Sunday, August 7, 2011

I Know Why We Have So Many Brick Walls

Maybe I should rephrase that. I know why I have so many brick walls and you may have them for the same reason.

It all finally clicked for me yesterday while listening to Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA, at the Kentucky Genealogical Society’s Annual Seminar “Clearing Your Genealogical Hurdles.” Now this was not the first time I had heard a speaker talk about reasonably exhaustive searches and the other points of the Genealogical Proof Standard. It was not even the first time I had heard it from Mrs. Mills. Heck, I have books on the subject that I have actually read.

For some reason, when she was discussing reading through hundreds of un-indexed records yesterday, it finally hit me that I have brick walls because I am lazy. It takes hard work, seriously hard work, to break down a brick wall. It is so much simpler to say, "Oops, brick wall, I'll move on to someone else who is easier to find." And all too often, that is exactly what I do. Does anyone else fall into that trap? Yeah, I thought so. 

Even without my revelation, I would say the KGS Seminar was a big success. It was a larger than usual crowd, no doubt due to the speaker. Here are a few points from the four lectures presented by Mrs. Mills.

Genealogical Problem Solving: Professional Techniques for Everyday Success: This session covered thirteen important techniques for success that on the surface sound simple but “the devil is in the details.” Things like “there is more to a book than the index.” Names listed in an index may have been influenced by what the indexer thought was important. Presence of an index does not necessarily mean every name in the book is there.

Proving “Oral History”: How to Find the Truth About a Family Story: “There is no such thing as The Gospel According to Grandma.” Oral history goes astray for a variety of reasons including "human memories are not perfect." Use the details of family traditions as clues to find the paper trail back to the earliest form of that tradition in order to evaluate its accuracy. Did it start with someone who witnessed an event or did the story seem to develop 100 years after the fact?

In a Rut? 7 Ways to Jump-Start Your Research: “Be a critical thinker” and “accept reality, don’t demand a smoking gun” are two those seven ways. A critical thinker analyzes and questions everything and considers what is not there. Sometimes there simply is not a document (or smoking gun) that proves a point but that does not mean it can’t be proven.

The Genealogical Proof Standard: How to Build a Case When No Record States the Answer: Create an action plan starting with an assessment of what you have - identify the problem and reappraise prior conclusions. Before you can complete the research, you must identify all relevant records not yet used. And that means ALL records, not just the ones available online or on microfilm or nicely indexed.

I heard this fourth lecture last year at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Knoxville but that did not make it any less interesting yesterday.

Case studies are my favorite part of lectures. Mrs. Mills does a great job of explaining standards and practices a good genealogist should employ then she blows you away with amazing examples of how she started with a seemingly hopeless problem and found the answer by putting those standards and practices to work. If you have an opportunity to hear her, do not pass it up.


12 comments:

  1. I realized that I was lazy too last year when we were at FGS listening to that fourth lecture by ESM. By the way, to answer your question, I am not going to be able to go to the FGS conference this year. I am still trying to recover financially from the wedding.

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  2. I was apparently too dumb to realized it then. LOL. Sorry you can't make FGS but I guess the wedding was worth missing it. :) Best wishes.

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  3. Linda, I agree that Elizabeth Shown Mills is worth hearing any chance you get. I enjoyed a full day of her lectures last year at the North Hills Genealogists conference in Pittsburgh, and it was wonderful! Thanks for reminding me of some of her key points.

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  4. True. I've been amazed by how much I learned this summer when I was finally able to get my hands and eyes on illuminating records. I just wish I was closer to the records I want to examine. Not a fan of ordering one or two films at a time.

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  5. Susan - I seriously want a long term trip like you took. Several weeks at FHL would be great (and I'd like to do that too) but nothing beats being in the actual locations and touching the actual records.

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  6. I agree, Linda. ESM is a great speaker and not to be missed.

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  7. I'm sort of bipolar on research - will work hard on a brick wall for a while, but then I have to take a break. I'm not totally lazy, but just kind of a sissy where endurance is concerned. Good report and insightful comments!

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  8. Thank you for these reminder-highlights. It is so easy to fall back on path-of-least-resistance, which is usually so much less rewarding. :D

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  9. Your post hit me right between the eyes - too many of my brickwalls are caused by the same laziness.

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  10. I concur ... although I think mine was part laziness and part lack of time. Now that school is over, I have more time, and I won't have any excuses. This was a real eye-opener, Linda!

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  11. I love these gentle nudges out of lazy research. It's like soft kisses to wake you up, but it's still the alarm chiming "time to go to work." Thanks for this post. Will wake up in the morning with renewed research strength!

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  12. I realized I was lazy long time ago. Time for me to get back to work.

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