Friday, November 22, 2013
When all you have is a hammer...
...the solution to every problem looks like a nail. This is one of those sayings that rings true for genealogists. I find that a paucity of tools directly affects the ability we have to resolve problems. There is a similar statement attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, "All the thoughts of a turtle are turtles, and of a rabbit, rabbits." We are limited by our experience as well as our tools. Let me give some examples of what I am thinking about.
Let's suppose that I am looking for a specific ancestor born in the late 1800s somewhere in the United States. I watch a TV commercial that tells me that a certain online genealogical database program will help me to locate my ancestors. So I pay a few bucks and now I have this wonderful tool and guess what? I find my ancestor. But then I have another more difficult problem, I need to find that ancestor's father. Unfortunately, the marvelous tool doesn't readily supply that information. So now I am stuck, I think that since I paid some money, I should have the solution to my problem. No one has told me that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of different tools out there, each of which may have a solution to my problem. Since I don't know about all these different tools, I lose interest in the whole project.
It would be nice if someone would come along and give that person another tool or two to look at, but I think that does not happen that much. I was looking at the MyHeritage.com map that shows how many people they have subscribed to their family tree program worldwide. I am fascinated by the number for Arizona. According to the map, there 201,845 subscribers in the Arizona. This gives be great pause. Who are these people? Apparently, they have enough of an interest in family history to have a family tree online but the statistics we have from the Mesa FamilySearch Library and elsewhere, such as attendance at conferences etc. certainly would not lead me to believe that there were that many people interested in genealogy. Not that I doubt the MyHeritage.com number, but I think that there are a lot of people out there who may need help finding a variety of tools.
Are you a one or two tool genealogist? Sometime when I talk to people about where to look for their ancestors, I see their shoulders sag and they become despondent. The thought of looking in all the places I suggest seems to regularly have that effect. I have a photo at the beginning of this post. It is an actual photo of my screwdriver drawer. I like tools. I use tools. At some time or another, I have used every single one of those tools. Each one does its job better than anything else in the drawer. I have collected tools all my life and now I collect computer software and online database tools. I find that each database I locate has something to offer and when a challenge arises, I have the right tool for the job.
In genealogy, we have tools that tell us what tools to look for and use. One such tool is a Record Selection Table. Here is one from the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki called the United States Record Selection Table.