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

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Can Genealogists Play by the Rules? Whose Rules?

Don Quixote fighting a windmill on his horse, Rocinante. In the background Sancho Panza next to his donkey.
When I was much younger, we used to play a variety of outside games including capture the flag, kick the can, run sheep run, red rover and many others. We also spent a lot of time playing inside board games. I think our favorite was Monopoly, but I recall many others. As I think back, I realize that none of us really knew the rules of most of these games, assuming there were some official rules. In fact, even though Monopoly had printed rules, we usually played by our own rules. There were always exceptions to the printed rules that we agreed on in advance or even during the game itself.

There was huge contrast between these spontaneous, loosely organized games and what has come to be called "organized sports." When my own children began to play games, such as baseball, they were regimented into a situation where you had to play by the "rules." If there were ever any doubt about what the rules were, there was always someone there with an "official rule book" to resolve any disputes. The main difference was the involvement of the parents (adults) in "supervising" the play.

From my own perspective, it seemed that the organized sports were run primarily for reasons known only to the parents sitting on the sidelines. Especially in the beginning with T-ball for the newest Little Leaguers, most of the children playing on the field only had the vaguest idea of what baseball was all about. I can seriously say that I had a lot more fun and enjoyment from playing capture the flag than I ever did participating in organized sports.

Going up against the bastions of organized sports, especially on the college/university or even at the professional level is like poor Don Quixote tilting at windmills. So who calls the rules for the genealogical community? Who wrote the book and when did I agree to play by the rules of the game?

In this regard, there is an interesting quote from the book of the Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It says at Section 129:39:
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
What is meant by "unrighteous dominion?" In my terms, it means that those who perceive themselves to be in "authority' start to play the game by their own rules. They want to be the "king of the hill."

Don't misunderstand what I am saying. I am not an anarchist. I do not espouse chaos. What I am saying is that genealogy is no different that any other organized activity, there will always be those who believe that they are the ones who are entitled to call the rules. I think to some extent, I am still back there playing capture the flag. I know there are rules out there somewhere, but the game is a lot more fun if the rules aren't too restrictive and you can make up some of them as you go along. 

I am afraid that too many of those who are initially attracted to investigating their family history, get introduced to the rules so quickly that they lose interest. The game just isn't any fun if you don't know how to play by the rules, especially when it seems that everyone you talk to has a different set of those rules. So far, in my thirty plus years of genealogy, I have yet to see the rule book. Maybe there isn't one?


  1. First rule of genealogy

    "There are no rules"

    There are many guidelines in genealogy but no rules.

  2. The rule book for doing proper genealogy research is exceedingly simple. It follows the same pattern given for translation of records. I will quote and then paraphrase, to achieve greater clarity. [7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. 8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. 9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.10 Now, if you had known this you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now.]

    Basic Rule #1 THE RULE BOOK
    Facts and sources are not an option; they are the very essential elements from which further actions can be prayerfully developed, to complete and extend the known evidences. To study and evaluate information out in one's mind, in an orderly, line upon line, structurally creative process, justification must be assured in references that can be restudied by any other reasonable person. Other researchers must be given information that can reduplicate the mental process and arrive at the same conclusion as the original author and researcher. if it is right, it will be mentally satisfying to professional genealogists and feel good. But if the evidence is not provided, it will seem questionable and doubts will arise in the mind, causing a sense of confusion; a stupor. To remove this feeling of doubt and unease, the scholarly mind is compelled to seek for confirmation, by additional research as deemed necessary, to replace the doubt with substantiating facts, or to remove and eliminate all questionable connections made by the original author.

    1. "Other researchers must be given information that can reduplicate the mental process and arrive at the same conclusion as the original author and researcher."

      I have seen published articles in respected journals by respected authors, which give myriad sources, but the explanations and conclusions are not convincing. Thus the cited sources only show what the author drew from, and are not guaranteed to have a reader conclude the same.

    2. You are correct on both counts. Thanks.

  3. It's my work. I do it for me and those who come after me. I decide.