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

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Quantity vs Quality

Is genealogy essentially a dogged pursuit of huge files and lists of people or is there a human side to genealogy that looks at the quality of the work? I talk to people all the time who have the attitude of "oh, I found that family in the Census, so now I can check them off and move on to the next family." They act as if their relatives were some kind of National Park Service Passport system where the idea was not to get to know any one place, but to "collect" ink pad stamps or stickers in a book to prove that you had been to all the National Parks.

Can you really compare the worth of two different family files by simply asking how many names there are in the files? What if your ancestors had only two or three children and my ancestors had twenty, does this make my file a lot "better" than yours because I have a huge number of relatives and you have a paltry few? Unfortunately, striving for numbers of people in a genealogy file is extremely common. Even though the number of names in any one file is completely meaningless.

I have spent most of my genealogical life struggling with huge numbers of names in almost any collection of family trees beginning with the Family History Library and the Patron File. My family was prolific in accumulating pedigrees and submitting family group records. But, as I learned very early on, they had neglected the quality of the work and further neglected to provide sources. Presently, the biggest obstacle for me to move backward one more generation is not a lack of information, but a huge accumulation of duplicate and contradictory information. FamilySearch Family Tree has become the benchmark for me because it contains most of the work I have personally submitted over the past thirty or so years and because it also contains most of the submitted family tree information accumulated by my relatives. I am at at a dead standstill in editing the Family Tree four generations back because of the duplicate information in the file and the lack of a way to merge the duplicates.

What do I mean by quality? Basically, sound research with conclusion supported by the Genealogical Proof Standard. Why do I think an arbitrary proof standard is necessary? Because a pedigree that lacks sources also lacks credibility. I am not advocating a dogged adherence to formality or any one criteria for citations, but I do think that there is a level at which genealogical work becomes self validated. I also realize that the Genealogical Proof Standard is mostly lost on the vast majority of the casual or less-than-fanatical genealogists.

To be fair, I need to admit that many of the incomplete and wrong entries floating around in our family came from me when I submitted my files to the Pedigree Resource File under the then enticement of backing up my file. But it is only lately that the scope of the problems with the earlier submissions became evident due to the availability of programs that linked to

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