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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Comments on Becoming an Excellent Genealogist -- Chapter Nineteen

This is an ongoing series of chapter by chapter comments on the book,

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

I am now commenting on Chapter 19: "Writing a Quality Research Report" by Linda K. Gulbrandsen, AG.

I am guessing that the entire concept of writing a formal research report is likely foreign to the vast majority of genealogists. We are still in a transitionary stage when adding sources in some kind of citation format is still a foreign concept. Adding the idea that we not only document what we do, but write about it in a formal sort-of way, is still a long way down the road. This brings us to the title of the entire book and its emphasis on acquiring "professional" research skills. A professional researchers will, of necessity, have to communicate with his or her clients. One of the main characteristics of an excellent genealogist is an excellent research report.

There is a statement in this chapter that I thought particularly noteworthy. The author states:
An important hallmark of an excellent genealogist is that he sees possibilities where others have given up and that he is willing to think "outside the box" in exploring records and ideas that others might not consider. It is frequently the researcher who continually stretches his mind to consider these other possibilities who will find answers and resolve problems when others have long given up.
I would add that unless the excellent genealogist is also able to communicate it won't really matter how much he or she thinks outside or inside the box, his or her clients will never know.

The author also makes a case for writing research reports by the average, non-professional researcher. There is a good reason why anyone who does research should record the results in a format that allows everyone, including the researcher, to understand what has and what has not been discovered. My own opinion is that there are only certain types of research issues that warrant a formal report unless the research is being done specifically for some one besides the researcher. There are times when I wish that one of my ancestors had been a lot more verbal about their conclusions and the choices they made, but I am not completely convinced that every research conclusion needs a narrative explanation. Most of my research is incremental with obvious sources that add one or more dates, places or events to each ancestor. I could not expect anyone to want or need a detailed explanation about how I found a U.S. Census record and why I concluded that the record could be used as a source unless the issues involved were so complicated as to need such an explanation.

The examples given in the chapter involve situations where the records are deficient in some way and the conclusions drawn are less than certain. In these types of situations, it is entirely possible that a research report would be helpful for both the continuity of ongoing research and for the benefit of other researchers. I can certainly remember a number of my own research situations that would warrant a narrative report, but there is another issue, not raised in the chapter, that involves the evolving availability of sources. Some of the research issues I had years ago have now been easily and quickly resolved. Having a research report would not assist me in finding answers to those questions since the limitations I faced at the time have evaporated.

Let me give a hypothetical example. Years ago, I tried to use the microfilm copies of the U.S. Federal Census records without success. Had I written some kind of narrative at the time, I would have noted the need to find certain documents, including the elusive census records. Today, searching the U.S. Federal Census is rather straightforward. Yes, there are still elusive ancestors, but my difficulties and conclusion of many years ago now seem rather quaint and outdated. In some cases, following our historical research paths keeps inside our own "box." It might be a good idea to start all over again in many cases. Granted, there are still sources that take a great deal of time, money and effort to acquire, but many of sources that would fall into that category just a few years ago are now readily available.

This is one of the few chapters in this very useful and pertinent book that applies heavily to the professional and is not quite as relevant to the non-professional. Would we all benefit from becoming more professional? I certainly think so or I would not be writing this very long review of this particular book. On the other hand, there should be a generous leeway given to those who have neither the interest or inclination to become paid professionals. On the other hand, this chapter does give us all an insight into that aspect of professionalism.

You may wish to review some of the preceding chapters:

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