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

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bulldozing Records - Search Every One

"Puerto Rico, registros parroquiales, 1645-1969," images, FamilySearch (,149110202,149110203 : accessed 25 July 2015), Luquillo > San José > Bautismos 1836-1842 > image 200 of 303; paróquias Católicas, Puerto Rico (Catholic Church parishes, Puerto Rico).
Bulldozing is my term for looking through large numbers of original records, usually on microfilm but sometimes online in digital format, one record at a time. The time involved in doing this, increases in direct proportion to the number of records. Those of us who commenced our genealogical journey many years ago were used to searching microfilm records. Very, very few of these records had indexes and the only way to find individuals in the record was to start at the beginning of the microfilm and look at all of the images.

Of course, the goal of indexing the records is to shorten the time it takes to find any individual entry. In some types of records, the indexing process misleads the inexperienced researcher into a false sense of security. The researcher thinks that he or she has searched records when in fact, the index missed the record they are looking for or the information needed was not indexed at all. Because of their complexity, some types of records such as probate files and even parish registers may never be completely index. As I've pointed out in previous posts, the information in the original record may also be incomplete or inaccurate. In these cases, a record by record search may be the only way to uncover the missing or incomplete data.

The record shown in the image above for a good example of this issue. The image is selected from some Catholic Church records. Even though an index may contain the name of the infant's being christened, most indexes would not contain the names of the witnesses and the witnesses may be the individuals being researched.

The reason this issue comes up at this time is because one of my daughters and her family have just spent the last few weeks copying each image from a large number of microfilms. The reason for this activity is little bit complicated. As I have previously written, the Mesa FamilySearch Library in Mesa, Arizona has been closed for about eight months. She and her husband, my son-in-law, have been researching old English parish registers on our shared family lines. Because the library is closed, they have had no access to the microfilm records. So they came to Provo for almost 3 weeks to copy records they needed to do the research. Several of my grandchildren assisted in the effort. Obviously, since the records were only available on microfilm, there were no indexes. The only way to be sure to have access to the records was to copy the entire microphone, frame by frame.

 Online digital records with indexes hold out a promise of making genealogical research easier. But the reality is that in many cases, there is no substitute for bulldozing the records and scraping every last vestige of information available. If newly minted genealogists are never taught this principle, what will happen to the accuracy and completeness of the individual family trees? What happens when we run out of "low hanging fruit?" Do we really expect that the smartphone generation will be searching the records one by one?

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