Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Traditional Genealogical Research is Still Effective... and Necessary!

Last year in one of my favorite Facebook groups for learning about and discussing DNA, I received a snide remark from one of the (by all appearances) younger members. I mentioned it in my Inter-Library Loan: An Underutilized Genealogical Resource post at the Rogue Genealogist, but I'll share it again here.

I mentioned in the group that while DNA is a wonderful tool and it's important to embrace it, we must also continue to use the traditional research techniques we've relied upon since before the introduction of computers into our day to day lives.

This young lady responded, "Does that mean you're sitting in a dark library scrolling through microfilm? LOL."

If that's what it takes, yes.

I think it's great we have so many young people coming into genealogy via DNA testing and the ease with which Ancestry basically delivers genealogical information to them. However, I also think it is incumbent upon us to gently explain that genealogy is not like fast food. We can't roll up to the window and order great-great grandma, with a side of distant cousins to go.

Even with how sites such as Ancestry and MyHeritage make genealogy appear, it's not that simple. It's work and part of the fun is the work.

In fact, getting out and socializing face-to-face with volunteers at your local Family History Library or genealogical society is even more important than sitting behind our computers, looking for the low-hanging census fruit.

It's also important to keep the following in mind:

Online research isn't enough for a lineage society

If you would like to join a lineage society, they will expect certified paper documentation. This means writing (polite) letters to or visiting the town clerks in the towns where your ancestors were born to request them.

Perhaps newer genealogists may find the concept of the lineage society outdated, but membership in one is one of the best ways to hear the latest news about a particular ancestor, ship, or town. These societies usually offer events so you can socialize with your kin. They also publish newsletters with useful and interesting information.

Many of the most wonderful records aren't even online yet

Because of this, we must remember that the letter-writing skills we learned in school are still important today. Even if that letter is in the form of an email, the ability to make polite and gracious requests to town clerks, church volunteers, libraries, and others is still important in genealogical endeavors. Goodness knows such letters have served me well in requesting items such as FBI files, obituaries, and foreign baptisms.

You can't take all those online records with you... exactly

All those great records served up to us by these major genealogical subscription sites don't remain attached to the family tree if we download it. Sure, you can download the images one by one, but that's a lot of work for something as basic as a census, unless you're building up a case study or a file on a brick wall ancestor.

That is why it's important to still maintain a separate file in the genealogical software of your choice and diligently cite your sources. Maybe it seems tedious, but it's even more tedious to try to download images of every single record Ancestry sends your way.

We've also seen what happens if a major genealogical website goes down. Yes, be careful what you post online - it can be permanent. But if you do not know the tricks for looking at a website that no longer exists (*cough*internetwaybackmachine*cough*), you might find yourself panicking. With the loss of Rootsweb, I am glad I thought to copy and save all the pertinent information I needed from a website that relies upon Rootsweb's free hosting platform!


Traditional Genealogical Research - New England Genealogy
Gen X genealogist meets Millennial historian!
Tromping through cemeteries & being silly
with Kassie Nelson of
Rolling Prairies Research.
So I invite seasoned genealogists to step forward and offer a helping hand to young genealogists, to show them the joys of, yes, scrolling through microfilm in a darkened library. And I ask that young genealogists step out from behind the keyboard and join us at musty repositories to sift through courthouse records, heavy deed books, and more. It's actually fun and we want you there with us!

Now, granted, there are some people who find it difficult to leave their home and go to such places. It's very unfortunate that those with disabilities or health problems are often left out of these kinds of excursions. Subscription sites can offer them a great service, however they can also be cost-prohibitive, especially if one relies upon a disability check, pension, or Social Security.

Therefore, I also think it is very important to help bring that sense of fun in research and community to our physically disabled and otherwise challenged genealogists.

Let's all try to meet in the middle, embrace old and new, and move into the future of genealogy together.

Copyright (c) 2018 Wendy L. Callahan

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