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

Friday, November 5, 2010

A new paradigm for genealogical investigation

In a FamilySearch Wiki article from a presentation at the NGS 2010 Conference entitled "Blazing Digital Trails at FamilySearch" Bill Mangum, of Product Management explains the process of record acquisition used by FamilySearch to augment its already huge collection of documents. In addition to giving some interesting insights into the FamilySearch record acquisition process, the process outlined in the article can serve as a paradigm for gathering personal genealogical information and as an adjunct to the research cycle.

One example of the research cycle is set out by Karen Clifford on

In order to make progress in research, it is necessary to proceed through all of the steps. Most, probably nearly all, so-called brick walls, are failures to follow through with the application of this cycle. In light of the technological advances in genealogical research, the standard research cycle needs to be augmented by the principles set down in the Digital Trails article.

I would suggest a step between the current No. 1 and No. 2. Perhaps the Cycle could be renumbered, but in any event, the new step would be; 1A. Review and update the types of sources available.  It is no longer possible to simply decide which source to use. The number and variety of sources is so vast that no one can adequately simply decide to use a source. As the Digital Trails article points out, "It is estimated that in the next 15 years, FamilySearch will have over 100 petabytes of information" [A petabyte (derived from the SI prefix peta- ) is a unit of information or computer storage equal to one quadrillion bytes (short scale), or 1000 terabytes, or 1,000,000 gigabytes. It is abbreviated PB. The prefix peta- (P) indicates a power of 1000] See

After we become familiar with the possible range of sources, we still have to locate the source. Before we spend time and money traveling to look for records, we need another step in the Research Cycle between numbers 3 and 4; 3A. Diligently search online to determine if the source has been digitized.

The Digital Trails article also mentions another valuable new step in the Research Cycle: Waypointing. This is defined as "Grouping images together makes images easier to navigate. This is called Waypointing. For example you could group images (waypoint) by country, state, county, city, and then by district" The term is borrowed from navigation but the meaning can be generalized to become a checkpoint used as a point of reference. In this regard, I would suggest another addition to the Research Cycle between numbers 6 and 7; 6A. Integrate your new source information by time, location and type. In other words, evaluate your newly acquired source for consistency with your existing information, i.e. create a waypoint. Are you on your way to your goal or is the new information at variance with your existing sources?

Again, from Digital Trails, I would add two more steps to the Research Cycle; 9. Publish and share your information. and 10. Preserve any information you have acquired through data migration.

There may be other ways to adapt to the changing genealogical research environment, but I suggest we may want to augment the standard model to adapt to the changing technology.


  1. The points stated are valid and worthwhile. Unfortunately everything in our world today is too complex. Plus personal contact is often avoided. Simple is best. May I suggest the following? Good luck to you all. - tlj
    1. Set a new goal.
    2. Review the types of sources available – online, physical and interpersonal.
    3. Decide which source to use.
    4. Locate that source.
    5. Interview the person or search the source to obtain the information desired.
    6. Evaluate the information obtained.
    7. Record the information by location, type and date.
    8. Re-evaluate your goal.
    9. Repeat as needed.

  2. Could you please let me know if you created the circle graphic above or if someone else is its creator? I know it is based on the Clifford article, but the image is not on that article. Thanks for any clarification you can give

    1. No I did not create it. I gave a link to the original from Karen Clifford.

    2. i studied genealogy under the direction of Karen. The diagram is located in her textbook " The Complete Beginners Guide to Genealogy, the internet, and your Genealogy Computer Program. Last update for the book was 2011. Go to her website genealogyresearchassociates, to find it.