Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Instant family history?

Computers and the internet revolutionized the study of genealogy and family history, speeding up communications and giving access to huge amounts of data. This is all good but there are unfortunate spin-offs. People’s expectations have changed: they want ‘instant’ family history. Not only that but they’re prepared to believe whatever they find on the web. Both these attitudes are bad. Anyone can upload information on websites and forums and these offerings may or may not be accurate. Pre-digested genealogical trees should be treated with particular caution. Unless you want a family history full of perpetuated errors, check every fact. Go back to original records wherever possible.

There’s no such thing as instant family history. Access to online Census, BMD and other records may help to provide the basics of a family tree and if all you want is a decorative chart, accurate or not, to hang on the dining-room wall you might well be able to achieve that in a weekend. If that is all you want, don’t bluff yourself that you’re a family historian – you aren’t.

If you want more than that – and I really hope you do - the aim is not to gallop ahead collecting a pile of dubious details in the shortest possible time, and arrive panting at some imaginary finish line saying ‘I’ve done my family history. Next?’

Family history research is a quest for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There are no shortcuts.

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