Randy Seaver has two posts with the general title “Confessions of a Name Collector” in which he discusses his early practice of relying on “books, periodicals, the LDS International Genealogical Index (IGI) and the LDS Ancestral File” for much of his data. Because the genealogical world has awakened to the importance of citing your sources, Randy raises the question of what to do now with source citations for those early additions. He lists a few possibilities: cite derivative sources; order FHL microfilms and search out the data; cite the IGI for the majority of the data; keep the original source citations with a clarifying note added; don’t worry about it. He received some interesting comments on the posts.
While I have been serious about my genealogical research for only about three years, I have data that I collected over 30 years ago from my 1st cousin, once removed, and for the past 15 years from my former brother-in-law. And, if truth be told, I have continued to do some “name collecting” on my own. As a case in point, I recently gathered some data from new found “cousins” that extends my gg-grandmother’s line (Venninger) back about 12 generations in Germany and my g-grandmother’s (Cole/Coale) line back 26 generations in England. I am in the process of adding this data to the RootsMagic4 database for my Brenner line, even though it contains little if any citation of sources.
In the past three years I have heard it expressed many times by extremely competent professional genealogists – “genealogy without source citations is mythology!” I am aware, for example, that the data on the Venningers came largely from FHL microfilm of records from the Evangelische Kirche in Adelshofen, Baden (now Germany). I have been able to verify some of the data via IGI and Ancestral Files on FamilySearch. I have not, however, looked at the microfilms.
If I were to approach my genealogical research as a professional genealogist I would not add a record to my database without a “reasonably exhaustive search” and the rest of the steps of the genealogical proof standard (GPS), along with citations that were in line with the standardizing work of Elizabeth Shown Mills. But that is not who I am. My genealogical research serves a small group of people – namely my family. Right now, I am the repository for whatever data we have on our family lines. I have begun to get data online that has not been widely available within the family. I have chosen to add data, for example, from a 1st cousin that takes his mother’s line back to 1700 in the Netherlands. I have not validated any of that data myself and have simply cited his name as my source, even though I suspect that his mother (now deceased) was the source. Does my ‘name collecting’ make my online database ‘mythology?’ I don’t think so.
I have done what amounts to a data audit of this undocumented material. As a result, I am convinced that the data is relatively accurate, given currently available online data. I know that this approach will not stand up to the scrutiny of the GPS and my citation of derivative, rather than primary sources, make the data somewhat suspect. Thanks to the source citation templates in RootsMagic4, I know that although my sources might be somewhat suspect, my citations (esp. of secondary & derivative sources) will generally follow the currently accepted standards of practice.
What I have come to realize is that I have chosen to take the “Pirates of the Caribbean” option when approaching the GPS and source citations – that is, they are not so much ‘laws’ (to be slavishly followed) as they are ‘guidelines’ (to assist us). This may not measure up to the standards of a professional genealogist. It may not seem very ‘professional’ – that is, it may be less than desired. I do understand that data without primary sources cited are simply clues to direct further research. I am opting (a) to present primary source data, well cited, wherever I can and (b) to present and site the sources for undocumented data that provides clues for future research. My genealogical research is just that – research. It is always in process.
Am I engaging in mythology rather that in genealogy? I don’t think so. Genealogy without documentation is not mythology; it is simply unfinished research. But, then, even my well-documented genealogy is unfinished research. I will continue to follow the clues that the undocumented data has opened and, as I find corroboration, I will provide appropriate source citation.