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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda:
Good Genealogy Lives On

by Rhonda R. McClure

May 29, 2003
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

I confess that over the years I have become a little jaded when it comes to compiled genealogies. I have seen too many instances where people have downloaded so many GEDCOM files that they no longer know who they have in their database. In fact, I have read correspondence from one researcher to another in which the one has no idea why the other has contacted her about a particular individual or line, never mind that the original researcher has included it in their GEDCOM file that they have made available through one of the available GEDCOM databases.

I have also seen one too many requests for the location of a particular piece of information online. Often I receive a painful backlash because I ponted out that certain records and resources were not available online. One individual actually went so far as to say how disgraceful it was that something had not been indexed yet, but of course this individual was unwilling to undertake the massive project that would have been needed. I was beginning to believe that today's genealogist is not interested in the hunt for the family—the part of the hobby that fascinates me—but instead just wants to take the easy way out on everything.

Do genealogists still take pride in their research?

Taking Pride in Our Research

As researchers are beginning to expect that they can do all of their genealogy research on the Internet, I have wondered if genealogy is going to be seriously hurt. Although I frequently use the Internet for my research, I also recognize the limitations of the Internet and combine it with more traditional research methods and sources. Naturally, I choose digitized census images (when available) over microfilmed images. The new digitized images do make using a traditional resource easier, but that is because I am using the traditional resource in a more efficient manner. Of course, there are still times when I must go page by page in a county or township as I am working with a family, in which case the indexes that are available do not make the search any easier, though having the digitized images available to me at any time offers a convenience I didn't have before when I had to travel to a library to view the census films.

Unfortunately, the researcher of today often doesn't combine this new technology with the more traditional methods of researching a family tree. Instead they may merely download a GEDCOM, add it to their family information that they have on their computer, create a new GEDCOM, and upload the new GEDCOM. With no research in original records and no double-checking of information to verify its accuracy, more and more misinformation is being spread farther and farther. This is not new, and the Internet is not solely to blame, but the Internet does help misinformation travel faster.

As genealogists we should take pride in the work we share. I believe that the most important part of the hobby is the search for ancestors, not the ability to claim that I have ten thousand individuals in my database. In fact, in my personal database I have fewer than ten thousand records, but I know each individual, almost on a personal level, and have documentation that backs up their reason for being in my database. Too many of today's researchers are more impressed with quantity than quality.

I Am Not Alone

Recently I was invited to speak at the Connecticut Society of Genealogists' annual meeting. I was to speak after their meeting and lunch, but had been invited to attend both, and I am glad that I made the decision to do so. The Connecticut Society of Genealogists has for some years now held a Literary Competition, and in fact I had once been honored to win in one of the four categories with my Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy a couple of years ago.

In addition to having a category for miscellaneous books, in which this year's winner had compiled an impressive book of transcribed tombstones, there are three other categories:

  • Fledgling essay
  • Family History
  • Genealogy

Each category's winner, in addition to receiving a certificate acknowledging the honor of their work, also receives a cash award. The family history and genealogy categories also receive a pin and a decorative dish, respectively. The difference between the family history and the genealogy is in the scope of the work. The family history is usually devoted to the family of the author or one particular ancestor or lineage to a particular individual. The genealogy usually begins with the immigrant ancestor and then traces all of the descendants down for a number of generations.

The year I was attending the conference as a literary award winner, the genealogy was that of the descendants of Ralph Farnham. Being a descendant of this immigrant myself, my suitcase went home a little heavier because I purchased a copy of the two-volume work for my personal library.

This year's recipient of the award for the Genealogy category had compiled a work on the Parsons family and was an impressive volume on this family, complete with the requisite descents and the all important source citations. The family history category was also an interesting work that sounded much like some of the projects I have undertaken where I just can't leave the work alone.

As I listened to the high school student who had won the fledgling essay category, I saw an enthusiasm and an innocence that many of us who have been in this for a long time have lost, or at least have been tempered through our many bouts with brick walls. But as I continued to listen to the short speeches of each winner I realized that each of these individuals more than deserved their award. They understood the concepts I was afraid were disappearing. They were proud of their work and were appreciative of their acknowledgement by the society.

No Appreciation or Just Don't Care Anymore?

What has created the current trend of not having any pride in family history work? Perhaps it is the lack of appreciation by other researchers when we share what we have. I would hate to think that is the case. I would like to think that as we share with others they understand the hard work that has gone into the compiling of the information we presently have.

Perhaps it is the fact that some of the research is easier to do now, so today's researchers do not appreciate the hard work that was necessary before. I sometimes wonder if I would still be as enamored with the research if I had not started when I did. I love the search. I love to analyze where I am in the puzzle that is the ancestor at hand, and figure out what records will help me to identify him better or will answer the question of where he has gone when he disappears from a county.

In Conclusion

Like any other hobby, genealogy deserves to be done well. While I won't get physically hurt if I don't do it well, like I might if skiing was my hobby, I think I would feel cheated out of some intangible aspect of the hobby. It remains important to me that I strive to "dot the I's and cross the T's," as my husband once called it when I came home from a research trip in which all I had really done was find physical proof of events and individuals I already had penciled on the pedigree.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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