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

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Looking at Genealogy as Information

Back in 1948, Claude E. Shannon published a groundbreaking paper entitled, "A Mathematical Theory of Communication." This paper is viewed as the foundation for the development of electronic computers and the transmission of information over electronic circuits. However, there are many of the concepts in that first paper and in the subsequent development of information theory that relate directly to the creation of an online family tree, particularly of the type implemented on the website known as the "Family Tree." The concepts of the general theory of the transmission of information can be applied to genealogy by analogy.

Here is a schematic diagram of a general communication system:
If we substitute genealogical terminology, the analogy becomes obvious.
If we view genealogy as a system with information sources as the input and accurate family trees as the output, then we should begin focusing on reducing the noise or unsupported information and increasing the quality of the signal or enhancing the level of support for the conclusions made by entering information in our individual records. What is the underlying principle upon which we can "tune" our genealogical information stream? The one tuning principle is adherence to a strict consideration of the location of each event recorded. It is certainly true that people move around, but the main challenge of genealogical research is attaching the events in a person's life to very specific geographical locations. The benefit of focusing on the location of the events is evident in the reduction of unsupported information. Additionally, we can conclude that any information that is unsupported by researched sources is no more than noise.

Looking at genealogy in this way emphasizes the importance of careful and documented information. This goes back to the early saying about computer programming: garbage in -- garbage out. Here is a good example.

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