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

Saturday, April 4, 2015

An Abundance of Sources -- Dealing with MyHeritage's Record Match

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If you have been involved in family history (genealogy) for a while, you suddenly come to the realization that the number of sources available for your family depend heavily on their origin and history. If your ancestors happen to be from New England, for example, You can quickly become overwhelmed by the number and variety of sources available. Genealogy is not so much about searching for people as it is about learning about and searching for sources. Although some of us begin to accumulate substantial accumulations of names, dates, places and other information, we all have a tendency to focus on a particular branch or section of our ancestry for a time and then move to another section and so forth.

Commonly, we will focus on one or two individuals or families that seem to have disappeared from the records we can locate. In doing this, we neglect the basic research that needs to be done about every single member of our family stretching back into time. For example, I could focus on my Great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner, who had 17 children and spend a huge amount of time just accumulating the documents and records pertaining to that one family. We are aware of the geometric progression of the numbers of our direct ancestors, but often overlook the fact that as those numbers increase, so do the numbers of their children and grandchildren. Of those seventeen children of my Great-grandfather, fourteen lived to adulthood and had children. By the time those children got married and had their own families, that one family now contained hundreds of living and dead descendants all of whom are my cousins. In fact, the family book about his father, Sidney Tanner, printed in 1982, calculated that there were 1025 descendants of Henry Martin Tanner and that his father, Sidney Tanner, had, at that time, 5073 descendants. See De Brouwer, Elizabeth. Sidney Tanner, His Ancestors and Descendants: Pioneer Freighter of the West, 1809-1895. Salt Lake City, Utah (4545 S. 2760 E., Salt Lake City 84117): S. Tanner Family Organization, 1982.

In my experience, most researchers are content to ignore the descendants of their ancestors and focus only on their "direct lines." Even then, they also focus only on a few of those direct lines.

The new record hinting technology available in a few online genealogy family tree programs does not ignore these extended families. The programs systematically add record hints to every individual in your database. Now, you may want to quibble about the effectiveness or accuracy of the computer programs, but the results can become an object lesson in the way that we focus on our extended family. Currently, I have my basic family tree on the website. Since the implementation of the Record Match and Record Detective technologies, the number of Record Matches listed for my family has been climbing steadily despite the fact that I regularly spend time attaching those records to my ancestry. The number of suggested matches is presently 14,890 in 74 historical collections. Even if I discount that number by ignoring connections to other family trees, there is still an abundance of documentation for many, many members of my family tree.

I must admit, that I have included family lines in my family tree based on years of research. Many of these lines were added to my family tree merely because I ran across the the records in my research. I have not gone back and documented some of these collateral lines, simply because of lack of interest or time to do so. The record hint programs do not know my personal preferences. They just keep plugging along finding sources for everyone I have listed.

What am I supposed to do with this overwhelming number of suggested sources?

I can either ignore them or like some of my acquaintances simply refuse to use the programs, or I can become frantic and try to add all of them to my own records, or I can continue doing what I have been doing for the past 30+ years, systematically add sources to the individuals in my family tree and use the resources of and the other record hint programs as I need them. What I do not do is treat the abundance of record hints as a threat. I am very glad they are there. I can very likely find additional information about my family, if I choose to do so. But I do not let them control how or what I do with my family research and objectives.

However, if you are not a seasoned warrior in the genealogical battlefield, I strongly suggest you take advantage of these programs. If your family does not have published family history books and an existing base of records, the help these programs, such as, can provide is well worth the time and effort you take in entering your family members into the program.

One last caution, I suggest adding only a few names and generations of ancestors at a time. Most people who try to add their entire family file by uploading a GEDCOM file are soon overwhelmed to the point that they do not know what to do with the data. Take your time and add a little bit at a time. When you start to see sources being added, take advantage of the opportunity of attaching all of the sources to the individuals in your file. You may be surprised at the amount of information you begin to learn about your family.

As they say, your results may vary. If your ancestors are recent immigrants from a part of the world with few genealogically significant records online, you may not see sources. You may however, see connections to other relatives who share those ancestors and that is also a valuable resource.

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