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

Friday, April 27, 2018

Click Your Way Genealogical Success Online - Part Four

Stepping Off Into the Fire Swamp

Before going too much further in this series, I need to lay down some basic ground rules that are well illustrated by the examples I used previously. There is an interesting tendency among genealogists to focus on "end-of-line" situations. Because the number of your potential ancestors doubles every generation (at least), you will inevitably have thousands of end-of-line ancestors. We all like to launch off into the unknown and explore new territory. However, this tendency often results in stepping off into the metaphorical fire swamp of genealogy. (Yes, Princess Bride) My second and third posts in this series are an excellent illustration of what I mean.

Inevitably, every generational step backward in time increases the complexity of the research process. If you skip over generations because the work is all "done," you automatically assume this complexity without realizing whether or not you are basing your research on "firm ground." Hence, the "fire swamp." When I jumped in to help my friend with her end-of-line ancestor, Ignatius Gilpin, I dropped myself into the middle of her ancestor's potential fire swamp.

This situation occurs constantly with unified family tree programs such as the Family Tree. It is remarkably easy to click back and find "virgin" territory. My efforts in the past two posts amply illustrate the problems involved in making that often tragic mistake. The tragedy is that the harder you hit, the more you stick. I call this a  "Cholla Cactus" problem. If you have ever been close enough to a cholla cactus to get stuck, you know what I mean. See Wikipedia: Cylindropuntia.
Classic examples of end-of-line cholla cactus are the passengers on the Mayflower. There is probably no small group of people in history who have had more scrutiny from genealogists and have more poorly documented entries in online family trees.

Cholla Cactus
This brings me to the next group of people who appear in online family trees that I call "revolving door" ancestors. These are the people who everybody seems to have an opinion about but no one seems to agree about the supporting documentation. Their birth dates, places and almost everything else seems to change regularly.

What is the solution? Here is a quote from Leonardo DaVinci's Notebooks:
He who can go to the fountain does not go to the water-jar.The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci/IX: 490
In short, genealogy without sources is mythology. 

So how do I go about approaching an overwhelming problem such as the one outlined for Ignatius Gilpin? I started to look at some of the issues in the previous posts, but now it is time to get down to brass tacks and explain an exact methodology for making progress with these sticky end-of-line issues as well as with more mundane, easier to resolve ones also. 

Where do I start? Right at the beginning. What do you know about your parents? You have to have a well documented and very firmly established basis for extending your research out to the end-of-the-line. As I have written before; the water has to get to the end of the row. Now, it is time to go back to the Ignatius Gilpin problem and start with a firm foundation of sources and take the research one step at a time. Holly Hansen has supplied a lot more information about his family than we had initially in the Family Tree and now we can, at least, set up some realistic research goals rather that sitting out in a lake shooting at fish with a rifle.

You can read the previous posts in this series here:

Part Three:
Part Two:
Part One:

No comments:

Post a Comment