RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, March 10, 2014

Comments on Becoming an Excellent Genealogist -- Chapter Two

This is an ongoing series of chapter by chapter comments on the book,

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

I am now commenting on Chapter Two: Elements of Genealogy by Kory L. Meyerink, MLS, AG, FUGA. 

It is really too bad that I cannot use this book as the basis for a semester long university class on genealogy. I guess that comment indicates my level of appreciation for this book so far.

Chapter Two divides genealogies into separate elements as follows:
  • Genealogical Research Process
  • Boundaries and Jurisdictions
  • Repositories
  • Records
  • Technology
  • Sharing
As I began the chapter, I was not sure that I would agree with that analysis. The reason for this thought was the fact that these items do not share the same set of characteristics. For example from my point of view, boundaries and jurisdictions are consideration in the genealogical research process. Also, records are contained in repositories. By the end of the chapter, I understood the point being made but still felt that the distinctions between the categories listed were somewhat artificial.

The chapter begins with a brief but well-written analysis of the genealogical research process. As the chapter continues, there is no clear transition to the issue of boundaries and jurisdictions. Basically, I think this particular consideration belongs in selecting records to search as part of the genealogical research process. The record selection process must take into consideration the access to records. Of necessity, an understanding of the geopolitical and historical context of the place where the records were created is essential to understanding both the types of records created and where they might possibly be stored. The next step in the research process is to obtain and search the records. Obviously, this cannot be done without a sufficiently developed understanding of both the types of records created and the repositories in which they would most likely be located.

As the chapter points out records can be created by a variety of jurisdictions; governments, religious organizations, families, etc. my analogy in this regard is that jurisdictions are like a pile of pancakes, they stack up and either completely or partially overlap each other. In places such as Eastern Europe and in many states of the United States where there have been numerous County boundary changes understanding the relationship between the various levels of jurisdiction and the possibility that those levels have changed over time is absolutely essential to the research process.

Although the chapter refers to "records" this term is not well defined in the genealogical community. In fact, the term "record" is extremely slippery as are its companion words such as "collection" and "individuals." For example, a record may contain multiple pages listing hundreds, if not thousands of individuals. A record could also be a single piece of paper with almost no information. Nowhere is the confusion about the definition of these terms more evident than the way in which they are used by large online genealogical programs. I've written on this subject before but it merits repeating. The claims of the larger databases to so many "collections" is entirely arbitrary when an examination of their catalog shows that a collection may consist of one single item containing one name or the entire number of online family tree participants are what is even more egregious the number of names listed in family trees.

Regardless of the organization of the material in Chapter Two, the information contained is essential to an understanding of the process of genealogical research.

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