Monday, September 29, 2014

Two kinds of genealogists and the question that sorts them out

You're researching Thralls, and someone posts this image on line. What's your first thought?

(a) Thank the poster for breaking down your brick wall.

(b) Enter the information into your genealogy database.

(c) Message ten friends about this breakthrough.

(d) Ask "Where did that come from? How do they know?"

Options a, b, or c = Type 1 Genealogists

Option d = Type 2 Genealogists (For details, check out the first section of Evidence Explained.)

One goal of genealogy education, from which most everything else follows: to encourage Type 1 folks to recognize that (d) is a possibility, and to choose it more often.

Harold Henderson, "Two kinds of genealogists and the question that sorts them out," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Thomas MacEntee said...

Harold, I think there are more possible actions to be taken here - perhaps a third type of genealogist would:

e) Capture the URL and transcribe the information and place it into a genealogy research log for analysis, even if it turns out to be negative evidence.

f) Thank the poster for posting the information and ask them where they found it so you can compose a proper source citation.

g) Ask the poster if they have any other information on the Thralls that they could share and also offer to share your own Thrall information.

Geolover said...

So (heheheh), where did that image come from?

Of course, as Thomas noted, there are avenues for genealogists to follow after the ~first thoughts~ you listed. One is to locate the publication and find out what the author's abbreviation scheme was, as well as whether the author included further plausible possible family data for follow-up research. The snippet lacks key family data (negative evidence), but a full entry may include it and help to clarify whether this instance of *same-name might equal same-person* is actually a negative finding (such as where one can document that the same name and location occur in various family branches and/or other similarly-surnamed families).

Harold Henderson said...

Thanks, Thomas and Geo. This is one thing I love about blogging -- it's like being edited, only much quicker! ;-) I totally agree there are more actions that could be taken. What I was *trying* to get at was the distinction between folks who never ask question (d) and those who do. Obviously there are better and worse ways to act on that question, and all the suggested ones make sense to me. I find it helps to be able to remember when I had not learned to ask it too.

Harold Henderson said...

And to Geo's question (SPOILER ALERT!):
Margaret R. Waters et al., _Abstracts of Obituaries in the Western Christian Advocate, 1834-1850_ (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1988), 238.

Geolover said...

Harold, I do appreciate your differentiation, "What I was *trying* to get at was the distinction between folks who never ask question (d) and those who do."

Regrettably, even the more experienced of us do not always get right to important questions. In the process of writing up a thingie about a negative-evidence question, I discovered questions I'd never asked in the course of (mumble) years, which actually led toward supportive research tacks.

There is always something to learn! Willingness to do so could be a subsection of your (d).

geniebug said...

The first question I had was, "Okay, he was 12 when he emigrated?". If I had known it was a transcription of an obituary notice I wouldn't have questioned why, because now I know that is a 'normal' transcription 'template' from obits. (Does that make sense, or do I have a weird rational?)
Looking at myself 30 years ago I would have noticed the dates, and would have assumed it was a mistake, because a child doesn't normally emigrate at the age of 12.
That's honestly where my thought process went.
This now gives me the opportunity to ask of the genealogists that I look up I have a weird thought process, and what errors did I make in thinking that way?

Harold Henderson said...

Geniebug, that is a good question. It didn't occur to me because I knew that the family did migrate as a group in that year, kids and all.

I'm not sure what you mean about an obituary abstracting template. (Would it have been OK if it had said he emigrated in 1800?!)

You've added to my understanding of the possibilities. It's always good to question a source, but I would not want to be too quick to assume a mistake. I would want to find the original obituary -- through the poster, or in a repository -- and suspend judgment in the meantime. (There might have been a mistake, but at this point who knows whether it was in the abstract or in the original?)

Because lots of records do contain mistakes, and derivatives are more likely to, I'm happy with any thought process that is self-aware and involves seeking out the original -- and neither accepting too easily nor assuming too quickly.

geniebug said...

Exactly! That's one of the most important things I have learned.....remember that any abstract, transcript, index, census, etc, is only another step in getting to the true story! What I meant about the obit extract is that I now recognize a generally excepted way to 'pick out' the useful parts of obituaries. But, when I was new I wouldn't have known what those abbreviated blurbs meant. There are many little things like that, that newbies come across and have no way of knowing what it is meant to say. So it's not really an assumption, but an incomplete bit of information.
Thank you for your comments.

Denise Hibsch Richmond said...

Harold, how timely your question. I recently analyzed a newspaper item I think I'm a "d" genealogist. Comments welcome. My blog:

Harold Henderson said...

Thanks, Denise. Having read your post, I would agree. Those newspaper social notes can be real gold mines, but they do need to be correlated with other records as you did. What fun!

Grant U. S. Clark, eh? Born 1869?! What odds that his parents were not at all ambivalent about the Civil War? Do you know whether Edward served under General Grant?

Denise Hibsch Richmond said...

Harold, I took note of Grant's name also. Definitely a research to-do item for his father Edward Clark. What a find that would be! Thanks for your thoughts.

Linda Stufflebean said...

So very true. Just last night I opened one of my own brick walls on a collateral line by proving a young lady married a man who never existed according to long ago published information. I've featured your post in my "Recommended Reads" today on

Harold Henderson said...

Thanks for the word, Linda!