Thursday, December 5, 2013

Atomic Genealogy

Atomic genealogyThe word “atom” comes from the Greek atomos, meaning indivisible. Merriam Webster defines it as “the smallest particle of a substance that can exist by itself” or “a very small amount of something.”

When it comes to doing genealogy, I define atomic genealogy as answering the question, “Is person X in record A the same as person Y in record B?” In other words, “Do these two records talk about the same person?”

The conclusion resulting from an atomic operation is itself, a record. In other words, the entry for your James Smith in FamilySearch Family Tree is a record. When you find a historic record about a James Smith, the decision that the historic record is about your James Smith is atomic genealogy.

I believe this census record about James Smith should be attached to this James Smith in the tree because they have the same name, the approximate birth year from the census (1879) matches the birth date in the tree (2 June 1880), the wives’ names are the same (Mary), and the names and ages of the three children in the census household (Susan, David, and Tom) match three of his five children in the tree (Susan, David, and Thomas).

When Family Tree asks for your reason for attaching the record to the tree, do you enter all this? Or is it all self-evident? Keep in mind that after you attach the record, the values in the tree might change. Is your time better spent otherwise? I’ve been told that most people leave the reason blank. Is that okay?

What do you think?


  1. Atomic genealogy is an interesting label; it could catch on.
    In my own database, I always note if there is a conflict with other sources, or if an assumption needs to be explained. I also add more detailed notes when necessary to show my reasoning. If the correspondence to existing information is obvious, the source notes contain only the relevant source data.
    For FamilySearch, I've tried to add 'something' each time I've edited or added sources, but it is a tedious exercise. It would be really helpful too, if there was a way of flagging and correcting indexing errors on the records side, instead having to also add those explanations on the tree side.

  2. I certainly agree with the previous commenter: The process is tedious. In fact, it is incredibly tedious. Nonetheless, if the research we are doing is going to be of value to others, then it seems to me that it's essential to do everything we possibly can to document our thought process and to support the conclusions that we have drawn. Hopefully, by doing so we also promote collaboration. And, yes, we also open ourselves to the possibility that others will challenge our reasoning or come forward with new information pointing in another direction. While no one likes being told they're wrong, I think we all take a lot of pride in doing our very best to get the story as "right" as we possibly can.

  3. I agree with Mark, one of the biggest problems I have found are opinions with no obvious logic to why they may or may not be correct. Reason statement helps us understand how the person came to their conclusion so we will not change the information without a better reason. Since FamilySearch Family Tree is "our" family history instead of "my" family history, reason statements are a blessing not a curse. Doing family history is not a race to see how much you can do and how fast you can do it. It is a sacred record that we want as correct as the current sources allow. So Hurray for reason statement!

  4. I agree with the tediousness of the process. I started doing it and then slacked off because it took so much time.

    Does anyone want to discuss sources? Particularly adding sources that aren't from FamilySearch. It's incredibly difficult.


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