Sunday, May 20, 2012

Good Genealogy vs Bad Genealogy

At NGS I attended a lecture on "How to Be a Bad Genealogist." It was a delivered with tongue firmly in cheek and for the most part I found it entertaining. The speaker spoke well and encouraged audience participation with some cute little interactive nonsense. Every time a slide would come up with his chosen phrase, "Believe It" the audience would raise their arms in the air and shout out "BELIEVE IT."
As you can guess the idea was to teach us how to be good genealogists by telling us what a "bad" genealogist would do.
The idea is good. But I felt that the presentation had a few flaws. Maybe I am just a tad super sensitive.

I use technology quite a bit. I use it for research. I use it communicate with clients, relatives and other genealogists. I use it to learn via Webinars and reading other genealogist's postings in blogs and on websites.

I like to think I am a "good" genealogist. I know I still have a lot to learn. I don't take anything I learn about my family from the internet as "fact" or "truth." At least I don't if it is just something else someone has "told" me. Databases that provide Whole World Trees and other contribution sites I use as "clues," something to follow up on. (To tell the truth, most of the time I don't visit these sites at all, at least not the part that is "contribution") And I have only posted a three or four generation chart on one of them with a minimum of information in hopes that my family will learn something about their heritage and/or some distant cousin will contact me.

Now, that doesn't mean I don't use the internet for my research. More and more images of actual records are being digitized and put up on this wonderful tool.

So why did the speaker throw the baby out with the bath water. He made a blanket statement to the effect that using the internet was the quickest way to become a "bad" genealogist. (Keep in mind this is our goal.)

I get what he was going for. But not the way it was delivered. He inferred that all internet was bad and that just isn't so. Not anymore. Reading blogs does not a bad genealogist make. Believing ALL blogs might mean you are not a good genealogist but to ignore ALL blogs would also, in my opinion, make you a bad genealogist. There are many blogs out there written by experienced, excellent, and knowledgeable people. They have a lot to share and teach and I for one will take advantage of that.

Many sites are the starting point to our research. Hopefully as we grow as genealogist we track down the actual records, but we may find where those records are held via the internet. We might just be surprised and find that the county we are researching in has digitized their birth records for the year we need and we can find it right there online.

What kind of a "good" genealogist would I be if I did not know that before I wrote off to the county asking for a copy of said record. Personally I think that would make me a very poor researcher.

The speaker did not advocate learning how to use electronic media (twitter, blogs, online databases, webinars) as a usful tool. He dismissed them as a whole, in one generalized sweep as bad.

I'm sure that is not what he meant to say. I am sure I am just being super sensitive.

As time moves on I am sure this speaker and others like him will find that if they do not learn to use electronic media and teach it to others they will find themselves and their students with out ALL the tools it takes to make a GOOD genealogist in the 21st and 22nd centuries.


  1. I couldn't agree more. The Internet, social media, blogs, etc are breadcrumbs and tools in our search. We need to analyze and weigh it all just as we would anything else. That said, I've gotten great advice, teaching, and experience online. Glad that we got to spend some time at NGS together!

  2. Nice post. I am sensitive on this topic too. Why on earth would I go to the library to look up a census record when I can do so at home? I have found more at GoogleBooks than I would have access to at my local library. There is nothing wrong with looking at online trees and I may just connect with a distant cousin by doing so. I do agree that not everything is online and we do need to visit libraries and record repositories but there is nothing wrong with searching online too.

  3. Of course there are an increasing number of primary sources available online, and one would be silly to discount those. Gone are the days of my mother's genealogical research, which consisted of visiting only the small group of archives and libraries available by car as time permitted. My mother would be amazed and delighted I'm sure by the number of primary sources now available online.

    The other potential meaning, that "fish tales" told online make for bad genealogy, is likewise silly, I agree. When one hears or reads a family story that some relatives immigrated via New Orleans and then traveled up the Mississippi via flatboat, for example, one is given a starting point for research. It may be a dead-end ultimately, but it's a place to start.

    Online resources are no more or less reliable than family letters, relatives' stories or word of mouth. They're made by people and any researcher worth her salt will use them as a basis for investigation (and perhaps interesting story-telling) same as more "old-fashioned" off-line sources.