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

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Learning the hard way

I first got involved with genealogy mostly from the social pressure that came from the 4-generation and 5-generation programs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My contact with genealogy previous to attempting to submit the required sheets was minimal to say the least. I knew a few family stories and the names of some of my ancestors but that was about it. Suddenly, I was asked to submit 4 generations with a pedigree chart and all the family group records attached.

If you are not familiar with the program, the Church made a significant effort to get the members to submit family group records representing their immediate four generations, that is, their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. This program resulted in the information that became the basis for the Ancestral File. For more information on the Ancestral File, see the FamilySearch Research Wiki article on the subject. Submissions to the Ancestral File started in 1979 and it was primarily in 1981 and 1982 that I became involved in gathering information. Technically, the Ancestral File, which was and is a huge online database of family trees, replaced the 4-generation program of the Church, but the effect on the members was that they were still asked to submit their 4 generation sheets and, where possible, extend that out to 5 generations. The current Ancestral File is now a closed database with about 40 million names. As part of the program, members who had already submitted their 4 generation family group records were asked to go back and verify the information previously submitted.  As I was to find out, this program partly resulted in a massive copy-the-previous record effort that duplicated some individuals in the file dozens, if not hundreds, of times. (One side issue, that happened much later, was that the duplication was carried over into the database). 

My main source of inertia, other than no demonstrable interest, was total ignorance and a belief that all of the genealogy "had been done" by various old and then deceased relatives. It is true that the primary motivation for some Church members was their religious belief, which I shared, but for me without the "requirement" it is doubtful that I would have done anything more than the average member which would have been exactly nothing. What happened to change my attitude and, I might add, my life, was to find out rather quickly that the "family tradition" that all of the genealogy had been "done" was totally inaccurate. Some individual family members had done a great deal of research, but what was left of their research suffered from an almost complete lack of documentation and in some cases, was simply incomplete or inaccurate. Right or wrong, I took this as a personal affront, sort-of like finding out there is no Santa Claus and rather than simply getting mad, I stayed mad long enough to get totally involved in genealogy.

Although I began doing research on my family lines, I was lacking certain helpful prerequisites such as any idea what I was doing. I had no mentors. I had no one in my family that I knew about to ask about how to do genealogy. I had no classes and no books. I was totally unaware of genealogical conferences and did not know any genealogists personally. During those first years, I do not believe I ever had a conversation with anyone who was even vaguely interested in what I was doing, my immediate family included. You have to understand that this was pre-computer. I really had no idea where to go and was not even a gleam in any programmer's eye at that time.

What I did have was access to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. From the Library, I was able to become aware of some of the resources including books and etc. that I might want to look at to learn about genealogy. Over the years, I finally took a whole series of classes from Brigham Young University on genealogy and read tons of books and took classes at conferences and seminars and listened to my friends and associates at the Mesa Family History Center. All this would have helped if it had come first rather than last.

But I feel that the events that resulted in my present 7 days week/24 hours a day interest in genealogy would likely not have happened had I not been thrown out to wolves as it were, and made to learn genealogy from the ground up.

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