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

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My top ten worst genealogy practices targeted in 2012

There are quite a few genealogical practices (stuff done by genealogists) that I am going to target during the coming year. Not that I have neglected any of these in the past, but I thought it might be a good idea to put the genealogical community on notice. This is just in case you find your own practices on the list. I tried hard to distill these irksome practices down to a measly ten, but here are the ones that I particularly remembered from past years.

OK, before I get to the list perhaps I will qualify why I am making this list and how I intend to target the bad (unacceptable, poor, lacking in quality, whatever) practices. I think advanced notice is only fair. Do I really expect that the people who exemplify these worst of the worst practices read my blog? I would be very surprised if they did. You might be able to tell from the list that blog readers and blog writers would never do any of the things I have listed.

This list is for purely didactic purposes only. I am certain that education will solve all of these problems and I will kindly and patiently help anyone, anytime, anyplace (as long as I don't have to travel too far) in overcoming any of these practices. I must admit that some of the people with these practices are beyond help and helping them is left to my sole discretion. I have been known to find a very valid excuse for not continuing a conversation with some of the people who fall into these categories.

There really wasn't much of a competition for number one on the list, but the rest are sort of random as I happened to think of them.

1. People who claim they have their genealogy line or lines back to Adam. It should be abundantly clear why this is the number one worst. I have to admit this is a problem I avoid. If I happen to get into a conversation with someone who makes this claim, I politely (or sometimes not so politely) change the subject and start talking about politics or the weather or sports or whatever I can come up with at the moment. Hearing this literally makes my stomach hurt.

2. People who come into the Family History Center and ask to have their genealogy printed out and expect it to be all done. I fully realize that this comes entirely from ignorance, but I don't deal with this level of ignorance too well.

3. People who copy information directly from an online compiled family tree without sources. This could almost be number one because I run into it a lot more than it is humanly possible to bear. I have written about this several times and have probably beat it to death. But I fully expect to see this again and again and again during the coming year. I did see it already once today. What is there about the word "source" that makes it so difficult to understand?

4. People who think (or claim) that their genealogy is done. Unfortunately, this is commonly heard from people who cannot even name their own four grandparents from memory without referring to a file or pedigree chart. I realize that "done" is a relative term, but it is used with finality and as an excuse for not bothering with the whole subject of genealogy at all.

5. People who assume that young people can do genealogy because they know how to use a cell phone. You need to understand that I have 31 grandchildren and have been a Boy Scout leader for over thirty years. I am still looking for that rare young person who has the tech background and at the same time, an interest in genealogy. I know they exist, I just haven't met one yet. The potential is definitely there, but the reality lags far behind.

6. People who are still using Personal Ancestral File. This is my most controversial pet peeve. I am fully aware that there are free online available upgrades to the program. I am not talking about PAW2U or any of the other programs, I am talking about people who don't yet know anything else exists. There is a sub-category of these people who not only are using the program but are antagonistic to the idea of changing to anything else believing that PAF is the one true program and cannot be replaced.

7. People who keep all their genealogy files on one flash drive and that's it. I cannot tell you how many people I know that have done hundreds of hours of work on their genealogy but the only copy they have of their file is on one (usually very old) flash drive. This one sends me screaming off into the desert.

8. People who have multiple copies of their genealogy files on various storage devices and even various computers and cannot remember or tell which one was the last one they worked on. I know it is politically incorrect to say anything about the impaired or handicapped, but this is an amazingly common and very difficult to resolve problem. Yes, I know how to do it. Yes, I do it all the time. Yes, I can sort out up to twenty or even fifty different versions of the same file, but that still makes me go crazy just thinking about it. The subset of this group are the people who have all these files on floppy disks!!!!!!!!!!!!

9. People who call me just after the only copy of their genealogy has gone up in smoke on a failed hard drive. I realize that these people are related to the flash drive people, but they only seem to call after their drive has crashed, never before when I could tell them how to make a backup copy of their files.

Well, you can guess how much further the list could go on and on, but here is the last entry for the day.

10. People who will not accept that they are related to someone who spelled their name differently. Oh, I'm not related to that person, I spell my name with an "e" not an "o." This one usually makes me walk away and ask someone else to help the person. Sometimes, I have enough self control to explain how spelling practices change and how people didn't necessarily spell their own name the same way all the time and how census takers were not authorities on spelling and so forth and so forth, but if I encounter any resistance, I give up.

Well, that's it for today. I am sure as this new year progresses I will be right there with my rants and raves about some practice or another. Thanks so much to all those bright, simple souls who listen carefully and are really interested in have a good genealogical experience. They make it all worth while.


  1. If I didn't know better, I'd say you spent this last week at our public library.

    My # 1 peeve is the individual who arrives with a huge notebook and has to page through it looking for each record. Said record is always folded up and inserted into a plastic sleeve. They dig it out, unfold it, and say, "No, this is the wrong one." And the hunt goes on.

    My tongue is often raw after trying to help "the notebook genealogist."

  2. Here are a few you omitted:

    11. People who think that it's all online (so they don't need to look at any paper or microfilm records).

    12. People who think that everything online is useless (despite the fact that many original records have been digitized and placed online).

  3. Love your list, and the additions (esp #11)!

    #13 -people who don't accept the very specific primary evidence in front of them, because it doesn't fit what they like/heard/read on the internet.

    I can hear all our soundless screams like an Edvard Munch painting.

  4. If it wasn't so sad, I'd pee my pants laughing. I'm running screaming into the desert with you on the backup thing.

  5. Oh how true! It is sad we still see these things. The other one I see a lot of is the Nobleman's daughter who ran away with a servant and changed their name (have to love the family stories! while hitting your head against the wall)

  6. We must arrange a meet-up.. then you will have 'met' a young person with an interest in genealogy. I was 21 when I got around to starting my research but had much of the information before hand. (Having spent years listening to my parents/grandparent's stories about their parents and granparents.) :)

    My family tree is currently 'sourceless' but that does not mean I don't know where the information comes from. I have a 'notebook' full of names, dates and sources but lack the time to research and update my online tree. (I prefer the research side, naturally).

    Oh, and keeping a back up is all well and good, I have backups of my backups too.. trouble comes when your computer dies before you get chance to backup the latest copies. This happened to me a few months ago.

    And one of my pet peeves....

    #14 The people who take your information and connect it to their tree incorrectly...

    I believe I have just written a short essay.. Apologies. ;)

  7. I met a woman who told me she could trace her line back to Adam and my thought was "Do you know how crazy you sound?"

  8. Looking out at my local genealogy society members, I can pick out offenders of each of your pet peeves. I guess all we can do is keep trying to educate and concentrate on those willing to listen.

  9. This post and it's comments are a prime example of one of the major barriers others face when trying to get into geneology. You are clearly experts. Great ... but you weren't always experts and you've made plenty of your own mistakes along the way. That is how you became an expert.

    In your post you say you will "kindly and patiently" help these "impaired and handicapped" offenders. Well, you already blew the chance for kindness. The whole spirit and attitude of the post is mean-spirited, arrogant, and demeaning. As for patiently, statements like "screaming off into the desert," "makes me go crazy," "makes me walk away and ask someone else to help" are not statement of a patient person. Sometimes you even have the "self control" to explain these things. Why would I come to you for help with genealogy? Certainly not for your kindness and patience.

    The problem is, it seems that you and the other commenters on this post have the unrealistic expectation that all people who do any genealogy should know the best practices. And if they don't, they are "impaired or handicapped" to the extent that they are not even worthy of your respect as fellow human beings.

    Would you go screaming off into the desert or walk away in frustration if one of your grandchildren was learning to walk but kept falling down, held onto a piece of furniture, or wasn't using a proper stride?

    Instead of deriding and criticizing the people who do these things, you should celebrate them. They are infants in genealogy. They have much to learn and many of them are actually eager to learn best practices. You, as an expert, are blessed to have the skills and ability to help them.

    As an expert, you also have the opportunity to lift and guide those who venture into the noble adventure of genealogy. Whether or not your points are valid, the critical and negative way in which you present them is not helpful. There are ways to teach without making people feel like fools.

  10. James, I wrote this reply to "Hlm" above but could not figure out how to get it to indent as a reply to her rather than to you...but here it is anyway in case she reads it:

    When you have spent 1% of the time James Tanner has spent bending over backwards to help both beginners and advanced researchers in advancing their genealogy research and technology skills, you can come back and apologize for that attack because THEN you might have an inkling of what he speaks.

    A person who is "done" with his genealogy or has his tree traced back to Adam has NOT done his research, he has stolen someone else's garbage and called it research. Likely, his source stole it from someone else, who copied it from someone else, who had wasted a good bit of time digging through all the begats in the bible and calling it research.

    In order to prove your lineage back to Adam, you only have to get back to locating the birth, marriage and death certificates of the sons of Noah. (Noah's line was the only line remaining after the flood, if I remember.) I have yet to see any of those vital records online or on paper... and neither has James Tanner...because no one has the proof back to Noah...never mind back to Adam.

    People bragging that they have their family back to Adam are NOT seeking help or training, they are looking for praise and adulation for work not done and praise not earned. There is no helping them. They have succeeded.

    I'm not sure what you expected from a posting entitled: "My top ten worst genealogy practices..." but I was not a bit surprised at the list. I hope you continue to read James blogs regularly and often. He has a lot to offer all of us...except for those who are "done" and don't need any help.

  11. Did you write a blog post about the importance of blogs, rather than message boards, for exchange of information? If so, I'd love to have a link to that post - I couldn't find one from searching your blog.

  12. James, I am guilty of your number three crime - People who copy information directly from an online compiled family tree without sources.

    I take unsourced information, add it to my tree and publish it.

    I expect that those who visit my website and find unsourced information (and I use that term loosely) will do as I do and seek out both print and online resources to verify the facts (?) I have published.

    My family site is dynamic, a work in progress, not the end point of a piece of academic research.

    I am not guilty of your crime number 4
    - People who think (or claim) that their genealogy is done. My genealogy is not done - my website is my workhorse not a show pony. I choose to let people view my work in progress.

    By publishing my far from perfect work I have made contact with a number of cousins who have been able to verify some of the unsourced facts I have published. On occasion people have contacted me to correct what I had published.

    If I had waited until everything in my tree was cited correctly according to genealogical proof standards my tree would be very spindly and I would have missed out on reaping the benefits that the digital age offers genealogists who use online tools to make connections.

    My message to those who borrow from my tree is "Caveat emptor".

  13. People who are so desperate to prove that they are related to so and so of historical renown that they will blissfully ignore all evidence that disproves this

  14. Hi Dad! What a funny post (well, funny unless you hope to help someone do something when they don't want to learn or change--I guess many teachers/parents/helpers face that challenge)! I've enjoyed catching up on your posts now that the kids (at least some of them) are back in school. At least I know that I have a lot to learn!

    {So, with #1 the best idea is to just change the subject? I can imagine it's hard to tell someone that they are stating the impossible. We recently heard a very well meaning gentleman give a talk about his family history work that he had traced back to Adam. My husband smiled at me kindly while I cringed.)

  15. My fav:

    10. People who will not accept that they are related to someone who spelled their name differently.

    Try doing a one-name study with that attitude! LOL

    Kathleen - a McElrea/McIlrea/McElray/McIlrea/McElrae/McElrey etc. descendant

  16. People who walk into a research center and immediately attach themselves to me and monopolize my time recounting every person on their oh so fascinating family tree leaving me no time to actually do any of my own research!

    1. Perhaps you should look on these events as an opportunity to teach and to learn. :-)