Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday: A Few Thoughts on Standards

This is the typescript called "Clann Cearr."
Click to enlarge it, if you dare!

The image above is from the first page of a photocopied 11-page typescript by Nanetta Hobbs Tice. What you're seeing is the full width of the page--there are no margins. Nan hand-printed some notes at the bottom of the page, and for the sake of posting here, I've cropped them off. Any and all dark notes or inked lines are hers; the only markings I've added are the lightly pencilled RIN numbers beside names, which I hoped would help me stay on track as I struggled to make sense of this data and enter it into my first family tree software twenty years ago.

Nan typed this in 1972. What work it must have been then, to try and keep order to the data, to type or hand-write everything. That was before family tree software. There were no PCs; it looks like Nan didn't even have access to those fancy family group sheets we depended upon before the PC. Did they exist in 1972? I don't know. My discovery of pedigree charts and family group sheets at a bookstore in the late 1980s is what really brought me to genealogy as an avocation. Before that, I had no clue how to organize the information I'd gotten from my grandma back in the '60s. For twenty years, my entire genealogy looked like this (and by that I mean this is all of it, right here in the picture!):

I don't remember how "Clann Cearr" came into my hands, but it was accompanied by another thirteen photocopied pages of notes which were entirely handwritten (by Nan or by someone else? I don't know). It must have been in a vertical file somewhere. I don't know Nan personally, and I don't think I ever corresponded with her.

I'm sure the first thing most of my genealogically inclined friends would notice about "Clann Cearr" (and heartily decry!) is the complete lack of documentation or source citation. And I shudder to think of the hue and cry and... excuse me for a moment while I strap on my bicycle helmet... the possible pummeling about the head and shoulders that may arise upon my announcing to the entire blogosphere that I added all of these undocumented kinfolk to my family tree database. Yes, the database. The one into which goes everybody... documented, undocumented, sourced or unsourced.

Are you groaning? Smirking? Dismissing me forthwith as a careless dabbler, or worse, a rampant moron tainting the genealogical universe with eternally bad information? I've definitely picked up the scent of that attitude wafting through the genealogical community from time to time. If you secretly (or not so secretly, for that matter) answered yes to any of those questions, I understand why. But it would be fair of you to take the next minute or two to consider a different viewpoint.

First of all, I acknowledge and confess that my genealogy will never be done to perfection. That's not my goal, and I don't think it should be. If it were, the doing would cease to be a pleasure; it would become an obligation, a test, a source of anxiety. That's not what I look for in an avocation.

That brings me to my next point: I am not in the business of selling genealogical services for money. If I were, I would hold myself to a professional standard for my paying customers; after all, if I were the paying client, that's what I would be paying for. But again, this is my avocation, not my vocation.

My third and final point (for now, anyway!) is this: my database is where I do my thinking, my comparing, my filing... wait, let me put that a different way. My database is where I choose to do my thinking, my comparing, my filing. It's mine, and if I wish to store 4993 as yet undocumented, unsourced, probable ancestors and cousins in there with the dozen that are almost (but not quite) perfect, that's okay with me. That's where I'll look for them later when I find the opportunity to do the research. If you want to keep separate databases for the proven and the unproven, you go right ahead, but for me that would be a source of total confusion.

Speaking of sources of total confusion, let's get back to "Clann Cearr." I've chosen to feature this typescript today because, despite the fact that it's undocumented, unsourced, and all but indecipherable, I consider it a great treasure, and one for which I am profoundly grateful--to Nan, to Arthur Kerr of the Kerr Family Association who provided the data to her, and to the unnamed others who shared their undocumented, unsourced data with the Kerr Family Association prior to 1972. I am glad--so very, very glad--to have it. Whether it's perfect or fraught with errors doesn't matter. It's still a guide for me and will help me get where I want to go.

I'm curious to know how other genealogists and family historians will respond in the poll below. You can choose as many answers as apply to you, and you can also add an answer of your own if the poll doesn't include a point that matters to you.


Heather Rojo said...

I love this poll, and your choices for survey questions were excellent. I'll be checking back later to see how the poll results change as readers check in!

TCasteel said...

It would sadden me greatly to see anyone who works on their family history check: "I never source my data entries--too much work!"

that is one of the most important things you can do - even if the source is: because G-aunt Vespacia said so.

Apple said...

I source almost everything however there are quite a few I suspect would cringe when they read them! Entering "Interview with Mom, Oct 07" or Smith tree@ancestry work for me. I know where I found the info and can judge it's value later. I often add "unproven" info to my tree and usually remember to add in the notes section that it's my working theory. If I don't add it how on earth will I remember what I was thinking two or three days from now?!

I have both my full tree and several trees that only cover certain branches online so I checked both boxes for that section.

GrannyPam said...

Wonderful. Food for everyone to chew on. Personally, I put everything in the big, bad database. I would forget that I went to Richland County, OH, copied deeds for a guy with the "right" name. But, the deeds and other research caused me to conclude he is the "wrong" guy. If I forget, I repeat. Sometimes I repeat anyway. So, I have an extra guy or two (or 20) with the right names, locations and son on. They have sources, including deeds which prove they are Mr. WRONG, not Mr. RIGHT. Unfortunately most of my surnames are like Smith and Brown, not particularly unique. To me, ruling out "Mr. WRONG" is an important step on the road to finding "Mr. RIGHT".

Wendy Hawksley said...

Very interesting poll!

Basically everything goes into my database and gets sourced as much as possible.

I do keep a second database, specifically for research about one surname. But, other than that, I've got the one database, sourced as much as possible, and probably imperfect regardless. ;)

Cheryl said...

Great article and poll, TK. I have taken the poll and it is certainly food for thought. As you know, I only have one line of my 8 great-grandparent surnames in my FTM completely. I am slowly adding in the others and trying to source as I go along. It is true, too, that it is very easy to forget where data came from when it was received 10 years ago, put in a box and now out to enter in FTM.

Kathy said...

Great post. Hurray to those of us who are not perfect but carry on anyway! We do it for us, not for the rule keepers.

DianaR said...

Great post - and I can relate to it totally. You put into words so much better than I ever have what my database is - a place to "do my thinking, my comparing, my filing.." When I read that I said, "YES, I do that too"

I would never check the "I don't source it's too much work" - but I love having my guesses, my almost proven and my total shots in the dark all there together.


DianaR said...

Great post - and I can relate to it totally. You put into words so much better than I ever have what my database is - a place to "do my thinking, my comparing, my filing.." When I read that I said, "YES, I do that too"

I would never check the "I don't source it's too much work" - but I love having my guesses, my almost proven and my total shots in the dark all there together.


GeneaPopPop said...

Thank you for your thought provoking post. It has helped me clarify some of my own priorities and standards: (1) it is my desire to provide accuracte source documentation for as much of my data as possible; (2) as the unofficial "family historian" for both my family and my wife's, I have chosen to include the research of other family members even though the only documentation is "provided by Cousin Dave;" and (3) I have chosen NOT to contribute my database to online collectiions such as or RootsWeb's OneWorldTree because much of it is a hodge-podge of documented and undocumented, but I do have it online on my own website.

I am in the process revising 8 separate databases by providing source citations where possible. Those 8 will be merged together and eventually will replace my current online database. I strive to learn from the professional genealogists and even to emulate their adherence to standards, but I do not choose to restrict myself to presenting only "proven" data.

For me, genealogy is a dance in which "proven and "undocumented" whirl around the dance floor together -- occasionally stepping on each others toes, sometimes "wow-ing" the on-lookers with the grace of their steps, and mostly just keeping time with the music.

T.K. said...

Thanks so much, everyone, for participating in the poll and for your comments. I'm really enjoying this little peek into how others do things!

Granny Pam, in a million years it probably would not have occurred to me to leave somebody who's been proven to be Mr. Wrong in my database, but your explanation about the proof of Wrong-ness being right there with him... awesome! I see where I could (and probably have!) repeated because of having forgotten, and it would be so useful to just be able to look up those names in my database first and see that I've already detached Mr. Wrong from the tree and why. In fact, this very afternoon I came across an old handwritten pedigree chart with Miss Wrong and her ancestors on it along with my ? and "is this ours?" notation by her name. Did I write down the answer, "NOT OURS" on it? No, duh, and so I had to sit there and wonder, did I already deal with this or not? I shudder to think how many more stray papers like that may be nestled down in a box somewhere...

PopPop, I love your dance analogy!

Blog Archive


Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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