THE GENEALOGY RESEARCH PROBLEM
We have received many calls from amateur genealogists who are disgruntled with ancestry.com causing them, unfortunately, to consider cancelling their subscriptions. Their frustration revolves around not finding information easily, continually coming up with the same uneventful results, and therefore making no progress. This is a very unfortunate situation since ancestry.com is a terrific resource for genealogy research records, but their advertising campaign has resulted in this self-inflicted wound.
THE REASONS – FOR THE GENEALOGY RESEARCH PROBLEM
There are a number of reasons for this that involves the combination of unrealistic expectations and naïveté on the part of the amateur genealogists and the inference from ancestry.com that it is easy to research your ancestry. There is an old saying…”if it sounds like it is too good to be true, then it is”, meaning, you should not take their advertising campaign literally. The reasons for the conflict:
- Their advertising campaign states that you don’t need to know what you are looking for before you start looking, leading some to believe it is easy and the results will fall into your lap.
- Their advertising has stated you can connect other family trees to your tree if a green leaf appears in your family tree, leading some to believe this is how you do genealogy research.
- They assume it is going to be easy and don’t know how to properly search for genealogy records.
- They are not experienced enough to know how to use ancestry.com’s records and their search engine.
- They don’t understand that while ancestry.com has many records, they don’t have ALL of the records.
- They don’t know how to research records in other repositories or that they even exist.
UNDERSTANDING THE MOTIVATIONS OF BOTH SIDES – IN THE GENEALOGY RESEARCH PROBLEM
An instrumental part of professional genealogy research is to evaluate the motivation of the informants (source of the information) to determine the credibility of the information provided. In this case we have two informants, the amateur genealogist and ancestry.com. One has to look at the motivations of both sides.
- Amateurs genealogists want easy internet access to records for instant gratification, and if they don’t get it they get frustrated.
- Ancestry.com understands this and promotes their website to meet this demand to gain subscribers to their website.
This unfortunately creates a vicious cycle of the simple sell for easy results, that leads to frustration through a lack of understanding and naiveté, and a lost customer. In the end unfortunately, this does nothing to promote the accredited way of doing genealogy research which if done properly would probably create a lifetime customer.
This approach is exasperated by the TV program, “Who Do You Think You Are?” While this program has high entertainment value, their producers provide an unrealistic portrayal of easy genealogy research. They describe a process that promotes:
- The viewing of original genealogy records.
- A requirement for long distant travel to discover documents on site.
- Information instantaneously appearing with no relevance to the actual process and number of hours of research time it takes to discover the records which just miraculously appear on their program.
- The appearance of celebrities doing it on their own when in reality there are hundreds of hours of genealogy research put into each of these programs by profession genealogists.
This portrayal does an injustice to professional genealogists and the genealogy research process as a whole, and sets up unrealistic expectations on the part of amateur genealogists. This again only creates a myth that it is easy which then results in frustration on the part of amateur genealogists when they discover it is not.
From personal experience, a relative in my family placed what he believes to be the family tree of our paternal line on ancestry.com. The information he provided in this family tree has an inaccurate generation which therefore renders the remainder of the family tree incorrect. This tree is not based on sound genealogy research methodology, but unfortunately, well over 400 other family trees have linked to this same incorrect tree on ancestry.com. Family trees on ancestry.com should be viewed at best as a clue and then researched to be proven or disproven as a fit with your family tree.
THE REMEDY – FOR THE GENEALOGY RESEARCH PROBLEM
Be savvy and expect that it is going to take more effort to discover your ancestors and family history. Do not believe that you can simply click on a green leaf and connect with another family that belongs to your family tree.
Learn how to effectively and accurately research genealogy records.
- Determine the questions you need answered.
- Learn about the types of records that are available in different geographic regions.
- Learn what types of information each record can provide.
- Develop a hypothesis and research plan involving these records.
- Use ancestry.com as well as other databases and repositories as resources, and use sound genealogy research methodologies to determine the correct answers to your genealogy research questions.
Learn about the genealogy research process. Understand that “The Genealogical Proof Standard” developed by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) http://www.bcgcertification.org/ is accepted as sound genealogical research methodology and is the basis for becoming a certified genealogist. That is:
- Conduct a reasonably exhaustive search for all information that is or may be pertinent to the identity, relationship, event, or situation in question.
- Collect and include in the compilation a complete and accurate citation to the source or sources of each item of information collected.
- Analyze and correlate the collected information to assess its quality as evidence.
- Resolve any conflicts caused by items of evidence that contradict each other or are contrary to a proposed (hypothetical) solution to the question.
- Arrive at a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.
Gain genealogy research knowledge, and attend free lectures or seek knowledge at:
- Local genealogy societies.
- Local Family History Libraries through the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS).
- Local genealogy libraries.
- Local National Archives and Records Administrations (NARA) centers.
- Conferences by genealogy societies and associations.
- The Genealogical Standards Manual by The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG).
Understand that researching your genealogy properly will result in placing individuals in your family tree that truly belong there, which will accurately describe your family history to your descendants for generations to come.
Bring added credibility to the genealogy research community in a way that will create lifetime members in the genealogy professional by:
- Promoting your terrific website as a resource for genealogy records to be used during the course of proper genealogy research practices.
- Promoting your family trees only as clues or possibilities, and not as a place where you simply connect other family trees to yours.
- Educating the amateur genealogists on proper genealogy research methodology.
- Have you experienced these frustrations?
- Has this blog helped motivate you to learn more about proper genealogy research techniques?
- What do you think of this advice?