Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Jumpstart Your Family History in Ten Steps: Initial Thoughts
This is what has evolved as the "Research Cycle." It is supposed to tell a "new researcher" how to get started in doing family history. Hogwash. Pure Hogwash. Oh, maybe not even pure Hogwash. But Hogwash nonetheless.
Why are we still using this misleading and totally out-of-date diagram to represent how we are supposed to start doing family history? Because we are dutifully following the tradition started back in 1915 or whenever before we had the internet and computers. We are still slaves to the genealogy notebook and the three ring binder. We still print off Research Logs and work our way through piles of paper. In short, we are mired in the past.
By the way, where did I get this diagram? I got it from the first page of the link on the FamilySearch.org Family History Research Wiki to "New to Genealogy, The Research Process." Why do I know how to start doing family history when the methodology is so entrenched? Who am I to question the wisdom of the ages? I guess my answer is that I think a lot and find things. I have been thinking about genealogy (If you like you can substitute "family history" for genealogy and "genealogy" for family history anytime I use either term since they are absolutely the same thing) for a very long time and writing about it nearly every day for the past eight years or so. I am also basically an iconoclast, not in the religious sense, but in the sense of one who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions and there are few cherished beliefs more entrenched than the methodology used by "traditional genealogists."
It might seem obvious, but it apparently not so obvious to the genealogists who talk about the Research Cycle, that we live in the middle of what is variously referred to as an Information Revolution or New Information Age. Let me start with this statement: we do not now have to decide what we want to learn about our family. There are millions upon millions of family trees online on websites that have made that decision for us. Today, I do not even have to select records to search. There are several very extensive websites (programs or apps) that will automatically begin searching billions upon billions of records the second we provide them with a minimal amount of family information. We certainly do not have to obtain and search those records. Hmm, we finally do come into the old Research Cycle when we evaluate and incorporate the information from the records into a family tree. Oh, I entirely skipped the part about identifying what we know about our family. Really?
The reality is that I can build a family tree without bothering to know or learn anything about my family. The biggest challenge today is not starting the Research Cycle but filtering through the absolutely pervasive pile of family history garbage that has already accumulated. In essence we are not so much researchers but scavengers. We sit in the junkyard and try and sort through the piles of garbage that have already accumulated. According to my rough calculations, there are presently more names in online family trees than there are people on the earth today. Granted there are a lot of duplicates. Granted there are huge numbers of living people who are still not in the piles. Granted we don't automatically have access to all of the names. But when we look at the piles, how do we know that our own pedigree is not already there online just waiting for us to pick it out of the pile?
I have sat in classes and conferences while I listen to the genealogical illuminati detail how they solved some deep genealogical mystery while I am sitting there thinking how did this person know that someone else had not already recorded that exact information in an online family tree somewhere? Especially when those same genealogical illuminati disdain and mostly ignore online family trees.
What we need is one place where everyone can put all their family information and then we can sort out the good from the garbage and come to a consensus about what is and what is not known about every family in the world. Far from going through some esoteric Research Cycle, our real job today is to sort through genealogical garbage. If we deny our junkyard heritage and think we can start our own "clean" set of records we are simply taking the risk that we will be spending our lives duplicating someone else's work.
Oh, you say, you have moved through all the detritus and are now out in the pure world of research. You are the exception because of your extensive background and knowledge. You are the expert. You are out there exploring the wilderness and cutting down the forest and ploughing new fields. You are the exception because you have learned the mysteries of the higher knowledge of genealogy. What is more, you have published your findings in the hallowed journals of the genealogical profession!
Hmm. What makes you think you have any more clothes than the Emperor? Can you "prove" that your conclusions have not already been recorded in one of the billions of family trees?
Is there a solution? Yes, there is. We need a place where all of this accumulated genealogical information can be organized and accesses by anyone willing to look at it so I can tell if you have already solved my great genealogical mystery and you can tell if I have done the same for yours. I can tell you right now, you are not going to like my answer. You will claim that I am not enlightened and further more I am certainly not one of the illuminati. So how would I know what you do not know?
Beats me. But I am convinced I do know. The solution to these problems is the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. Presently, it may appear to be more of a problem than a solution: but that perception is short sighted. How can one family tree claim to be the solution for the ills of the genealogical world? Well, right now not even those who think they know something about the Family Tree can see that it is the ultimate solution. Rather than acknowledging its status as the solution, they see it as one more part of the problem. The truth is that the FamilySearch.org Family Tree is the unified, universal family tree and it is rapidly evolving into the "go to" place to determine what has and what has not been done in the larger genealogical community.
What if you disagree and think I am wrong? So what. I'm not. The Family Tree (note the capital letters) already became established as the de facto standard on June 27, 2016, the date that it finally became fully operational.
How does the existence of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree change the way we start to do genealogy? That is what this series is all about. So stay tuned.