I have placed some summarizing charts of my research areas at User:Jrich/Ahnentafel.
Documenting sources is not only a practice that produces better results, but in a collaborative environment, is no more than common courtesy. Various postings on this issue may be found at User:Jrich/The Need for Sources.
Genealogy in print and film
One of my favorite genealogical references in the movies come from the movie Amistad.
An excellent book with genealogical overtones is "The Voyage" by Philip Caputo, a novel about a woman investigating three teenage brothers, one her grandfather, whose father sent them away on a sailboat voyage to brave the Atlantic Ocean on their own.
This is a hilarious clip of Comedian Alan King called "Survived by Wife", especially so to those whose research may involve an occasional reading of an obituary.
"With a will to work hard, and a library card..." - John Mayer "Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1969"
Advice from a Master
The following is taken from Source:TAG, p. 10:33, in an article by Donald Jacobus called "Errors in Genealogical Books". Note that the author starts by saying, "It is not our intention to speak here of errors in bad genealogical books. ... Here we shall speak of the type of error sometimes found in good genealogical books." I have emphasized the moral of each stories.
"... This is an example of the type of error that comes from a misinterpretation of an original record. Many times, as in this instance, it is to be attributed to the 'little knowledge' which the poet calls 'a dangerous thing'. A complete study of all original sources would have enabled me to avoid the error.
"Another moral that may be drawn is that it is always best to study the whole family as a group. Many of the errors to be found in the pedigree books which attempt to give a person's complete ancestry on all lines, come from trying to run back each direct ancestral line without the advantage of studying each family as a whole.
"Finally, it is unwise to trust any genealogical book, however good its reputation, too far. There are mistakes in the best of them, and the genealogist should never allow his critical faculties to desert him and become a blind copyist."
Two lessons based on his own experiences while researching his ancestor, John Dingley, were discussed in TAG by Eugene Aubrey Stratton, at one time Historian General of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. On p. 56:207, Stratton surveys the responses to a query he posted asking for help. "While it was gratifying that so many people offered to help, it was also disquieting to see widespread perpetuation of a genealogical line not supported in any way by fact." On p. 61:240, in a followup article, he says, "In case anyone wonders how I could have been off by as much as 31 years for a death date, the answer should be apparent. I took someone's word for it, instead of looking up the original records."
Eugene Cole Zubrinsky has published several articles debunking mythical presentations that end up being false. He titles one article (NEHGR, p. 151:31), "'To say it doesn't make it so'....". He starts the article by quoting Robert Charles Anderson: "The secondary literature of genealogy is littered with claims of marriage and affiliations for which no evidence is given. These claims are then repeated again and again so that they take on a life of their own ... In most cases [they] turn out to be true, but in other instances the statements are found to be quite imaginary." To which I humbly add, this is why one should try to identify the primary evidence that convinced the author that their conclusion is correct. Prior to 1900, and in many circles, even up to today, one extended professional courtesy to people, when thanks to the Internet, less and less are deserving. Further, it is mind-boggling to find out how much traditional genealogy is actually speculation or assumption or misunderstanding presented as truth (some examples here). It is the chore of the current generation of genealogists to go back and bring all these secondary sources up to modern standards, by identifying the primary documents that informed all those secondary sources.
My Interest in Genealogy
I am not a professional genealogist, and have no plans to get any certification. I have been practicing genealogy for decades, having inherited 3 significant sources of genealogical information on my ancestors. My first goal was to find the parents of Person:William King (145). With a name as common as that, I learned many times over the danger of merely matching names. However, I finally feel I have proved his parents after several years of focused research. Of course, there are always new challenges to take on (each generation discovered merely opens up two new mysteries) and one never really is able to close the book on any subject.
My thoughts on genealogy were additionally shaped by Source:Mayflower Descendant. The difference between family tradition and proved genealogy was made very clear in the articles by George E. Bowman. Afterwards I applied this learning to my inherited sources and my own work, and discovered, and corrected, many errors. For large parts of my family tree, I have exhausted the sources at my local genealogy library and those that are easily found on the Internet, and so my best hope for further progress is interaction with other researchers.
I have entered maybe 6000 pages of my own ancestors, and in the interest of increasing the scholarship of this site, I have worked on approximately 4 times that many pages that are not ancestors. I cannot spend the time on these others that I did on my ancestors. Instead I try to find a 90/10 approach that gives fairly reliable results as quick as possible without falling into common fallacies. Thus, I use the following methodologies:
I tend to dislike any practice that claims to make genealogy easy (because it isn't: it requires attention to detail, precision, perserverence, thoroughness, and objectivity), that gives data without indicating how it is known (district attorney to SVU detective: it's not what you know, but what you can prove that matters), and that avoids critical analysis (which tends to propagate existing errors - the urban myths of genealogy).
Most sites that allow you to upload your genealogy let each user create their own space - their own version of the truth. While we cannot know the truth, not having lived at the time, we can, and should be approaching, one consensus of it, not to-each-his-own. After all, in the end, we are all related. Therefore, I like the single family tree of WeRelate. And I like the prominent place that sources occupy on the WeRelate pages, which indicates a recognition of the importance and need for sources in a collaborative environment. Undoubtedly some organizations, like, say, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, build credible databases of proven lines of descent, but they are limited and not shared with the public. This is one of the needs served by WeRelate, and if people are to trust it, it needs to be as reliable as possible. Sloppy work is like litter: even a little scattered about encourages more.
Just Say No to unsourced websites!
I found this quote in an article on genealogical fraud (especially Gustave Anjou) by Paul Jones in a magazine called Canada's History (here):
Today many family history buffs are once again beguiled by the apparent simplicity of scavenging the work of others. Little more than name collectors, they scour the Internet in search of similar-sounding names in order to graft new lineages onto their Frankentrees. The upshot is that spot tests by one researcher have found that more than half of online family trees are incorrect.
A significant part of my interest in WeRelate is driven by desire to remove, correct and head-off these types of mistakes. They would drive me batty when I was researching my family tree. It got to the point that virtually any website was simply ignored, because the odds of misinformation were so great, it simply didn't pay to spend the time verifying the data found. I focused first, and fixedly, on trying to find reliable sources like vital records, church records, wills, etc. Only when completely desperate for any clue at all, did I resort to the general Internet.
The above article gave some warning signs of fraud. The first thing to look for: inadequate, or lack of, citations.
It is critical for WeRelate to build a culture that requires citation of sources and the providing of evidence in support of entered facts, and not to simply be another website that accepts bare assertions, by all appearances indistinguishable from the most naive name collecting.
This is a collaborative website. Unlike in-person collaboration, in general, you cannot discuss differences and work out a mutually agreeable presentation before "publishing". In fact, your collaborator may not yet be born...
The genealogical proof standard (GPS) describes how genealogical proof is determined. A key requirement listed if the exhaustive search of sources. It only takes one source to prove something, while there are plenty of stories where a myth is parroted by virtually every source, yet ends up being wrong. The best way to avoid being taken in by mistaken sources is to investigate as many other sources as possible, trying to determine the primary (i.e., contemporary, first-hand, or official) documents that tell how something is known.
This exhautive survey does not need to be played out on each page of WeRelate. This will make each page become painfully long and hard to process. If all sources are listed, many pages will have more wrong sources posted that correct ones. It is the contributor's job to provide some screening of sources. The following offers a possible list of criteria for deciding when to replace a source, when to add a source, and when to do nothing.