Thursday I attended the FamilySearch luncheon where David Rencher, FamilySearch chief genealogical officer, spoke to the topic, “With Dramatically Changing Technologies – what must not change!” Rencher expressed his love for technology but gave the warning: with the advancement of technology we must be careful. There are things about genealogy that remain unchanged. Indeed, they must not change.
One involves the use of DNA. “DNA testing should augment, but never replace sound genealogical research,” Rencher said.
Another is citations provided by online record publishers. Many provide information about the online derivative but not the offline original. (I keep meaning to write an article complaining about FamilySearch’s practice of doing this, but never get around to it. I have some insider information explaining why they do this and what they hope to do to fix it.) I think we have to expect to take the citations provided online and fix them up to be complete. “Copying and pasting the citation of an online record doesn’t free you of the responsibility to provide an adequate citation,” he said.
Access to records online doesn’t always replace the need to access the originals. Sometimes filming or publication messed up the record. Rencher gave as an example a situation that I had also come across. I’ll share it next week as part of my “Darned Records” series.
Providing provenance for artifacts, stories, and information about them (metadata as technical people like to put it) is important, and in particular, the identification of persons in photographs. Rencher showed an example from FamilySearch.org that has been proven to be a misidentified. (That would make a good “Darned Record,” also.) He pointed out how his mother had labeled photographs of people she knew. If that fact is not propagated, how will we know how much confidence to give the identification of the persons in those photographs?
He warned us that looking at a digital index is not good enough. Always consult the original (or an image of it). Indexes are incomplete. (And they are sometimes wrong.) This requires that you learn the handwriting and the language.
Online trees have made it infinity easier to incorporate information from one tree to extend the pedigree of another. “The inexperienced researcher simply misidentifies the wrong candidate as soon as they spot a record with the name of the correct spouse or a closely associated name,” said Rencher. “Before you merge, examine the evidence and analyze the possibilities.” He said, “Online pedigrees are no more trustworthy than those in print.” Online or off, the credibility of a conclusion is only as good as analysis proves it to be.
“So, with all of the changing technologies – there’s still a lot that we should do to leave a lasting legacy of quality research,” said Rencher.