Monday, September 9, 2013

Rearranging the genealogical furniture

At least one part of my attraction to genealogy was a taste for neatness (not, however, expressed so much in my workspace). There's a special satisfaction in putting people in their right places with their own children in the right order, and so forth. And many of us are on a quest to find the very best way of putting people in order, either via new genealogy databases or new numbering systems.

Basically I think this is a harmless impulse -- until it comes to the research process. It has taken me a long time to realize that there is no ideal arrangement for evidence as it comes in.

The truth is exactly the opposite. The harder the case, the more evidence there is, quarried from many different kinds of sources at many different times. And it can be easy to miss the implications of deeds, court appearances, and the like for other genealogical facts. It can also be easy to miss the patterns that may be hidden in the mass of material.

That's why a fresh eye on the subject (friend or hired hand) can help. It's also why we should not succumb to neatness too soon. We need to think of as many different ways as possible to rearrange and summarize the evidence, to compare and contrast once each piece has been analyzed. Chapter 5 of Mastering Genealogical Proof is the best reference I know to the main ways to do this, but it is not exhaustive.

Rearranging actual furniture is a lot of work. Rearranging evidence is more like making a little map of the living room and shifting furniture tokens around on it. Exhaustive research has shown that there is no ideal way of arranging our living room. Similarly, the only (temporarily) ideal way of arranging our evidence is the way that helps us see new patterns and connections and gaps within it.

Photo credit: Steinar B [Topguy]'s photostream, per Creative Commons.

Harold Henderson, "Rearranging the genealogical furniture," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 9 September 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

1 comment:

Randy Seaver said...

I saw the picture and thought "Great, Harold found a helper to handle his genealogical stuff..."