Friday, September 24, 2010

Do Name Collectors Have a Place at the Table?

Are you a Name Collector or a Genealogist?  Can one be both?  A debate seems to be raging in the genea-blogosphere, and the recent post by Karen at Genealogy Frame of Mind has me wondering what place a “name collector” has at the genealogical table. A good definition of the differences between a Name Collector and a Genealogist is presented by Elyse at Elyse's Genealogy Blog.

When I first started out researching my family history, I was around 12-13 years of age.  My dad had done some research on the family, and I decided that I would pick up where he left off.  This was in the early 80s, back when I used a Commodore 64 (remember those?) to organize my genealogy.

At the time, I was entering names and dates into the computer without regard to proper citation of my sources. One of my ancestors had completed a genealogy on the BEALS family in my maternal line; my dad had obtained a genealogy of the LEMASTER line as well.  Names and dates went into the database without a thought of citing where I obtained the information, or more importantly – evaluating the quality of the data in those books.

So in those early days, I was definitely a Name Collector.

These days I would consider myself a Family Genealogist – that is, I do try to document and cite my sources as accurately as possible.  I try to correct gaps in my database as often as I can in order to make my research as complete as possible.  However, there is still quite a residue in my database from my Name Collector days.  Sometimes, even today, I can get carried away by a new discovery and fail to properly document the information, believing that I will “remember” and go back to add the source later.  It is a continuing struggle to not get ahead of myself.

I have an online version of my family tree database stored at WorldConnect.  My database contains a warning to those who would sample the information. There are errors and omissions, as well as undocumented facts presented.  I appreciate it when someone takes the time to correct my data with a post-em or sends me an email.  If I do not have the source of the documentation, I apologize and let them know right away.  Am I part of the problem?  Does my database create too much “white-noise” out there that causes disdain from true genealogists?

When I find information about a family online that I am researching that is un-sourced, I treat the information as a clue and seek to prove/disprove the information presented.  Many times these tidbits of undocumented information can lead to breakthroughs that will tear down a brick wall.  I treat this information much in the same way I treat the published genealogies out there that are nothing more than a collection of names, dates and facts without any sources listed.

As I transition from a Name Collector to a full-fledged Genealogist, I am not bothered by those who are Name Collectors.  Perhaps they are just starting out – or perhaps they haven’t matured beyond this stage.  Either way, I find that I have enough genealogical “sins” of my own to worry about chastising others for their failings. 


Thomas MacEntee said...

Great analysis of the raging debate about Name Collectors. I am of the same mind: many of us started as name collectors because we didn't have much of the educational opportunities or guidance that we do now.

However, with this "age of genealogical enlightenment" it doesn't give us the right to start drawing lines in the sand stating who is "in" and who is "out." If anything, encountering a name collector is an opportunity to share one's skill and expertise with that person.

There is a duty to guide name collectors down a path to not only better genealogy but a more fulfilling genealogical experience.

Karen said...

Nice post Travis! I do agree with both you & Thomas on how many of us start as name collectors and then progress into Family historians - my post was primarily aimed at those who start as collectors and NEVER progress and don't care if they ever source anything. Using Click & Claim genealogy to add to the coffers just continues the never ending collection process.

Happy Blogging!

Travis LeMaster said...

Thomas & Karen -

Thanks for your comments and the support. Being a part of the GeneaBlogger community has definitely helped my research progress beyond the 'Name Collector' stage.

I hope that I always remain one of those who benefits from the nudge of constructive criticism from other researchers, and not just dig in my heels.

When you encounter someone who will not listen to facts to contradict the genealogy they've found 'on the web' or that 'grandma told me' it becomes very frustrating, indeed.

Shasta said...

I think that someone who doesn't cite their sources is doing themselves a disservice, but I am going to check the info anyway, and hopefully I find sources they haven't. It might be a good thing that I don't know their source, because then I can follow my own trail and it might lead to different conclusions. (I'll know if there is another person with the same name in the community, etc.)