activity? If I gave you a hammer and a box of nails, could you frame a house? Install plumbing? Lay floor tile?

We all acknowledge that most complicated and specialized activities take some degree of education and experience before we have any ability at all. And yet we expect rank novices in genealogy to find their ancestors? We show catchy little videos that say you can do your genealogy in five minutes?

My point is that of course there are "underused" resources because there is a perception that you can do genealogy without any education or training or only with a minimal orientation in a Family History Center. Until we get over the common representation that genealogy is "easy" and our fixation with "beginners" there will always be underused records. How about handing a beginner Val Greenwood's book and saying "Read this and come back for questions when you finish?"






1 comment:

  1. I believe the problem is the lack of awareness and sometimes access. Fortunatly the internet is changing all that. In my case I am glad that land records for hidalgo county are available online and for free. Many people are not even aware.

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