Last Wednesday in “Three Reasons Vendors Get It Wrong” I gave three reasons why unwise product managers produce genealogically unsound products: 1. personnel turnover, 2. the deceptive complexity of genealogy, and 3. a chasm that separates time frames 2 and 3.
I was a bit vague about that last one. (Maybe I ran out of time and couldn’t finish the article… Or maybe I wanted to pique your curiosity… Yeah… that’s it… That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.)
There are three time frames or stages of ancestral research. Think of them in this fashion:
1. When we start, we fill our pedigree with people we know. It is easy.
2. We extend our pedigrees with people we know only through vital records. Vital records provide a complete picture of an ancestor. Genealogy is still mostly easy.
3. As we push further back, things take a distinct turn for the worst. Research becomes like something from the Truman Show movie.
Truman doesn't have a photograph of the mysterious Sylvia, so he clandestinely tears scraps from magazine advertisements to recreate her likeness. One ad provides eyes, another her mouth. Gradually he builds a complete picture.
That's a bit like what we must do as genealogists once we push beyond vital records.
Each genealogical record is like a photograph fragment that contributes to the picture. The careful researcher must find fragments that overlap—names, dates, places, and relationships in common—lest we merge photo fragments from the wrong person. Fragments must also add to the picture. It is a painstaking process. Worse, unlike Truman we don’t know beforehand what an ancestor may look like.
Let me illustrate. Observe the reconstructed photograph to the right. I've put together parts from three different celebrities. The result is hideous indeed. (Can you guess who the three celebrities are? I'll give the answer tomorrow.)
Genealogy in the third stage is distinctly different. Before, genealogy was simple. Genealogists searched for people or for nearly complete photographs of people—vital records that served as people surrogates.
Now, genealogy is tough. Genealogists search for records, not people. The people we reconstruct may or may not look like the individuals they are meant to be. If we carelessly frankenstein several individuals together, the result may bear no resemblance to anyone. In essence—and I know I'm going to brew some disagreement when I say this—in essence, we are no longer searching for ancestors; we are searching for records.
Okay, maybe that is overstating it. How about this statement? Would you concede this point? The records we use are more real than the reconstructions we create from them. That's not to say that every record is completely true... or even partially so. But the record itself is real. It is something we can touch or view on our computer screens. The reconstructed person, on the other hand, is only conceptual. There is no person that we can see or touch or speak with. Any genealogical conclusion—any reconstruction—is subject to revision.
I submit to you that a chasm separates the record-based paradigm in the third stage from the people-based paradigm of the first two. Hardly realizing it, we accept a new reality that is altogether foreign to pre-chasmites. We no longer interpret our pre-chasm experiences in the same way. (Genealogy was never easy; we just lacked necessary rigor.)
The chasm is so wide and the mindset change so gargantuan, we speak and think differently.
With pre-chasm product managers, we push the rigor required post-chasm. They conclude that genealogists make genealogy harder than it needs be. The pre-chasm product manager dismisses what we say. We grow frustrated and more strident. Product managers see this as further evidence that genealogists are unreasonable and must be ignored. The cycle deepens the chasm until pre- and post-chasmites hardly communicate.
Until post-chasmites remember how to speak pre-chasmese, it will always be so.