Sunday, September 19, 2004

Reflections of a County Coordinator

As a USGenWeb county coordinator, I get to see a wide variety of expectations from those who visit the Web sites. There are those who realize that the sites are hosted by volunteers who are doing what they can go make resources available for each county they maintain. There are those who are upset with the volunteers because there is something "missing" from data submitted by someone or from an out of copyright source that has been posted (or one for which permission has been granted to post although still protected by copyright). Then there are those who think that the county coordinators conduct on site genealogical research without charge.

In my years of working on my family history, I've learned that genealogy is NOT an inexpensive pasttime. I have made lots of on site visits to libraries, courthouses, and other local sites to conduct research. A good researcher knows that s/he must budget for these--gas, hotel rooms, copies, admission, food, etc. I've also spent a lot of money in postage and for copies of documents from the National Archives and state and county sources.

I am not bothered when it is a new researcher who just does not know where to begin their reserach. I try to offer advice on places to begin their research and offer tips for researching on location when I've done extensive research in a county myself. What bothers me are those researchers who want people to do their work for them.

There is so much stuff out on the Internet that is inaccurate when it pertains to family history research. I would much rather spend my time finding good sources like land deeds, probate records, and newspaper articles, etc. than relying on an undocumented GEDCOM that is probably so full of errors that it will literally lead you up the wrong family tree. If I use a GEDCOM, I do not merge it into my database. I won't put any of the information in my database until I can verify it in some manner. I sometimes add an "unattached" line if I see a line that based on my own research becomes interesting because of similarities in naming patterns, etc. that make me suspect a connection that I'll later be able to document.

So many of the message boards in one area where I research have become totally worthless because two or three people started collecting every family group sheet and GEDCOM for the county (undocumented, of course) they could and began to post information to the message boards any time they saw the name. Guess what? Members of the historical society who have documented these lines have estimated that about 50% of the information that these data collectors post to the message boards (and mailing lists) is erroneous. Besides that, these people have no regard for copyright laws or for privacy of living individuals. All of these are big no-nos in my book.

As family historians, we need to strive for excellence in our research. We need to make sure that what we publish is true. If something is not proven, we need to identify it as probable or possible or in some way indicate that the true conclusion may differ.

'Nuff said for now.

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