Friday, February 04, 2011

The Parable of the Red Pencil

Someone asked me to post the Parable of the Red Pencil which I gave at the beginning of a presentation to the Utah Valley PAF Users Group. This blog post is to honor those patient Family History Consultants and others out there who realize how to gently but firmly lead folks into better research practices. I once fell victim to the dreaded red pencil of a "look down her nose" ward genealogist, but I was offered no way out of the situation. At the time I just gave up, figuring I'd never get the hang of genealogy research.

The Parable of the Red Pencil

A certain beginning genealogist went down from her home on the Provo bench, and fell in with an old-timey “ward genealogist”, who took the newbie researcher’s hand written family group sheets and marked them roughly with red pencils, wherever there was an obvious mistake.  This left the beginner’s heart half dead, stranded amid piles of disorganized family photos, source documents, and ill-contrived pedigree and family group sheets.

By chance there came down a Certified Genealogist, and when he saw her, he passed by on the other side.

And likewise an Accredited Genealogist came down that way, and when she saw her, she passed by on the other side.

But a certain Ward Family History Consultant, as she journeyed, came where the beginning genealogist was, and she saw her, she had compassion on her.

And went to her, and bound up her wounds, by extending a hand of friendship and support, and set her down with a computer (to organized things) and took her to the local LDS Family History Center and took care of  her.

And on the morrow when she departed, she took out two forms (a research log and one for census extraction) and gave them to the beginning genealogist, and said unto her “Take care and don’t worry, I am here to help you climb your family tree. And whatsoever thou needest more, when I come again, I will assist thee.”

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was of true genealogical assistance unto her that fell down with discouragement at the overwhelming task of gathering family names?

Should we not say she that showed mercy on her?

Quoting from the original parable of the Good Samaritan, in Luke 10: 37 we read:
“Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”

May I suggest that we should cease using our red pencils as swords, but we should break them down into plowshares?

Consider that a soft answer turneth away wrath.

And that a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.

And behold have we not been taught, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass?

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.


  1. I love this parable - I research daily and often have someone sitting next to me who is baffled by something in the records. It's so gratifying to be able to explain to them - and likewise, it's great to be able to approach someone you know and respect for a second opinion :-) Jo

  2. Myrt,
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful parable. I am sometimes saddened when I read disparaging comments by bloggers about the research methods of less experienced folk who are seeking their roots.
    Instead of looking down our noses at those with less experience we must extend the hand of friendship and by giving pertinent advice nurture them on their genealogy journeys.

  3. Yes, we less experienced family historians sure appreciate the help of those who know more. Great parable with a gentle reminder.

  4. I give, what is a ward genealogist?

    THANKS for writing.

    Every LDS Church congregation known as a ward, has someone assigned to "help" others with their family history.

    Anciently (roughly these people were called "Ward Genealogists". Now they are called "Family History Consultants".

    I used the ancient name as it fits better with the "biblical" setting of the parable.

    Certainly the majority of CG (certified) and ICapGen (accredited) genealogists are open and helpful.

    This parable was written for presentation at the Utah Valley PAF Users Group, which is a largely LDS group.