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

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Attitudes and Deficits

Note: at the time I wrote this post, the Ancestral Quest Newsletter for December 2017 was not yet in their archives.

The December 2017 Newsletter from Incline Software caught my eye with an article entitled, "Attitude and Solving Common Causes of Problems." They had a list of seven "attitudes" that they said interfered with your tough genealogical research challenges and prevented you from having success. I thought about the list and decided to make comments of my own about their assessment of the challenges. I also decided to rework the labels they put on their seven items.

Here I go with my list of my own suggested challenges based on ideas from the Incline Software Newsletter.

1. Lack of fundamental research skills

Our American school system gives lip service to teaching basic research skills but fails to give students an understanding of the importance of research in everyday life. When we moved to Maryland from Utah, I spent quite a bit of time online researching the area where we would live. I viewed maps and articles about the layout of the cities, the transportation systems, the libraries and archives, the stores and other information which I believed vital to my survival. When we got here, I found out that some of the other volunteers did not even have internet access. They had to rely on word of mouth information to find the businesses they needed to survive.

This example is exactly applicable to what happens with those beginning genealogical research. When I started my own research around 35 years ago, I had already acquired basic research skills through both university and post-graduate degrees. But I still had to learn how to do genealogical research. Too many people assume that they can skip the learning part of genealogy because after all, genealogy (family history) is fun and easy. Actually, it is complicated, difficult and challenging.

If you are confronted with difficult historical research issues, your response should be to get to work and learn how to become more educated in basic research skills.

2. Use the tools that are available 

Genealogical research is far different than it was just a few years ago. The availability of online digitized records is revolutionizing historical research methodologies. It is absolutely imperative that you acquire superior technical skills to even begin to understand how or why to do research today.

3. Dogmatic research strategies

You can't just assume that the basic "big three" records sets (census records, vital records, cemetery records) will answer every question raised by your research. You need to keep searching for additional valuable record sets such as probate, school, church and other records to augment your research. Once again, the key here is continuing education.

4. Inappropriate attitude

The word I never use is "boring." I cannot be bored. I can be tired and sleepy and distracted, but I am never bored. Repetitive activities do not require the same level of concentration as doing more varied ones. Research is, by its nature, repetitive. You need to focus on the problem to be solved and understand the reading through endless microfilm rolls and other types of records are part of the process and boredom is not an option.

5. Remember to research the entire community

This is the most misunderstood and little-used methodology by genealogists today. You have to spend the time to do broader research into extended family members and neighbors and other associates. This is not always necessary for basic research, but when you find further information is missing or difficult to discover, it is time to start looking at the children in depth, neighbors, and others that may have come in contact with your ancestors.

6. Poor record keeping habits

This is part of basic research methodology. I keep research logs online where I can use them from any of my electronic devices. My logs are more like lists of ideas and theories that they are a mechanical list of places I have looked. I reject the "traditional" research log because it is more like a checklist. I find myself going back to the same record sources time and again and finding things I missed in the first, second or any subsequent review. You need to rethink the concept of a research log and use a method that helps you rather than puts you in a formal straight jacket.

7. Document, Document and then Document

Make sure you have a record source for every conclusion you make about your ancestors. Period. No exceptions.

Like I said, I agree with the seven topics in the Incline Software article, but I had some of my own ideas.


  1. Amazing after a lifetime of family history research I have come across someone who seems to adopt the same methodology as I do


    1. Thanks for the comment. I am glad to find out I am not all alone.

  2. Excellent post James. I have been encountering so many people who are new to genealogy who don’t want to learn. Instead they will post on a Facebook group something like "I'm a newbie (a word I dislike) and how do use this site or this program?"
    How about taking the actual time and effort to learn how to do what you need to do? That’s always what I want to say, but don’t.
    When I began this journey I read book after book after book (cover to cover) and watched many tutorials. I attend seminars and conferences every single year. I never stop learning.
    Thanks again for this post and I will be sharing it. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  3. If you are constantly told how easy it is to do genealogical research, why should you spend any time learning about the subject?

  4. Excellent, informative post! As someone relatively new to genealogy,I've found it very helpful to follow the blogs of good genealogy researchers because they can function as case studies in methodology. The other comment I have is that I discount any genealogical information that lacks source citations.

  5. As we begin our own family history research we gain new skills and find out more about what resources are available. I feel though that you have to have good organization skills and have a passion to research your ancestry and do whatever it takes to find out as much as you can.

  6. I can't seem to find the December Newsletter you are referring to - especial the article "Attitude and Solving Common Causes of Problems." Your link takes me somewhere else. Thank you.