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

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Elements of Research -- Part Nine: Am I doing research?

In my last installment, I alluded to answering questions from a patron at the Brigham Young University Family History Library. The process of addressing this series of questions merits much more attention. I was sitting at a computer, writing and waiting for the chance to help patrons coming into the Library. The Library was practically deserted because the main school year had ended and we were in what BYU calls the Spring Term, a short session lasting from the end of April to the middle of June. The Library is situated in the middle of the huge BYU campus and so has very little "walk-in" traffic. Most of the patrons we help, have to come specifically to the Library and right now, parking is more difficult than usual due to construction on campus. It is about a five minute or so walk from the nearest visitors parking lot to the Library.

The questions being asked had to do with two people in the Family Tree who had evidently been confused. I was asked questions concerning the identity and life events of the two sisters. After a very short investigation, I found the pertinent information, including the birth, marriage and residence information for one of the sisters. This information was enough to clarify the entries in the Family Tree. I had never heard of either of these people prior be being asked the questions.

I will rephrase the question I asked at the end of my last post. Did my activity of finding information about the conflicted entries in the Family Tree constitute research? What exactly was I doing? The initial information I was supplied included a possible maiden name for the target individual, her husband's name and a birth date. I did a Google search for the married couple and found a possible match in California. Within a few minutes, I found a marriage record where the birth information matched. The rest of the records were also fairly easy to find.

You could argue that I went through the "standard research process" including each of the following steps in a highly abbreviated form:
  • Identify what you know about your family
  • Decide what you want to know about your family
  • Select records to search
  • Obtain and search the records
  • Use the information
But what about the long list of sub-steps? Where was my research log and my organization? Of course, this particular series of the events concluded successfully after very short period of searching. But was what I did research? I ask this question again to highlight the fact that finding genealogically pertinent information is not a structured activity, as such. The information and the source citation for the marriage information were immediately transferred to the Family Tree and I was, for all purposes, through with that question. Was I supposed to say to the person asking the questions; Hey, wait a minute, I need to determine my research objectives, set up a research log and decide on the best records to search, that should take me until some time next week, check back please?

Previous installments of this series include:

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