In answering this week's Overheard in GenForum question, I found myself pondering a question. Why do we do our research the hard way?
Modern technology has offered us many advances in research. Searchable databases allow us to search for people based on more than just a name. Microfilm offers us a connection to repositories around the world. The Internet brings us into contact with more researchers than we could have dreamed. And yet sometimes we still insist on doing things the hard way.
It doesn't have to be hard to be right.
The Right Way
I am probably one of the loudest proponents of the "verify, verify" mantra. Each time I stand up to give a lecture I mention the importance of verifying the work of others. However, I also am aware that there are times when such verification will take some time. In such situations it is quite acceptable to incorporate the information found on another's Web site in your research. Just remember to cite the Web site as your source. This helps you down the road to remember where you got date of birth or name of the mother of an individual.
I make it a point, whenever possible, to take the information found in online write-ups or databases and verify it with original documents. Sometimes this takes awhile, depending on my work schedule. However, let me state right here and now that I am not going to the county courthouses for all of this information.
Before I plan a trip to a county courthouse, I take a look at the Family History Library Catalog to see what they have on microfilm. If they have something that I'm interested in, I can either order it through my local Family History Center or view it the next time I get to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. While I admit I get to the Family History Library more often than many researchers, I still maintain that ordering a microfilm to my local Family History Center is easier and usually less expensive than contacting or visiting the county courthouse. It also helps to preserve the original records. No one has to touch the original records when I view them on microfilm.
For just a couple of dollars to cover the mailing of the microfilm, I have quite a bit available at my fingertips. Usually the microfilms arrive at my local Family History Center within three to four weeks and I have four weeks before I must either renew or send the film back.
The other stop I make with my research is the various subscription sites I have. More and more of the data coming online is made up of digitized copies of original records. If I know a family should be in the 1900 Census, for example, then I do not have to wait for the next time I can get to the library.
I also see what has been compiled by others. Just because someone else did it doesn't mean it is wrong. Usually with their information in tow, I can hit the original records rapidly verifying the information and thus making great strides in my research. It took me years, though, before I stopped trying to recreate the wheel with each new line.
In fact, I am more apt to hit the various search engines. I also use the various standard search engines such as Google and a nifty little program, Copernic . Each of these searches will supply me with a different group of links. When I combine them all I have an impressive group of pages of information to work with. Best of all I didn't have to do all the hard work, nor bang my head against the proverbial brick wall.
While I do believe that it is important to turn our attention to original records, I also appreciate the benefits of modern technology. I appreciate having the ability to order records from all over the world to my local Family History Center. I appreciate the ability to do a search on the Internet and see what another researcher has compiled. I appreciate the digitized images as they allow me to do some work even when the library isn't open. With all of these advances, though, I understand that they are tools in my endeavor; tools that take me back to the original records in much less time than if I were recreating the wheel, or doing all of my research the hard way.
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 an award-winning author of several genealogy how-to books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, The Genealogist's Computer Companion, and Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at [email protected].
See more advice from Rhonda in her columns Expert Tips, Tigs and Trees, and Overheard in the Message Boards.