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

Monday, January 2, 2017

Crying Wolf: The ultimate genealogical challenge


For some time now, I have been writing about the impact that the combined digitization of millions of records and hundreds of thousands of books combined with expanded DNA testing is having and will have on the greater genealogical community. I am really starting to feel like the boy who called wolf, but I was not joking all the other times that I wrote about the subject.

Not too long ago, I wrote about the records on MyHeritatge.com. I noted that they had just over 6 billion records. As of the date of this post, they now have 7,165,694,466. Essentially, over the past few months, MyHeritage.com has added a billion new records. If you add to that the millions upon millions of records added by FamilySearch.org from the digitization of their microfilm collection and the continued digitization of records around the world and the records added by Ancestry.com, Findmypast.com and all of the companies they are associated with, you just might start to grasp the reality of the impact of all these records.

Not too long ago, I was writing about the end of microfilm. Of course, all the microfilmed records in the world are not going to disappear anytime soon. But the number of new records being microfilmed is quickly coming to an end. At the same time, I see books being digitized at an accelerating rate also. I mentioned the number of genealogically related books on FamilySearch.org. That number is, as of the date of this post, 326,815. Add that number to those on Google.com, the 10,766,354 books on Archive.org (The Internet Archive) and millions more on other websites, and again, you just might start to grasp the impact.

One random example. I just recently checked out the following paper book from the BYU Harold B. Lee Library.

Parkin, Robert, and Linda Stone. 2004. Kinship and family: an anthropological reader. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishing. http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rwhi20/.

Note that this book is available in ebook format. The advantage to a researcher of the ebook format is that the entire book can be searched, word by word, for any relevant content. Let's suppose I am researching kinship. Here is one website with over 77,000 articles, journals, and databases on the subject: Taylor and Francis Online,

My guess is that unless you happen to be a university professor or a librarian, you have probably never heard of this website that has over 3.6 million articles and books.

I could go on listing websites indefinitely. The point is not simple. In fact, the whole concept of the impact of all of this information is overwhelmingly complex. 

I am going to quote from the website of the Board for Certification of Genealogists and their Genealogical Proof Standard.
Proof is a fundamental concept in genealogy. In order to merit confidence, each conclusion about an ancestor must have sufficient credibility to be accepted as "proved." Acceptable conclusions, therefore, meet the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). The GPS consists of five elements:
  • reasonably exhaustive research;
  • complete, accurate citations to the source or sources of each information item;
  • tests—through processes of analysis and correlation—of all sources, information items, and evidence;
  • resolution of conflicts among evidence items; anda soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.
"Reasonably exhaustive research" is further defined as follows:
  • Assumes examination of a wide range of high quality sources
  • Minimizes the probability that undiscovered evidence will overturn a too-hasty conclusion
Are you reasonably sure that you are even aware of the "high-quality sources" now available online or which might become available today, or tomorrow or sometime next week? Can you tell me that you have looked or will look at all of these possible sources?

Do you have your family tree on every one of the available websites with automated record search capabilities? Have you closely evaluated and added in every valid record hint generated by every one of these programs? Oh, did you look recently at the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers Project? The Library of Congress now has over 11.5 million fully searchable, digitized pages of newspaper and what about the other huge online newspaper collections? Have you searched all of those also? 

Not too long ago, you could spend some time in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and come away satisfied that you had looked at a reasonably large number of sources. Have you spent time in each of the other large libraries containing vast genealogical collections? Have you even looked at what all of these libraries have in their digitized collections?

As genealogists, we need to realize that we must become online, information specialists. We cannot stick our head in the local courthouse and even begin to believe that we have made reasonably exhaustive searches. Today's genealogist needs to be aware of what is and what is not online and that distinction is getting harder and harder to determine every single day that passes. 

4 comments:

  1. You ask:
    "Do you have your family tree on every one of the available websites with automated record search capabilities? Have you added in every record hint generated by every one of these programs?"

    Sorry but if you do you may as well throw your tree in the bin as it is not worth pretending that it is at all credible.

    I assume you meant to write have you evaluated or have you checked every record hint generated by every one of these programs?

    To blindly add such hints is as worthwhile as adding every instances of the relevant surname in the phone book (or online database).

    Cheers
    Guy

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    1. Oops, yes, exactly. I will make the change.

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  2. I feel that your readers should be alerted to the cost of using the Taylor and Francis database.

    While a few articles are offered at no charge, the vast majority of articles have a price attached to them if one doesn't have access to the Taylor and Francis database through a library. It's mostly large university libraries that offer this database it patrons because of the cost. One isn't likely to find it in a public library of any size or a smaller college library. Lacking access through a library means paying per article or journal issue.

    In addition to genealogy, I also study the history of embroidery, with a special interest in schoolgirl samplers. I decided to search for an article on this topic that I might like to read. And, indeed, one popped up in Volume 21, issue #3, 2016 of the Journal of Victorian Culture. I can purchase 30 days of access to the issue for $137.00 or 24 hours of access to the article for $42.00. Plus applicable sales tax.

    My search returned citations to 2,716 articles. When I applied the "open access" filter to the search results, 47 articles remained.

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    1. Yes, you are absolutely correct. But at least they have an option to purchase articles. Some of the academically oriented websites only allow access through a university or college account. It is also a good idea to always do a general Google search for anything you find is subject to a charge. There is always the possibility that another website has the same item for free.

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