Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Genealogy and Sources

Earlier this morning, I read a blog entry entitled "5 Bad Genealogy Sources".

I know there is a war between the "new" generation of genealogists that use Internet sources and the "old" generations of genealogists who supposedly only use non-Internet sources.

This seems to be on the "old" generation side. My problem with it is thus:

"Where is the idea of critical thinking in this entry?"

Genealogy is all about critical thinking. New people will take sources and use them blindly without thinking of the following factors:

-Where did it come from?
-When did it come from?
-Who did it come from?
-What is the evidence?
-How many degrees is it removed from the primary source?

And it is up to us more experienced genealogists to teach them this. NOT to tell them to blindly take sources off the list - because for every "bad" source, I can think of an exception.

1. Wiki Sites - Wikipedia is obviously not a great source of information but there are many focused, centered Wikis created by people with a knowledge of the field. I consider http://medievalgenealogy.org.uk/index.html to be a "wiki" of sorts considering its format - and its got more sources than any other website I know.

2. Personal websites - again - you have to READ what the site says. My site contains hundreds of sources and when possible, links or images of original documents. There's a good list of a hundred associated with my family that I can come up with that I know are well sourced as well. I can come up with, sadly, dozens of sources that aren't good sites. But you have to READ and make that decision for yourself.

3. Blogs - I think most of these are about techniques in genealogy. I rarely see any regarding information. I can only think of one site where sources are posted and she's affiliated with USGenWeb. If I saw more personal blogs with sourcing I might think otherwise about them.

4. and 5. Well -- I'm with you on that one. Movies and Stories are great inspirational tales but aren't necessarily accurate. There are a few storytellers that take great pains to do research and be accurate for their stories, though. Alison Weir, for example.

In the end, please apply the critical though process to the use of any source. And keep track of the unsourced ones as well, but don't build your portfolio around them. Many "stories" of my family that were unsourced turned out to be 100% accurate.

-Where did it come from?
-When did it come from?
-Who did it come from?
-What is the evidence?
-How many degrees is it removed from the primary source?

If you think about that each time you read a new website, blog, Wiki, book, newspaper, microfilm, database, etc. - your genealogical project will be something to be proud of!


Thomas MacEntee said...

A great post Concetta and I agree that all genealogists must use critical thinking and judgment when processing sources and information.

The original post 5 Bad Genealogy Sources has been beneficial in driving a discussion of the importance of citing sources. There has been an ongoing discussion among many members of Geneabloggers as to whether or not including endnotes citing sources impedes the readability of a blog post. We have many bloggers - myself included - who have included sources on posts (see here and here.

I'm trying to steer clear of making this a "generational war" among genealogists and family historians. There is much that each group can teach the other and I don't see why there has to be an us vs. them mentality.

Unknown said...

An excellent post Concetta. As Thomas said my original slightly provocative post has spurred a useful conversation about the importance of citing sources.

Take care


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