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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dealing with the Duplicates -- Where is the master file? Probably Part One of many

I got a rather long comment from a reader, Sholom Simon, setting out the issue of having multiple files in online family tree programs. Here is a short quote from the comment, setting out the challenge of the multiple files:
I suspect your readers would also be interested. And I suppose one can phrase the question this way: suppose a SmartMatch (or some other matching) indicates to you that your GGF had a hitherto unknown son. What do you do? What's your primary database? Where do you update first? Do you then update all over?  
Similarly, suppose "hints" and/or "SmartMatches" connects you with new sources that you can attach to events for your GGF. Do you try to grab each (correct) hint in Ancestry and each (correct) SmartMatch-to-a-record? How then do you update on your own computer?
The real issue here is whether or not you think it is important to keep all of your various online family trees "up to date?" Granted, if you are active in doing genealogical research, your most recent or master file will continually change. If at any time you upload a copy of that file to an online family tree program, the uploaded file will very quickly become out-of-date. Is that a problem?

Suppose I use the example of finding an unknown (to me) child in one of the families online. Do I immediately feel the need to update every other online program?

From my perspective, the answer to all of these questions is a qualified no. I do not feel any obligation or compulsion to update all of the different online family tree programs with newly discovered evidence. The reasoning behind my answer is complex and involves some considerations that are not obvious. There are some obvious consideration, such as the time involved in making all the changes, but that is only a background issue.

To understand my method (if there is one?) I need to go back quite a long time, over 32 years to be more exact. When I started researching my family lines, I went to the only place I knew about that had an accumulation of the Family Group Records (Sheets) submitted by my extended family; the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. This was a long time before any "online" anything became available. Here is a description of the files from the Research Wiki:
Research Department Patron Files, ca. 1928–1966, and Indexes starting on FHL Film 540714[13]From 1928–1966, the Genealogical Department conducted paid research for Latter-day Saints. These files contain correspondence, documents, pedigree charts, and family group records. This collection includes files as of 1966. They are arranged by the name of the person requesting the research.
I also used the Archive Section, the Temple Records Index Bureau and the Ancestral File. These records are described as follows:
The Archive Section of the Family Group Records Collection contains 5 million family group records submitted by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints between 1942 and 1969 for temple work. The microfilms are listed under:
  • Family Group Records Collection, Archives Section 1942–1969 [4]In 1993 the microfilms of theArchives Section were checked against the original family group records and found 18,000 sheets that had not been microfilmed. These records were photocopied, and filmed as an addendum [5]
For further details about most of the family group records listed, see:
  • "Family Group Collections of the Family History Library." [6]This also describes the relationship of the Temple Records Index Bureau Endowment Index, the Ordinance Index, and Ancestral File to the family group records.
Note: I have left the links in the quotes.

This process took about 15 years or so. What I would do is follow the pedigree lines, one by one, and look for Family Group Records that gave any information about my family lines. I examined thousands upon thousands of Family Group Records. If there was the slightest doubt that the record was correct, I would verify the sources and research the accuracy of the records. That process created my core genealogy. Most of the time, I was comparing multiple Family Group Records for the same families. Often, there were dozens of the duplicates, sometimes into the hundreds. In each case, I tried to reconcile any differences, so I am more than used to looking at duplicate records.

Over the years, because I was doing the research as I went along, I have found very few of my own entries need correction. It is very important to this discussion to understand that I found a mountain sized number of duplicate entires. I was extremely familiar with the issue of conflicting claims, incomplete entries, mistakes, fraudulent entries, "back to Adam" and all the currently discussed issues. I have seen them all.

As this work progressed, so did the technological advancements. As soon as I bought my first Apple II computer, I began computerizing the information. As soon as the Internet advanced to the point of being able to submit files, I did so. The effect of this early adoption of the technology is that the vast majority of the current online entries dealing with my family are derived from my own early research.

How complete was my work? That is a good question. I extended every singe family line until I ran out of documentation. Could the lines be extended today? Yes, probably, but that is another question that will have to wait until I get to it.

So, looking at the status of all of the online copies of my family research today, I don't really care all that much about variations. The real issue is whether or not I can find anyone doing primary research that may clarify or extend the information I have already gathered consisting of hundreds of thousands of pages of documentation. If I look at a prospective family tree online today, I can tell in an instant whether or not I need to look further. All I have to do is look at the number of sources. If the line is extensively sourced, I am interested. Otherwise, I could care less because it is very, very likely merely a copy of my earlier work. I also have a few indicator ancestors. These are people whose information I have corrected over the years. If the online file has the "old" incorrect information, I simply disregard the rest of the file as unreliable.

OK, so this post is getting rather long. I will continue this analysis in another post as soon as I get some time, either today or later on. I am getting into a rather busy time the next two weeks with presentations and such. Stay tuned.

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