Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Genealogy Rule #326: Watch What You Say and How You Say It

Recently, on the Cyndi's List Facebook page, on an unrelated topic, the following two statements were made:
"Be careful with the LDS thing. Very little documentation."

"Yes, my ancestors on one side joined when the church first began - lots of wrong, wrong, wrong info on them on the LDS site!!! No verification of information at all. It's like going on Ancestry and just grabbing family trees without documenting the info!"

I was disappointed with the very general, broadly condemning, generic statements that were made about an invaluable resource to genealogists worldwide. And I was disappointed that the statements weren't more specific with verifiable facts. This is something that we, as genealogists, should attempt in all written communications. Therefore, I have a few points to make about these statements.
  1. When people refer to the "LDS site" they are generally referring to FamilySearch located at http://www.familysearch.org. FamilySearch is made up of numerous resources for genealogical research, including:

  2. Clearly the "LDS site" has a lot of great records and documentation available, as well as other information that will help you in your research. And you do not have to be a member of the church in order to reap the benefits of their dedication to genealogy.

  3. When people are talking about that "LDS thing" and "very little documentation" they are actually referring to the lineage-linked databases hosted at FamilySearch. Those are the Ancestral File, the IGI, and the Pedigree Resource File. And here is where I get a bit picky about language and broadly painting these databases with a negative brush. Those three databases are not the only lineage-linked databases out there. There are similar databases hosted at RootsWeb, Ancestry, OneGreatFamily, and many others. See my page for Lineage Linked Databases for definitions and examples. Basically, the lineage-linked databases are a dumping ground where everyone can put a copy of their family tree. The problem is that most people who do so do it when they are relatively new to genealogical research. Sometimes they are also put there by people who don't really care about doing any research beyond talking to Grandma and writing down what she remembers. And often the family trees are generally just a collection of names and dates without verification and documentation to prove each of those items. Lineage-linked databases should be used with caution and used only as possible clues that point you in the direction you need. It is up to you to find the documentation to prove the data you will use in your research.

  4. Clearly, "very little documentation" is not something specific to that "LDS thing" at all. The cautionary statements should refer more specifically to all lineage-linked databases and all sites that contain a collection of names and dates without something to back to them up.

  5. There are a lot of things that go into being a good genealogist. One of the most important is that the statements we make—sentences, names, dates, research conclusions, proof arguments, and more—MUST be clearly written and factual. And when a fact is not known the statement must clearly indicate that a fact is not known. If a guess is being made it needs to be labeled as a guess. If an assumption is being made, you shouldn't be a genealogist.
I believe that the statements made on the CL FB page were misleading and wrong. I believe the intent was to point out that it is important to know that lineage-linked databases can contain unproven data. However, the statements pointed unfairly to the entirety of all LDS holdings for genealogy online. And in doing so they also indicated unfairly that all LDS research is something to be wary of using. I used these statements as an example to show that sometimes the intent of what we are saying isn't what ends up being said. I challenge all of us to be careful in what we write and be thorough in how we present our ideas and opinions.