Retired. Like to do photography. Like to do research. Like to travel. Getting slower. Getting older and more cranky. But still going and genealogy is part of the reason. It lets me research, it gives me excuses to travel. And it’s an incredible way to learn history. Most of my ancestors were ordinary people, the ones who don't show up in the pages of history books. Learning to look at their world from their perspective just so I can try to find them means I've gained a very different understanding of the past.
First, it’s free, and I believe that the results of our research should be available to others without their having to subscribe to some company owned website.
Second, WeRelate is different and it took me awhile to understand how it works. The pages don’t “belong” to the person who creates them, they “belong” to the person or persons they are about. That means it’s easier to share, although most of us already share, through email lists, message boards, private email, World Connect, and so on. But here, the sharing can actually help build a better genealogy.
But what if we disagree? As I get older, I do get more cranky, and if I’ve found information about an ancestor I don’t always like being told I’m wrong (even when I am). This, for me, is the real beauty of WeRelate, the potential emphasis on documentation. Because no one person “owns” a particular page, disagreements must ultimately come down to sources and the analysis of sources. In other words, unlike some commercial genealogy sites, WeRelate actually encourages doing Good Genealogy.
Sources, Documentation, and Good Genealogy
Sources are nothing more or less than where you got your information. Family stories, Grandma, someone else’s gedcom, these are all sources. We all use them, they can be useful as clues, but they aren’t very good as sources. For one thing, they are not generally available to other researchers, so there is no way to check their accuracy. And as almost anyone who has tried to track down a family story knows, sometimes they aren’t even very good clues.
Better sources are documents. Documents are basically records that are available to more or less everyone. Fundamental to any kind of research, whether genealogy or history or even physics, is replication. Can you get the same results I got if you follow the same procedures? Because documents are records, you should be able to find the documents I used and see the same thing I saw. Then you don’t have to take my word on trust or “believe in me”.
Documents usually are considered to be original, records that are created at the time that something happened; or secondary or derivative, records that were created after the fact by copying or interpreting earlier records or sources. Original documents are often considered better sources than secondary documents, but it all depends. Just think about the records being created today. Last time you filled out some ridiculous bureaucratic form, how old did you say you were? How much did you say you weighed? Is the National Enquirer really the same as the New York Times? So analyzing documents or records is important, trying to determine how accurate or believable they are.
Analysis can take many forms, but it is usually easier if you have more than one or two documents. When you have as many documents as you can reasonably find, it is easier to compare what is said in one document with what is said in other documents, who is saying it, and why. Besides, I find that the more records I have for an ancestor, the more interesting that person becomes.
The problem is that the more documents you have, the more contradictions you are likely to have. Our ancestors, after all, were human, and they sometimes “forgot” how old they were, how much they weighed, and preferred gossip to “facts”. So part of the analysis of sources and documents includes saying why you consider one source or document better than another. And that’s called – presenting your evidence.
If we disagree, your evidence will probably make me less cranky, and may even change my mind. Either way, it makes for better genealogy for everyone. And it all starts with citing –- sharing -- your sources.
Okay, it takes time and effort to enter all those sources into WeRelate, and to learn how to maneuver your way around the site. But I’ve tried other sites and find WeRelate easier and better in terms of quality. The Review process at WeRelate when uploading a gedcom is one good way to catch obvious mistakes, which we all make. So is entering sources by hand, although it does take a lot of time. Hopefully I’ll get mine all entered before I get too senile.
Have had to set the Meadows family research in Kentucky aside (and just as I was ready to move to North Carolina!), as there has been a great flurry of interest around William Hazelton Scott, especially from others with DNA matches. The collaboration is opening up new avenues of research, and for the first time in a long time there are faint glimmerings of hope.
James Snow, Week of 7 Jun 2010; also Genealogy Well Done