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Sunday, March 24, 2013


I really enjoyed listening to the keynote speeches this week and a few of the classes through the RootsTech website. While I did not get a chance to go there, it was a nice experience to be able to listen in and feel a part of the show.

I also downloaded all the syllabus for the classes and will be going through them (in my so called free time!) to find out new tricks, websites, etc for researching.

While not genealogy related, I loved David Pogue's keynote Saturday morning. He is a great speaker and made everyone laugh.

If you haven't done so, download the class syllabus so that you can find out what you missed if you weren't able to go...lot's of interesting things to think about and check out!

Copyright © 2013 Matt Mapes

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What is original anyway?

So what is a primary source? Or a secondary source? Or an original source? Lots of talk on the blogs about these things, and people refer to them differently. The problem is, you can hash it all you want, but there are very few primary original sources.

Am I a primary source for my birth? Well, technically, I was there. But I don't have recognizable memories until years later. While I do have a birth certificate which tells me when my birth was, if nothing else, I would have my mother to tell me what my birthday is. But would she tell me the correct date or remember the date?

Many times the vital or court records we look at are not the originals, so are they primary sources? Many of them are copied from another primary source. Land record originals were generally held by the individual owning the land and the courthouse only had a copy.  Who exactly gave the information to the county clerk in the 1800's for that death or birth or marriage? Did the clerk write it down correctly?

Bill Dollarhide had an interesting blog post a while back, that detailed exactly how the census was taken, and in fact the originals most likely no longer exist, as they were kept at the local level, created by the US Marshalls, before the Census Bureau was created. The "original" census pages we see now were copies of the originals. So this is how far removed that census information is from reality:

(1)Information provided by an unknown person to a US Marshall or Census Bureau employee....
(2)Who wrote it down as best he/she could trying to understand what that unknown person was telling them....
(3)The original census page being copied by an unknown individual onto another sheet to be submitted to DC...
(4)The copied census page being microfilmed, and then destroyed....
(5)The microfilmed census page then being digitized and uploaded to the Internet....
(6)A genealogist downloading that image to keep on their hard drive or to print out....

6 generations removed from the original (and possibly faulty to begin with) information about the family!
So don't ever wonder why the information on a census for a family is incorrect. I think it's a miracle that any of it is even close to being accurate.

Of course we could debate all day what a primary source is, or how many steps removed a primary source has to be for it to be considered a secondary source, and on and on. But that doesn't really get us anywhere, I suppose.

This is a quandary. And I suppose we have to realize the limitations of the documents we use, as well as our limitations in obtaining the "perfect" documents to properly source our material. We can only do our best, with what is provided to us or what is left to us after time has its way with those precious documents.

Copyright © 2013 Matt Mapes

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Favorite Blog Post - Age Divide in Genealogy?

My how the week goes by, and here is my first blog post in more than a week! Life's a ride....

My favorite blog post this week was James Tanner's, "The Genealogy Age Gap - How do we expand to include the youth?"

This was an interesting topic, which I would also like to comment on. I feel personally vested in this topic due to the fact that I started genealogy when I was 16. When I went to a historical society or some type of library, I was a bit out of place, among the older people. And on occasion, I felt a bit...well, watched and/or patronized, when I was younger. Not only are the older generations (this is a relative term, here, which probably includes me now), somewhat skeptical of the intentions of younger people, they also can feel that those younger "kids" don't really know what they are doing.

The fact that younger people might not know what they are doing in genealogy is not bad. Everybody who starts in a hobby such as genealogy starts at the bottom. No matter the age. What I think the younger generations can bring to genealogy is their love and knowledge of technology, which is radically changing how genealogy works.

There are a couple of points I don't agree with Mr. Tanner, however. I think it has always fallen to the older people in society to bemoan the state of the younger generations. It has probably been going on for hundreds or thousand of years. While I am a pessimistic person by trade, I believe that the younger generations always work out their kinks and get with the program.  Things have worked out so far.

Okay, next point I want to take up is Mr. Tanner's attempt to provide genealogy with a solution to getting younger people involved in genealogy. I don't really think this is a problem. While his assertion is that they have no desire to learn about their family, no knowledge of how to do this, or time, may be spot on, I don't think that is anything new.

While my experience is somewhat unusual in genealogy, starting so young, the genealogy bug does catch numerous younger people. However, I think Mr. Tanner is missing the point. Genealogy has historically been something taken up by someone who has the time or resources to do it. That group includes wealthy individuals who can either pay someone to do it for them, or not have to work, and do it themselves, and the older, or retired generations. It is a time consuming hobby which also focuses the individual on their own mortality. Naturally as we get closer to our own mortality, we start to look backward at no only our own life, but also to our family history. I'm not trying to sound age biased here,but it is just something that I have seen in many older individuals in my family.

As a younger person who is passionate about genealogy, I don't need convincing that my family history is important. It is a struggle to find the time and money to do the necessary research, analyzing of the material and writing up of the genealogy. I'm just not sure anyone can convince younger people who are so busy and caught up with the day to day life that they need to pursue this hobby. Maybe we can change this outlook, but I'm not too hopeful. How about we start with proposing a 30 hour work week as a "full time" job?  That might be a start. 

Copyright © 2013 Matt Mapes

Friday, March 1, 2013

Let's Be Honest FamilySearch!

Dear FamilySearch,

I have a complaint. But first, let me just say that I love, love, love, love, what you are doing by putting all the original records now digitized up on the web. This has radically changed the profession in so many good ways. I love it so much, that in fact I probably check your website almost every day to see what is new or updated. Okay, so that sounds a bit crazy.

Now my complaint. Yesterday, you updated a lot of databases and a few image collections, 41 by my count.  That is terrific! Most, if not all, seem to be updates to collections, because I believe the total number of collections was the same the day before. So here is where my complaint comes in: I wish you would describe how these collections were updated! New information added? Corrections made? What????  I feel like I need to go back and search any of those collections I might have looked at already for the same people again.

This seriously undermines any attempt at an exhaustive search for something. When do I know if all the Michigan Death Records 1867-1897 are online? Will I ever? Is is possible that a death record I need is floating somewhere on a hard drive or lying on a microfilm undigitized somewhere in one of your vaults? The possibilities keep me up at night.  And I really need my sleep.

I realize it may be impossible to detail the exact updates for a collection, especially with time constraints. To be honest, I'm not sure if Ancestry provides any information on their updates either. However, for people wanting some semblance of certainty in their research, these updates to unknown information within data collections are very troubling.

FamilySearch, can we get any clarity?


FamilySearch, I still love you.

Copyright © 2013 Matt Mapes