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

Friday, February 12, 2010

Back to basics in genealogical research--duplication of effort

There is a appropriate analogy to many of the questions I am asked at the Mesa Regional Family History Center, it is called building bridges in the air. In genealogical terms it is called starting with the three brothers that came from Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany, Norway or where ever. Quoting from Val Greenwood, (Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2000) page 4, "How foolish it would spend ten years (or even one year or one month) on a special project only to find, upon presenting his findings...that someone else had already accomplished the same work."

The quote comes from Greenwood's analysis of the research cycle. He notes, at page 6, "Another thing we can readily observe from this research cycle is that many would-be genealogists do not use all of the steps required for complete research. Too many spend their entire efforts on secondary research, thinking that they are doing all that can be and needs to be done when they are copying the records of others and searching old family histories."

It is even more true today than when these words were written; too many people think they are doing research on their family, when all they are doing is looking at the compilation of the work of others. Just last night, I talked to one budding genealogist who explained how he was doing his research by following the family lines he found in New FamilySearch. How can you know what you do know, if you do not know what you do not know?

To quote again from Greenwood, still on page 6, "In the first four months of 1968 there were 96,904 family group records submitted by patrons to the Genealogical Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of these, 24,296 (25 per cent) were duplicates of records already on file with the Society--the research already completed." Note that the Genealogical Society is now called the Family History Library. At that time someone was actually checking to see if the work was being duplicated. That is not the case today. No one from the online resources checks to see how many of the millions of records on New FamilySearch's vast database are duplicates. Even though New FamilySearch provides a mechanism to check for duplicates, from the number of copies of my own records, I can only assume that few, if any, are checking for duplicates before submitting the work again and again. It is significant that the maximum number of allowed combined individuals, initially at around 80 has now grown to over 250, and that is still not enough to accommodate some of the duplicate individuals.

For example, in New FamilySearch there are, at least, forty-five different records for my own grandfather who only had two living children. Remarkably, in going down the list of contributors, except for two or three of the forty-five, none of the people submitting his records again and again are even direct descendants. In over twenty-five years of doing research on my family, I have never been contacted by anyone on the list even once for any information I might have about my grandfather and I am the one with all of his documents, certificates and papers. This has happened despite the fact that my complete contact information is listed with all of my submissions. What is ironic is that I am the only one with the correct information about his birthplace and death place.

Research can only proceed as each event or fact is verified. Assuming that all the "work" is done or that nothing more needs be researched merely because there are a lot of names in an online family tree program, is no excuse for failure to carefully search for verified and verifiable information about a family.

Finally, another quote from Greenwood, at page 8, "Genealogy should be a science--it deserves to be as science--but the methods of some tend to lower it to the level of a mere pastime, and that built upon false premises." How many of today's online searchers have built their research on sound principles?

1 comment:

  1. I am honored that you have quoted me. I am pleased that someone still believes what I wrote. You are certainly right that my cautions about research, duplication, etc., are more needed now than ever.

    It is too bad that people have been led to believe that New Family Search solves all their problems. It does solve a few problems but creates more problems in the process.

    After all, these are our ancestors we are seeking after. They deserve the very best research we can do. They deserve to be properly identified. Something is not better than nothing if the something is wrong.


    Val Greenwood