Tuesday, April 01, 2014

You are bigger than your genealogy program

Am I getting daffy on my old age? OK. Yes, I'll admit it. I said it. It just slipped out during Sunday's MGP2 Study Group1:
You ARE bigger than your genealogy program.
Your typical genealogy database program promotes "fill in the blank" thinking. Add the name, date of birth, place of birth, and so on. One entry for each database field. That's it. Job done. NOT!!

It is entirely possible you will be adding 10 or 15 scanned documents to a marriage fact, if that's how many it took to provide reasonable assurance the marriage took place between two specific individuals. Your reasoning paragraphs (proof argument, statement or summary) can be copied from your word processing program (or perhaps Evidentia) directly into notes for the marriage event in your genealogy management program.

Your genealogy database program doesn't care if you attach any documents or notes to the marriage fact. It blindly accepts what you've typed to "fill in the blank." 
IMAGE: Courtesy
 of Ragu.com
Great genealogists tell it like it is.
You ARE bigger than your genealogy program. You won't settle for "fill in the blank" thinking. You will put your genealogy database program to the test, make it bend to your will and add multiple sources of information for each event in an ancestor's life.

Then like the Ragu, it's in there!

Along this same line, we are seeing a strong tendency to rely solely on one's genealogy software for source citations.
YOU are responsible for crafting source citations that we've learned from Dr. Thomas W. Jones2 must include: "who, what, when, where in and where at." 
It's perfectly OK to use Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace for citation samples. Just don't get freaked out if your genealogy software doesn't have the exact template. Don't get freaked out if ESM's book doesn't provide the precise example for a document encountered in your UK or foreign language research. ESM describes the logic behind her citation samples that include: "the details researchers need to capture while using a record, in order to understand (a) the nature of the source and (b) the strengths and weaknesses of the information that source  provides.”
Is fear of failure making it hard for genealogists to craft so-called proper citations?
I certainly hope not.

While genealogy database software may provide space to organize research findings, using that software is no substitute for sound reasoning. Don't let genealogy software be a crutch. Use a word processing program until you arrive at a conclusion, then transfer those findings and accompanying source documents to your genealogy database program for ease in sharing with other researchers.
Your genealogy program is merely one tool in what Cousin +Russ Worthington likes to call your "genealogy toolbox." 

(1) DearMYRTLE's Mastering Genealogical Proof Study Group 2.

(2) Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof  (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013), chapter 4. 

(3) Elizabeth Shown Mills, "How does Evidence Explained differ from other citation guides? "
http://EvidenceExplained.com [accessed 31 Mar 2014.]

Daffy? Nope, not a single bit. At least I hope not.

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

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  1. Amen! I am a firm believer (and I am sure people get tired of me saying) that you own your programs they don't own you. We do need to learn our programs and know all the things they can do to assist us. However, our programs are no substitute for the critical thinking approach to genealogy and we need to know their uses and limitations. One size does not fit all and we need to use other programs in conjunction with and to add the flavor and depth to the off the cupboard sauce (using your analogy). Bottom line is always to use the research skills and the best tools in our research toolbox to put it all together. You are most definitely NOT daffy!

  2. And hopefully your genealogy program is bigger than the GEDCOM!

  3. I agree full-heartedly with Tessa and Ol' Myrt. I use FTM for most of my research. I use others for mostly their outputs - charts and such. With FTM, luckily, you can put in multiple facts as well as multiple sources. The preferred data is the one that shows in the fill-in-the-blank spot, but the others are there and easily visible. What does not happen, unless you make it happen, is the 5 steps of GPS. This is where I had to do it in the background, and then add to notes. Now, other programs, whether you use, Word, Google Docs, etc., can help you do the 5 steps. Or (Thank you, Ed) you can now use Evidentia to do your due diligence in regards to GPS. You can now add this information, along with sources and Proof statements, summaries, or arguments into the notes for that fact. Oh! Don't forget to mark the data of the one you proved as Preferred. As Tessa and Ol' Myrt state, make your software bend to your will not the other way around.