Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Constant Vigilance of Genealogy

Let's face it: much of effective genealogy is taking the time to do the busy work. What do I mean? Well, let me ask you this: what do you do as soon as you acquire previously-unseen photos or documents related to your ancestors? When I was first starting out, my answer would have been: maybe share them to facebook, save them to my computer's "Genealogy Folder," and not much else. Now? Now I process each item in an increasingly time-consuming manner. Let's run through a typical example.

Say that I encounter a new ancestor/cousin photo. Here are my "processing" steps:

1. I give it a number in my photo cataloging system and save it to my desktop genealogy photos folder with that file name.

2. I immediately save it to my Google Photos cloud with a detailed caption indicating (as far as possible) the people pictured, who identified these people, and where, when, and from whom I acquired the photo. I also keep a running list for each photo of where it is shared/uploaded.

3. If the people pictured in the photo are all deceased, I upload the photo to the FamilySearch Family Trees Memory Gallery and tag everyone in it. Then I upload it to my Ancestry.com public tree. Depending upon profile photo quotas and other factors, I also upload it to WikiTree.

I follow similar steps for each new source document, for which I use my "Genealogy Switchboard" (see this post).

Why do I do all of this? As you become more serious about genealogy, you will find that many important details about your sources and artifacts (and by extension your ancestors) become lost if you do not assiduously seize and keep track of them. Unfortunately, I've learned this the hard way. I have had older relatives bequeath photos etc. to me and then pass away a few years later. When I inherited some of these items, I was genealogically inexperienced and did not understand the important of tracking various details. As a consequence, I can no longer supply important information for them, and it is now doubtful in some cases that I will ever be able to do so. I missed the Window of Opportunity, which is a shame...because such windows are precious.

If you use online collaborative trees, they demand vigilance of another sort. The more profiles that you create and maintain at places like The FamilySearch Family Tree and WikiTree, the more regular work it is to make sure that errors and sloppy research (either submitted by yourself or others) don't threaten to overwhelm them and outlast you. This means checking back often and making sure your branches stay pruned. What's the alternative? You stop keeping watch, others take over and possibly alter and degrade your hard work, and these important avenues for posterity become compromised. Part of this kind of vigilance, therefore, is making connections with people who will exercise the same care in furthering this work after you're gone.

Then there are the steps you must take to constantly track, update, and (if necessary) upgrade the programs, hard drives, and files where your items and information are stored offline. Technology becomes outdated; programs and files have expiration dates. Left unattended and to chance, your items and work may well die with your equipment. In which case, regularly printing paper copies of your research, storing them in safe places, and updating them when necessary, are other tasks you'll have to undertake every so often. 

All of this takes time and effort. But it is all of paramount importance if you want your relatives to be remembered. Count how many people in your family are serious about their genealogy. Then count how many will exercise the kind of care I've only briefly described here. Usually, it's down to you and perhaps a few others. In many cases your family's very history depends upon YOU alone to maintain and preserve it. Genealogy done well entails constant vigilance. Keeping your Eye on Eternity means keeping it very much on these details.

I'll close with an example from my own field of study. Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300-1377) is today remembered for being one of the towering figures of music history. He lived during the pivotal Ars Nova era, in which rhythm, polyphony, and notation itself made profound strides. His music (and by extension much about the era), is so well preserved in part because of the great lengths to which he went to order and maintain his manuscripts. Like Fall Out Boy, he apparently wanted to be remembered for centuries...and he made the right moves to accomplish this. Let us all be Machauts when it comes to preserving our family history, and exercising the vigilance necessary to that end. 

1 comment:

  1. Great advice...hopefully those just starting out can learn from what you've written. I know I wish I'd taken these steps when I started out, or the equivalent, given that the Internet didn't exist (except as a military entity) when I began this long journey.

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