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Why Start Over?

By Jan Edwards

When most of us began doing family history times were way different. We did not have access to online anything. Online wasn’t even a term we knew. Many spent hours and hours in courthouse records and archives.

Many went to Salt Lake City, Utah and spent days and days just looking at census films. There was even an area that just housed the census film at the library. (Which because the census are all online now, that space is now a classroom!)

We had oral records. We constantly interviewed the living taking their word as “knowledge.” There was a “genealogy code.” Always be polite, and always send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to anyone you requested information from which was anyone you thought might have answers.

For the times we could not travel to Salt Lake, we used our Family History Centers and ordered film or fiche to view at the center. This cost money and took lots of time. You paid, ordered, and waited. Each film had a time limit to view the film, or you could pay for an extended loan.

We used family history books that were written by others. In reality, those were most of the time just someone’s “pre-online tree!” which were rarely documented and often wrong. Many times when we contacted the courthouse for records, we sent a check which most cashed, and we got back a letter stating “we have looked but did not locate the desired record.”

We used paper pedigree charts, paper family group sheets, paper research logs, and we used a pencil so we could erase the mistakes! We then compiled them and created a zillion ways to “organize” them.

Then a miracle happened! We heard the word “computers and internet!” What were these, and how would the genealogist use this new technology? It began for me with a database called PAF, Personal Ancestral File. It was dos format. You could only add so many characters per line. For instance, Crimplesham, Downham, Norfolk, England was entered as Crim, Dow, Nor, Eng.

The first program had NO place for notes or sources, but it was thrilling to have a place to put all my “knowledge.” The internet was dial-up. Oh, that was exciting! People began “indexing” census records, cemeteries and anything we could think of to share. The new database programs made GEDCOMS.

What is a GEDCOM? states: GEDCOM stands for Genealogical Data Communications, a universally accepted file format for family tree files. This format allows different family tree software applications to understand and open the same family tree file bypassing the differences in coding that would normally prevent sharing.

Genealogists using a Mac could even share their GEDCOMS with PC users. We were so excited. We could share our databases all over the world from home. Hence that is where the “modern day genealogy nightmare” began. We shared, and shared. We added and added.

We went back hundreds of years with the click of a button or two. We merged their data with our data, and we sent it all to Salt Lake and it was called it the Ancestral File. Then all of a sudden the genealogy programs added a few new “tools.” They called them NOTES and SOURCES, but the damage was done! We were hooked on “believing” other researcher’s research.

As family history became more popular, so did the “online tree.” Today most new researchers believe “those trees are research.” I hear it all the time: “At the click of a button! I just took my line back to Jesus Christ!” I just took my line back to a signer of the Declaration of Independence.” I link to Princess Dianna and Elvis Pressley!”

For some reason everyone wants to be linked to someone KNOWN, FAMOUS, RICH, and POPULAR. Even a race. As a professional researcher, many contact me wanting me to “take their lines” back to the Native American tribe in the area of a Casino. Hmmm.

When in reality you didn’t take them anywhere, most of the time it is a compilation of a bunch of tree GEDCOMS imported together with NO sourcing, No documents and NOT even a note.

It’s like it’s a race to see how far back we can get in one afternoon of research. I hear the word “brickwall” as people grab these “online trees” and then click to the furthest back name and claim it as “their brickwall.” When in reality who knows if that person really even links to them.

So, here goes my “Why Start Over?” list:

1. I want to “know and understand” each person I am researching by proof of documentation and sources.

2. I want to do it myself, and make sure it’s as correct as possible finding as much documentation per person as I can. We know that even documents can be wrong, so we need as many sources and documents per person we can find!

3. I want to take a name I have found and turn it into a documented person. For instance, “He was 5’9, weighed 160 pounds, that he had red hair, green eyes and a tattoo on his left arm.” I want to be able to take the documents I have located and write a “true” story of their lives from those records.

4. If I import a GEDCOM into my database, I never really “get to know” those I did not research.

5. Re-Researching (if that is even a word), you will locate records that have been missed as each day new records become more available adding many important pieces to your family history puzzle.

6. Plus I want to have all the FUN!

Times have changed! Let’s be a part of “reclaiming” great research! Let’s be a part of documenting, sourcing and writing great notes as to where we found that middle initial. It really is not as easy as “simply typing in a name” or clicking on a hint or shaking leaf! Those are fun, but be very cautious as you “claim” your name to fame!

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