Monday, October 26, 2009

Purist Versus Name Collector

Several years ago, a company sold purported family histories based on surnames. These "heritage" books complete with a "Certificate of Authenticity" really amounted to nothing more than a very general history of (in my case) Canada, an alleged family coat of arms, and a poorly completed compilation of individuals with the same surname extracted from telephone directories. Fortunately, we've come a long way since then although we now need to take a somewhat cautious approach about information we find on the Internet. It can be dangerous, I think, to accept a family history that is based solely on what someone 'found' on the web.

I have recently heard the opinion expressed by some genealogists that the only acceptable family history is one in which each and every one of the facts it contains have sources cited verifying the fact to be correct. To do less, the argument suggests, is simply 'name collecting.'

I tend to take a more 'middle of the road' approach in this debate. Without a doubt there is information available, and in fact even posted on reputable genealogical websites, that is flawed. I am not so much a purist however to disregard all information because it's lacking source citations.

My family history database has grown significantly this past year as the result of being able to connect with other researchers and/or family members who have shared their information collaboratively but not all of which is sourced. Including their information in my database provides me with the opportunity to collect the names of ancestors that I can go back to later when I have the time to take a more scholarly approach to verifying the information. I have encountered even recently incidents in which both myself and a colleague researcher have been incorrect in part but by putting the two halves together, I have been able to find the records that set things straight.

So my advice is to accept information but only after considering the source, recognizing that there is still work ahead and that by accepting the information, you are also accepting the challenge of doing the research alone or in collaboration with fellow genealogists whom I have found are always willing to share.

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