11 February 2011

Genealogy times are they a-changin'?

I was impressed to learn that 3,000 people are attending the Rootstech conference in Salt Lake City this week. Although it's the conference's first year, it already has an attendance larger than any other US genealogy conference.

What this means, and the way times are changing, was crystallized for me in the following tweets:

  • Many seem to want a simpler way to handle sources. ESM too complicated and lengthy.
  • Many agree ESM "too academic" for regular genealogy research.
  • How many HS grads do you expect to use Masters level citations?
  • I'm surprised how many people in the Sources session don't know who Elizabeth Mills is.
On the one hand there's academic genealogy, characterized by the Genealogical Proof Standard with its careful step-by-step, even exhaustive, approach to developing the best possible genealogy, and fastidious emphasis on citations.

On the other is technological genealogy, characterized by a NASA-like further, faster, cheaper approach and by Ancestry.com with its ad "you don't have to know what you're looking for, you just start looking."

Let me give you an example of where it seems to me the GPS failed and technology succeeded. A great-great-grandfather of mine did a run from the UK never to be heard of again. Even the promise of an inheritance didn't tempt him back, although likely he never heard of it.

He could have gone anywhere in the world. The GPS says I must make a reasonably exhaustive search. In this case does it mean I must search everywhere in the world?

What happened was I searched every new database that became available. One day it was US military records on Ancestry, I put in the name and there he was. If I'd been searching before technology made that possible I would probably have checked out Canada and Australia before going to US records with the only result being a little great deal of wasted effort.


Unknown said...

Your posting misrepresents the Genealogical Proof Standard. Nothing about the GPS says you can’t make sensible use of new databases to track down lost individuals. The GPS is neither a search strategy nor a research planning tool; its purpose is to test the strength of conclusions once research is complete.

Alison Hare

BDM said...

See MacEntee's interview with Mills, particularly the part about RootsTech. The times certainly are changing.

Paul Jones said...

Maybe GPS and source citations aren't the first things we should be teaching to genealogy newbies, as sometimes seems to be the case. I've seen newcomers lectured on the perils of Ancestry when it's quite clear they have no idea what Ancestry is. (Apparently it's a nefarious scheme designed by genealogy-hating trolls to ruin everyone's research.) Let's at least get people into the tent before we conduct the fire drills.

P. A. Reid said...

A source citation servers two basic purposes:
1. How can another researcher verify an assertion in your genealogy? In some cases it cannot be verified, for example family sources.

2. How reliable is your source? An IGI contributed entry, a family history web site, or an image on Ancestry of a primary document?

If your source reference is clear enough for a somewhat experienced researcher to view the same document you used, it is as good as it needs to be. It does not require a complex citation with a number of fields in a particular format.

Some of Ancestry.com's images, such as British and American federal censuses, have good sources that can be used to locate the exact documents in archives and major libraries, as well as on Ancestry. Others are not so good, only giving a list of films that may cover, for example, a number of years of state censuses.

Ideally, on-line databases would give adequate sources for all their documents. They still have a way to go to provide adequate source information for all their data.

Mike More said...

I don't know how many times I have heard the comment: If only I had know about sources when I started the hobby, or words to that effect. Sourcing your information is critical to anyone who wants to leave a legacy and we need to educate all new genealogists. How well they do their sources is probably a reflection on how well they do their genealogy. It is the responsiblity of all genealogists to teach our new colleagues and help them avoid the mistakes that we made.