Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Am Not Doing a Genealogy Do-Over

Thomas MacEntee wrote Announcing the Genealogy Do-Over on the Geneabloggers blog recently.  He is going to set aside the 20-plus years of genealogical research and start over.  Thomas describes it as:

" I set aside everything* related to my genealogy research including notebooks, papers, and even digitized files and my genealogy database files and START OVER. I’m hitting the reset button. I’m allowing myself to have a do-over! (* certain items such as vital records ordered and paid for or research gathered on long-distance trips can be retained)."

His blog post describes what he is planning to do, and he will share his plan and his progress with his readers.  This is an ambitious plan and project.  I wish him good luck with it.  Essentially, he's pressing the "Reset" button.

I am not going to do a Genealogy Do-Over. 

Like Thomas and many others, I was a name collector before I decided to be a real genealogist.  I started using a genealogy program (PAF, then FTM, now RootsMagic) in about 1990, but I didn't start adding quality source citations to my genealogy database until about 2006 (when I retired, started writing this blog, and realized that I needed to cite my sources).  Then Evidence Explained was published and I have been adding quality source citations to the events in my database ever since.

I don't want to throw away 8 + years of hard work finding quality sources for events concerning people in my genealogy database (currently in RootsMagic 7).  During these past eight years, I have tried very hard to find records to support assertions of births, marriages, deaths, and other events in the lives of my ancestors, and draw reasonable conclusions about those persons and relationships from the available evidence.

During the past year, the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series (thank you, Amy Crow!) has been very helpful in focusing my efforts on one ancestor each week, helping me find more records, source them, analyze them, and craft a person Note that describes events in the person's life (I know, they aren't especially well-written, and are devoid of "soft material" - just the facts).  I started with my 8 great-grandparents, and then did the 16 2nd great-grandparents, and am almost done with the 32 3rd great-grandparents.  I will probably keep it going in 2015-6 with the 4th great-grandparents.  Obviously, doing this for one ancestor each week will take years to complete, since I have hundreds of known 17th century colonial ancestors, and over 2,000 known ancestors.  Then there's my wife's ancestry, and the ancestry of my grandchildren.

With a database of over 43,900 persons, which includes my Seaver, Carringer, Auble, Vaux, Dill, Buck, McKnew, and other surname collections of data, I will never be able to do the 52 Ancestors task on all of them, but I can try to add as much information as possible to each of those persons by mining specific online databases to add more sourced content to all of the persons in my database.

I refuse to ignore the 40 or so linear feet of collected paper (most of it is derivative source material from compiled genealogies and periodicals) that contributed most of the name, event, date, place, relationship and information in my database.  I have found a significant trove of original source material for my ancestors - such as vital, church, Bible, cemetery, probate, land, town, military, immigration, census and other records - in record offices, courthouses, archives, libraries on paper or on microfilm.  In recent years, I have been collecting online records for events in my database, with the corresponding source citations, while still doing occasional repository research.

My goal is to leave a well-sourced genealogy database that will provide my descendants and relatives know about the lives of their ancestors, while helping future researchers search for and find records of their ancestors.

At this point in time, my efforts are incomplete. As a check, here are some statistics from my RootsMagic database as of today:

*  People:  43,969
*  Families:  17,558
*  Events:  136,322
*  Places:  7,820
*  Sources: 1,134
*  Citations:  57,697
*  Multi-media Items:  1,071
*  Multi-media Links:  2,888

The percentage of citations per event is only 42.3%, but that is up significantly from a year ago (37.8%) and two years ago (30.3%).  I have added over 22,000 source citations in the past two years - an average of about 900 per month.  I try to do something every day to add to the citation count.  So I'm getting there, but it is a long journey and it is not done.

So, no, I'm not going to start over.  I've worked too hard for too long to get to this point.  My view is that "a good database should not be forsaken in the pursuit of a perfect database, the goal should be to constantly improve it."

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver


Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

I agree, Randy. I understand where Thomas is coming from, and where he wants to go. It may be a useful exercise for many in the industry. But, like you, there are many who have been taking a "different path" for quite some time. Well said, and thanks for sharing. I am following your lead, but not with the same intensity as you use. Different strokes for different folks! ;-)

Tester said...

Randy, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I've been working at/on my family history since January of 1962 when my paternal grandmother and my father's sister got to me. Since then, I've invested thousands and thousands of hours in the research, and I've come to know many of my antecedents very well indeed.

It would be impossible for me to take a "do over" approach as Thomas MacEntee describes. Over time I have addressed people's name formatting, date formatting, and place name formatting projects to make my database consistent. That also included making sure that place names for events were historically correct for the time the event occurred. These projects made me conduct more intensive research and they improved my knowledge.

However, there's no way that I could take a "do over" and recommence my research. That's because I already have committed so much information - data and personal experience with individuals and their information - that I could not possibly begin the process as if I were starting from scratch.

I certainly agree that it is important to re-review your research again, and make data consistent, and add citations wherever possible. However, a "do-over" just isn't possible unless you can wipe your mind clean of all you ever knew about your family.

- George G. Morgan

Diane Gould Hall said...

I won't be starting over either Randy. For many of the same reasons you cited. I have far fewer people in my database than you do (under 5,000 with both mine and my husband's lines). But, I have been pretty diligent on sourcing and continue to review and add citations. It's not perfect, for sure, but it's not too bad either. So, I'll keep on doing what I'm doing and watch with interest as Thomas starts over.

Geolover said...

To be sure, if one's database were corrupted as Thomas describes, it would be none too soon for a reset and beginning with basics.

He said he began "by just collecting names, grabbing stuff from other online trees, or pasting text into your genealogy software? Lately, has the prospect of going back and citing sources and proving facts and evidence brought you down and ruined your genealogy buzz?"

I do wish him success and satisfaction.

IsraelP said...

Randy, how do you organize yourself regarding citations of old material? Do you set aside a day or maybe half a day a week?

Do you look at one family line at a time? Do you pick a type of source and mine it for all your relatives, regardless of their place in the family structure?

Tell us a bit, please, about the nuts and bolts of your citation project.

Jana Last said...


I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

Have a wonderful weekend!

Devon Lee said...

I'm also in the "No Do Over camp." The reason is I'm constantly resetting when I attempt to migrate information from the different databases and online trees (Ancestry to newfamilysearch to FamilySearch to MyHeritage, to RootsMagic, and back). Syncs may seem the logical answer, but I often have to 're-find my information when using the different resources to keep it 'connected.'

Additionally, a good portion of research includes photos, stories, and documents from people who are now deceased. If I started over, I would loose the dash between the dates. Perhaps these are exceptions to the Do Over rules, but I just couldn't give up what I could no longer gather.

Instead, I am working on a narrative genealogy that has me reevaluating my sources and documentations, much the same way the 52 ancestor in 52 weeks challenge did. I'm of the opinion at some point it's time to stop researching and start writing so the stories and such we've learned do not die with us. Being the 'matriarch' of my family in my 30s has taught me how short life is. I don't know if I would have time to do a reset and then get to the sharing process before my time is up.

In creating the narrative, I have to reevaluate what the information is based upon and correct my citations. It achieves the same goal of 'more accuracy' in research but has different ends. One has a great chart with wonderful citations, the other has the stories with the sources to back it up. One can be passed to another researcher, the other can be passed along to the 'uninterested' family member in a more exciting manner.

I wish all the best of luck with their 2015 endeavors, even if I couldn't do those same goals.

Pat Burns said...

Hi, I am glad to see I'm not the only one thinking this may not be a good idea. For me, anyway. At first I thought it was a great idea, but I have a hard time ignoring all the "good" work that's already been done.

I have decided to follow along and see what I can learn. Given there are over 900 members on their facebook page already, I think it's likely going to be a good learning experience.