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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Focusing on a problem, is the problem

A recent conversation I had with a doctor highlighted a common research problem. The doctor, who had very, very limited information about me, my diet, my weight gain or loss, or anything else, focused on a one-year-old cholesterol number and started in recommending a major change in my diet. Interestingly, everything he suggested, I had already done. But he did not take the time to find out about me, he focused on what he saw as a "problem." In the end, I dismissed the entire conversation as irrelevant to the my current medical situation. Also, interestingly, the doctor didn't bother to discuss the problem that brought me to his office in the first place, which was an upcoming major surgery! To me, this was sort-of like focusing on whether the grass was mowed, while the house burned down.

I realized as I thought about this conversation, that I had gone through the same or similar conversations repeatedly with would-be genealogical researchers. One of the most glaring issues during the past few weeks relates to genealogical "fan charts." Fan charts are all the rage and I have had several specific conversations where people have been alerted to a genealogical "problem" by the missing family lines in a fan chart. One typical conversation involved a researcher who thought that his genealogy had been "done" until he printed out a fan chart and saw some of the missing lines. He immediately galvanized his family organization to address the "problem." He was reporting to me his success in finding a profesional genealogist who had extended the line. This seemingly success story should have been heart warming. However, to the contrary, it was a blatant example of focusing on a problem and ignoring the underlying causes and or solutions. My question? How did he know he was related to the remote ancestor who was the end of the line? In this case, he relied entirely on research, with little or no documentation, done entirely by others. The researcher was not to blame. He did exactly as he was hired to do, that is, extend the line from an identified individual. But no one had checked the research up to the point of the remote ancestor. It might have been correct or it might not have been correct, but now, it is very likely that issue will never be raised because the space on the fan chart has now been "filled in" with names and dates.

I have been working, some what, on my Springthorpe line. Over the years I have reviewed dozens of family group records that end with my remote ancestors James and Frances Springthorp (or Springthorpe or any number of other iterations of the name). The apparent problem is that both the husband and the wife had the same surname. Were they related? Did they, in fact, share the same father or mother? This appears to be the blank space on the fan chart. But when I began searching, coming back down the line several generations to well documented descendants, I found many more issues with the research and a lack of real source citations. The real issue was with finding information about their daughter, my ancestor, and her husband. That is, the issue was with David Thomas and Adeline Springthorpe (or whatever spelling). The connection between Adeline Springthorpe and her parents needed to be addressed and resolved before moving on to the next generation.

Why did the issue reside with Adeline Springthorpe and not her parents? A look at illustrates the problem. The entries for Adeline Springthorpe contain 11 different variations of her name and 13 different variations of her birth information. Here is a list of the variations in her birth place alone:

  • Colston, Leicester, England
  • Thringstone, Leichestershire, England
  • Whitwick, Leichestershire, England
  • Coleorton, Leicester, England
The dates vary from 5 September 1826 to 5 July 1839. Was she the daughter of James Springthorp and Frances Springthorp? Maybe yes and maybe no. But starting the research with James and Frances would be the problem, not the solution. Let's find out first before we move on to try to identify the parents of her parents. 

Above I said that the researcher hired by my friend was "not to blame." But wasn't that researcher doing exactly what my doctor did to me? Focusing in on an apparent problem, when the real problem was staring him in the face. Shouldn't the doctor have focused on why I was in his office in the first place, rather than on an unrelated problem he perceived from my year-old chart? Shouldn't the researcher have started by verifying the lines leading up to the remote ancestor? Maybe he or she did, but that did not come across in the conversation I had with my friend. 

Shouldn't we focus on the bigger picture of our genealogy and make sure we are looking at the underlying problem and not something that may be entirely irrelevant and just maybe, we ought to find out the current state of affairs with relation to what people have done about the earlier problem. 

Think about it. 

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