Monday, January 21, 2013

Pinball Genealogy - My Hints Practices

DearMYRTLE posted "The Pinball Approach to Genealogical Research" yesterday, and it intrigued me.  Myrt described "Pinball Genealogy" as:

"With red and white lights flashing, the pinball machine shrilly rings "Ding, ding, ding" every time an obstacle is hit, and the metal ball ricochets off in a different direction. Just where that ball goes isn't so important since the goal is to keep hitting the obstacles to gain points and to avoid the holes and troughs that lead to the ditch at the bottom, ending the player's turn. In the frenzy, coarse words may spew, and there is always the temptation to "tilt" the machine itself to get a higher score." 

That is a great description - I can surely relate, and I'm sure that many of my readers also can relate to it, and probably enjoy the experience.  I know that I do!  I'm "in the hunt," finding new names, dates, places, entering data into my genealogy database, all's right in my genealogy cave.

However, Myrt, who just finished Thomas Jones' "Advanced Research Practicum" at the Salt Lake Insitute of Genealogy (SLIG), passes on lessons learned in Dr. Jones' class:

"Competent genealogy researchers must take pains to avoid the "pinball approach to genealogical research"There is no point in quickly bouncing from one document to another, without fully considering the info each contains. Moving too quickly means you may be barking up the wrong family tree. It also means possibly neglecting to search for other documents in the locality that may prove useful in your kinship study."

I can identify a number of different pinball genealogy "games" that Myrt refers to in her post.

One is using the shaky green leaf hints on an Ancestry Member Tree to attach records to a person in your tree without examining the information in the documents and determining if the information pertains to your ancestor.

My practice with the Ancestry Hints is:

1)  Investigate each one of them, because they may provide additional information about my ancestor.

2)  Evaluate Ancestry Member Tree hints - the person who submitted it may be related to me and have valuable information about my ancestor.  However, I critically evaluate each tree I check - most importantly, do they have sources for the Events?  Those are leads to sources to follow up on.  Are the sources for actual records, to indexes, to publications, or to websites or other trees?  I follow up on sources for actual records, indexes, and publications.  I add them to my to-do list if I cannot find them online.

3)  I reject every Ancestry Member Tree hint.  They are not reliable sources.  They are sometimes useful finding aids.

4)  I accept Hints for vital records, census records, military records, immigration records, naturalization records, town records, probate records, land records, etc. after reviewing them to ensure that they apply to my ancestor.

5)  I tend to reject Hints that are index items for Events that I have already found (and sourced) in vital records certificates, in town records or published vital record books.  For Events for which I don't plan to obtain a document (e.g., a birth certificate for a cousin or collateral relative), I source the Index item but not the record from the Index (i.e., no image).  This includes records from the Social Security Death Index, Find A Grave, etc.

6)  I review hints for Stories to determine if they apply to my ancestor.  I've found very few Public Stories that are unique - most are transcriptions from published material, and many are from my own blog posts.  These Hints have value - the person who added the Story may be a cousin with information I can use, and I sometimes write a note to them.

7)  I have two trees on Ancestry - I attach Hints to the tree with only my Ancestral family - not to the tree with all of my Research.  I try to keep the Research tree "clean" from Ancestry events (because they add duplicate events and are not accurate in some cases) and source citations (since they are not Evidence! Explained quality).

8)  I use the Ancestral family tree to find records to add to the Research tree.  I only accept or reject Hints on the Ancestral family tree.  I download actual documents to my desktop computer, name them with my file naming convention, create a source citation for the Event in my Research tree database, and attach them to the person(s) in my research tree database.

I don't use my genealogy software program to do web searches on Ancestry or other websites.  I find it is much more time efficient to select a person in my database, then search on Ancestry, FamilySearch, AmericanAncestors, Fold3, GenealogyBank, Google, Mocavo, etc. and add the information as I find it (saving document images, creating source citations, research notes, and adding media as needed).  This avoids corrupting my Research database with Events and source Citations created by the websites involved.

What are your "Pinball Genealogy" practices?  How do you deal with the Ancestry Hints?

I have other examples of "Pinball Genealogy" and I'll try to write more about them this week.

My thanks to Myrt for the great "Pinball Genealogy" description, and to Tom Jones for stimulating Myrt's thought processes.  Myrt's post was really about using research tools like word processing tables and spreadsheets to help find relationships and resolve evidence conflicts.  I've written about my practices on similar tools before, and may blog about them in later posts.

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Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver


. said...

Thanks for this Randy! I try real hard to be systematic with those shaky leaves on Ancestry, using them only as finding aids but this analysis outlines a better process.
Cheers, Diane

Susi's Quarter said...

I love that description of the SHAKING LEAVES.
Also having noticed people find data in a document and are anxious to move to next document with out extracting all the information from that document.
A Big NO NO.

I find the hints on My Heritage to be a bit better potentially.

It seems someone told me to take a document and outline it like we were taught to diagram a sentence. Break it down and pull all the data that your not even thinking of from it.

Barbara McGeachy said...

Thanks for mentioning Dear Myrtle's post. I too tend to pinball!

I like to copy photos from other trees, especially gravestone photos that are clearer than on Find-A-Grave.

Question: If I reject the Ancestry Family Tree hint, and a tree is updated or a new tree is added for that person, will I get a new hint? I think not, so I keep the Ancestry Family Tree hints as “unreviewed,” then I go back to them from time-to-time and see if there's anything new.


J. Paul Hawthorne said...

I'm a master pinballer for over 10 years... lol. But, now I see the light of Dr. Jones and the Genealogical Proof Standard. Sometimes I like to go back though and play the old game, it's kinda fun.