Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Principles of "The Pinball Approach to Genealogical Research"


When I published The pinball approach to genealogical research this past Monday, I knew it was a complicated blog post, but I wanted to discuss it during Mondays with Myrt at noon. Aside from describing the willy-nilly research habits beginning genealogists have, my post went a step further to encourage thoughtful analysis and correlation of a variety documents. I probably should have put that later section in a separate post.

The post also included my thoughts about how to organize more complicated kinship determinations, where no single document hold the information we seek. My example included info about the type of spreadsheets we were taught to use in Dr. Jones’ SLIG course.

The reason I inserted those additional concepts was to describe the difference between simple, quick fix “pinball” genealogy, and anything resembling analysis up to and including a spreadsheet. But I failed to adequately describe "The Pinball Approach to Genealogical Research."

I've been told Ol’ Myrt here has coined a new phrase “The Pinball approach to genealogical research” or "pinball genealogy". We did discuss this concept somewhat during this week’s Mondays with Myrt and I feel it will be a recurring theme.

Randy Seaver attended the webinar and has taken the, er, um “pinball” and decided to run with it. In this post Pinball Genealogy - My Hints Practices, Randy cites my original post, and describes his reaction to it. Randy says the pinball approach to genealogical research “is a great description - I can surely relate, and I'm sure that many of my readers also can relate to it, and probably enjoy the experience.  I know that I do!  I'm "in the hunt," finding new names, dates, places, entering data into my genealogy database, all's right in my genealogy cave.”

Then Randy goes on to describe what he calls “pinball” genealogy pursuits. However, he clearly does some analysis before he accepts documents specifically mentioning an ancestor and links it to his ancestor in his Ancestry Member Tree (AMT) and genealogy software. Randy may be doing quick work, but he isn’t doing willy-nilly pinball genealogy research. Being in the "zone" where research seems to "click" and answers are forthcoming, isn't pinball genealogy either. 

Perhaps there was once a time when Randy had to think hard about “shaky leaf” suggestions. As with many more experienced researchers, Randy can now more readily assess the reliability of information provided in a document. For instance, experience has taught him that he should categorically not connect to other Ancestry Member Trees (AMT) as they are usually fraught with errors. So Randy can quickly "ignore" that suggestion and move on to the next, though he does admit to using AMT for clues.

PHOTO: Circa 1948 pinball machine,
from WikiPedia Commons

What does Ol’ Myrt consider “pinball” genealogy?
Ol' Myrt here tried to look for a grungy old electric pinball machine, and settled for the graphic above.

When I think of a pinball machine itself,  I recall the smoke-filled room in my uncle's basement, where a "few choice words" were known to spew forth when there is an epic "fail" in the game. I avoided the drunken fury at all costs. It wasn't a pretty picture. 

With that in mind, "The Pinball Approach to Genealogy" includes these elements:
  • Quickly accepting unsubstantiated information.
  • Seeking a single document that answers the question – say, “who is the  father of …?”, when more than one credible source is recommended by credentialed genealogy professionals such as Dr. Jones, my SLIG instructor.
  • Looking at only “quick-click” online resources.
  • Relying on an index entry as the “final word” without making eforts to find the original.
  • Assuming everything is online, after all “those Mormons are digitizing their entire granite vault."
  • Being unaware of the need for microfilm, fiche and on-site research of surviving record groups for clues about family relationships.
  • Being unaware that only a fraction of the world’s vital records, etc. have ever been filmed or digitized. The rest probably won’t be during our lifetime, due to cultural and financial constraints.
  • Being unaware of the Genealogical Proof Standard when making kinship determinations based on the documents at hand.

This is very different from:
  • Quickly canvassing a variety of online genealogy websites for the low-lying fruit obviously mentioning an ancestor.
  • Deftly entering the information contained in a document in one’s genealogy management program, based on years of experience with that software.
  • The ability to type quickly.
Randy has spent a great deal of time explaining his “pinball” approach to genealogy and I love it. But Randy's definition is very different from this Ol’ gal’s definition. Randy's years of genealogy blog posts suggest he is a competent researcher, and his work bears no resemblance to the negative elements of my definition of "The Pinball Approach to Genealogy."

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

Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
G+: +Pat Richley-Erickson
Second Life: Clarise Beaumont  


  1. Thanks for the absolution - I'm not sure I deserve it.

    I still like the term, and I think it applies to what I do, and others do, by searching, finding, evaluating, analyzing, entering, sourcing and moving on to the next person or record should be described as "pinball genealogy."

    It's not too far from what I do to capturing data without evaluation/analysis or sourcing, which is what your definition describes.

    Is it time yet for my true confessions of a pinball genealogy junkie?

  2. As someone who has played competitive pinball (years ago, admittedly), I'd like to point out at this stage that even pinball requires a planned approach for it to be played well; just as with, you can put some money in, mess about a bit, and walk away with a sense of accomplishment, even though you have no idea whet the heck just happened. As a competitive player, you analyze the table, study the patterns, uncover its features; you know where to find the big scores, extra balls, and specials, all in order to maximize your fun and play time. In that light, I see Randy as a competitive pinball player.

  3. Taco Goulooze, I also played many years of pinball in my youth. Also played some when older children were home. I concur with your statement. it is really also like a game of pool. It does take thinking, adjusting and rethinking so it is not willy nilly as some may think.