Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Just Genealogy Book Club and “Real Genealogy”

Those of us who gather on Sundays and Tuesdays at the Family History Center and the Just Genealogy Fire Pit at Second Life decided to have a book club. We also decided to study and discuss Val Greenwood’s The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. Last Tuesday (August 23, 2011) we met to discuss Chapters 1 and 2 of the book. (At our next meeting, on Tuesday September 20, we will discuss Chapters 3 and 4.)

I own the Greenwood book. When I first bought it, I pretty much read it from cover to cover. Since then, I have used it to look up specific topics, such as land records or military records. And, indeed, this is a valid use of the book. But as I study it in preparation for the book club meetings, I am discovering that I have been fairly casual in applying some aspects of genealogical practice as described by Val Greenwood.

In Chapter 1 the author makes a comparison of the research techniques employed by a research chemist with those to be employed by a genealogist. He describes five stages (or steps) of the research process and shows a chart of this research cycle. At MoSGA, early in August, Patricia Walls Stamm showed this cycle and discussed it. And I smugly thought that I agree with the concept and all was well.

Reading Chapter 1 pulled me up short. Yes, I agree with this idea, but I have not been carefully following these stages. It is true that I had already stared my research when I first read the book, so (perhaps) I can be excused that I had ommitted the first stage, the “preliminary survey;” after all, I didn’t KNOW I should have done this, so that’s OK, isn’t it?

Well, NO. Once I became aware of this step, I should have made a preliminary survey before I continued any research. What is out there about me, about my father, and about my mother? A Google search, a Mocavo search, and a search of public trees on Ancestry and on RootsWeb doesn’t take a lot of time. Searching WikiTree and might also yield other research.

So I did this for any mention of research about me and any research about my father (other people on my tree are still lacking a preliminary survey, but it will come). I was lucky, the sources that I found in this search were already known to me. Most were unsourced; most with sources get their sources from me. So on the date of this blog, the preliminary survey shows me that I am breaking new ground.

But this does not ensure that this particular preliminary survey will remain true as I continue to locate family members and to document their lives. When I plan additional research on anyone in my database, I will remember to repeat the preliminary survey. Otherwise, how will I know that a cousin or cousin-in-law has begun research on this line and has brought to light new information on the subject of my research?

Stage 2 is to evaluate any research that I found. You probably noticed that I had taken this step. The research that I located in the preliminary survey step was already known to me and I was aware of the amount of source references suppled in each instance. I do not count unsourced data as reliable data. It is useful in pointing the way to research but it doesn’t provide answers. So these found instances of research did not provide me with reliable data which could be used in connection with or instead of my own research.

Stage 3: Yes, I can be excused for not having done this step as yet. Stage 3 is the stage where you plan your research. I have spent as much time during the past three years in learning how to plan research and to record my research as I have spent in actual research. I consider this as an affirmative situation. I have been learning instead of rushing ahead toward a huge list of unsourced names.

The class at Second Life which studied Dr. Jones’ course on Inferential Genealogy was the final instruction necessary in order for my to learn how to create a focused goal. Other lessons have begun to help me create records of my research that will be meaningful to me today and will remain meaningful in the future. I took the time to to print out and examine a set of more than 30 forms which I have gathered from four different sources over these past years. After examining these forms, I have selected a dozen which I hope will enable me to keep meaningful logs.

So far my problem with logs is that I haven’t found a way to keep records that are instinctive to me. A week later my records don’t mean much to me, so I forget to review them, and then I forget to create them. There is overlap among these twelve forms. Like Goldilocks, I’ll try they all. Perhaps one form will be “just right.” If not, I hope these forms lead me to the creation of my own instinctive research log formats.

Wednesday at supper I was lamenting  to my husband that I hadn’t done any “real genealogy” this past week. The words echoed from my initial blog and I realized that I was wrong. True, I had not carried out any new research; no data, evidence, or proof had been created for anyone in any of my lines. But I HAD been doing “real genealogy;” I had been learning how to do effective research, and I had been learning to apply it to an individual record already in my database. Perhaps when I have reviewed my focused goal, I will find I have met Genealogical Proof Standards for one entry for one person in my database. And if I don’t meet G. P. S., I will know where my next research step should lead.

Now that’s “real genealogy.”

I hope we all learn by facing our frustrations and moving forward.

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