Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Is our research better today?

Someone posted something on the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook Page that got me to thinking. Back in the olden days when we were 100% on paper we pretty much limited ourselves to our direct line and siblings of our direct line. You simply confined yourself to the couples on your pedigree chart. We used Mary Hill’s color coding system which the Family History Library advocated and it worked very well.  You had a Pedigree Chart filed in the front of your filing cabinet and then you had folders for each couple on your pedigree chart.  Inside those folder you kept a Family Group Sheet, a Research Log, a Correspondence Log and all of the documents you found pertaining to that couple.  The couple’s children would have folders filed behind their parents with their marriage and children information. 

So here is the question... When you confine yourself to your absolute direct line, do you do more indepth/quality research? In the age of computers I think it is too easy to go off on tangents and you end up only getting the bare minimum documentation on each person. In the olden days you would research a single couple for every bit of documentation you could possibly find before going on to the next couple. I don't think we do that anymore.

 

Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

15 comments:

  1. I'm amazed by genealogists from the 1800s who put together huge compiled genealogies. They used snail mail and wrote to everyone in the area who shared a surname, and waited patiently for replies. They had to hand write up the lineages or used a typewriter for reports. The ones who gave sources (not all) used the same vital records, probate, deeds, town clerk records and town histories I use, but they had to travel far and wide to collect the information. I think many people today are too lazy and too impatient for that kind of research. I remember how tedious and how time consuming it was to research in the 1970s, and I don't think many people would find it fun or interesting today.

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  2. There is a conversation on Facebook right now thanks to Thomas MacEntee sharing my post (thanks, Thomas!) Here is some additional info that I wrote...

    We also have better access to records than we did back then BUT I still think we don't spend as much time on family groups as we used to. Everyone is in a hurry. We need to slow down a bit and not be in such a rush to get ourselves back to the Mayflower. The Genealogical Proof Standard (if adhered to) definitely helps you stay on the right track.

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    1. I agree with both you and Heather in when I started my research back in the 1970's. I mined all records possible for my direct line. I have notebooks for each family line with all papers, logs, goals, to do list in the beginning of the folder along with a up to date family tree print out. I recently started using Mary Hill's color coding system. Going digital didn't change my research habits as far as mining the records, sourcing them or how deep I go. It did however cause me more confusion as to where I put those records if I forgot to make a paper copy of them. My participation in the Do-Over has helped me find a better naming system. I am finding and renaming those records for ease in finding them. I'm still not sure how I feel about the digital research logs verses the paper ones. It seems I am taking more time, but I do understand that there is a learning curve. If I have not mastered the digital side of things my the end of the thirteen weeks of the Do-Over, i will return to my comfort zone of paper research logs, goals, and to do list. I have not thrown out any of my source citation index or family group index cards or family group sheets.

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    2. June,
      Going from paper to digital is a BIG step! I remember when I took the plunge. I was terrified of getting rid of my paper. Nowadays the only paper I keep are true originals and anything that I wrote off to a courthouse/repository to get. If I find a document online I do not print it. I also do not print out pedigree charts or family group sheets (I can look at these any time I want in my computer) and I no longer have paper research/correspondence logs. I keep all of that in Legacy's todo list. You can bet your bippy that I have everything backed up in multiple places :)

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  3. Great post, I both agree and disagree. With all the resources available these days, it can definitely make difficult to stay on track with one research goal. As Thomas MacEntee has stated, we should start with ourselves. All these resources are definitely to our advantage though. We need to follow the Genealogical Proof Standard. If we commit to creating a research plan for our goals and keep track of our progress with a research log, we are well on our way to successful research!

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  4. Michele, I haven't had the courage, or perhaps the inclination to dispose of my paper records. I disagree that we just followed our direct line though. I started in the 1980s and have always followed collateral lines and FANs and made some great breakthroughs as a result. I never did like using just the pedigree chart. Perhaps I was lucky and early seminars gave me this insight. I als had two academically-driven mentors and fellow researchers who used narrative recording which suited me much better. I do agree with have more ready access wherever we are, and perhaps discover records we might not have known about. You might be interested in a similar post on the Worlwdie Genealogy bloghttp://worldwidegenealogy.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/do-you-love-digital-records-pros-and.html

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    1. I did make a bit of a generalization. Whenever you were stuck at a brick wall you would start looking at the collateral lines to try and find out more about your ancestor by coming in the back door but that wasn't normally your main focus. As a matter of fact, the filing system that the Family History Center advocated pretty much discouraged it. Here is a link to their old guide http://familyhistoryandtemplework.com/Organization_System/ALL_REF_DOC_-_Organizing_Paper_Files.pdf

      Love the blog post you linked to!

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  5. Interesting question Michele. I began my research just on the cusp of today's technology in 2000. I went to the local FHC and scrolled through microfilm to find census records. I copied every census I found onto paper, word for word. Then I had to quit for a year, came back to it and things had made a huge jump. Suddenly it was technology (which I've always loved) and going online. That being said, I have made many trips to courthouses out of state from where I live, emailed and snail mailed for information and gone to local libraries and the Family History Library in Utah. Leg work is still needed. I think the technology is wonderful and I am similar to you, in that I don't create paper, just keep original vital records. I do think though, that it is too easy to research that 2nd cousin twice removed because many details/vital reecords are online. We need to be sure that we have everything we can on our direct lines. Thank you for this post.

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    1. I have caught myself so many times going off on tangents that I really didn't need to go off on because I was not accomplishing my set goals for the ancestor I was already researching. It isn't that those people don't also need to be investigated but they don't necessarily need to be investigated right now or even by me if that investigation doesn't tie in to my established research goals.

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  6. Judy Russell, aka, Ask Granny send me this comment via email because she couldn't get it to post on the blog comments. She gave me permission to post it for her :)

    The other day I wrote a brief note to a distantly related cousin who had put a tree online. She responded back immediately to ask if I had a tree that I could merge with hers or any old family photos.

    I wrote back that I preferred print medium and that I was trying very hard to only print out for family and libraries those items for which I had evidence in the form of a legal or civil document.

    She wrote back "HOW DO YOU DO THAT? ALL I KNOW IS FINDAGRAVE."

    I wrote back, just briefly, that I find a wealth of info in the Pennsylvania Death Certificates online and in census data.

    So I would argue that research is not only getting worse, it has just about died. I know only a handful of folks who refer to original documents other than those items that ancestry.com (often with the most egregious errors with regard to geographical location) suggests for them.

    Sadly, Judy Russell, aka, Ask Granny

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  7. Confining one's research to direct-line-only causes ignoring data that can tremendously help with ancestral questions. More and more I use "cluster" research and find that tracking friends, associates and neighbors can help me find the trail of folks who seem to disappear.

    I have never had more fun than when going through estate inventories, tax records and deeds, which help give me a sense of context for my relatives' lives. Learning what trammels and Planet Juniors were . . . and coverlets (one of my cousins was a weaver, and following listings of coverlets actually helped to sort out one family line). And wills -- like when a cousin bequeathed her California Rose quilt to a beloved aunt. And when a relative bequeathed land to a daughter and her children in such a way as to keep it out of her husband's hands, there were some personal-relations insights. And when James bequeathed money to Columbia, grandchild of his brother George, there was documentation of relationships before vital records were kept and before Census listings stated relationships.

    But now, alas, I see myriad repetitive erroneous entries in jillions of online trees. In the FamilySearch Family Tree, more and more mistakes are being entered with "reason" as "GEDCOM" (not further identified) or "Millennium File" by folks who evidently are just clickophiles, not actually-interested researchers. Oh, what they are missing :-). The neighborhood, the migrations and their reasons, the material culture, privations and successes, all familial details not retrieved. It is too bad that these folks seem not even to care about who their family were as people.

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  8. Geolover,
    Here is a comment I posted previously that addresses this...

    I did make a bit of a generalization. Whenever you were stuck at a brick wall you would start looking at the collateral lines to try and find out more about your ancestor by coming in the back door but that wasn't normally your main focus. As a matter of fact, the filing system that the Family History Center advocated pretty much discouraged it. Here is a link to their old guide http://familyhistoryandtemplework.com/Organization_System/ALL_REF_DOC_-_Organizing_Paper_Files.pdf

    Now to your second point. I have been very optimistic that because education is so readily available now (and free) that this would be less of a problem but unfortunately I really haven't seen this to be true. Again, I think this has to do with people being in such a rush. They subscribe to Ancestry or they access FamilySearch's Family Tree and they just copy what they see not taking the time to verify the information or to learn how to do proper research. It is just too easy to copy stuff and with the explosion of the "trees" online it is getting easier by the day. Again, another generalization because there are people out there that are determined to learn how to do it right and they take the time to educate themselves.

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  9. I am sorry to say I agree with Michelle as to people wanting a speedy tree building process. This is a sad comment, especially now that more and more original records or transcriptions are available.

    Cluster research is a invaluable tool when you ARE doing research in original documents and records, however. Often if provides the clues needed to pinpoint a specific person or family.

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