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To Do- or Not To Genealogy Do-Over - Wed, 7 Jan 2015

It seems the Genealogy Do-Over #gendover is the hot trend of early 2015. This is the idea that most of us who started doing our genealogy long ago, did not do it the correct way. We were name collectors and took anything and everything we could find and assembled it into our tree. We did not record sources. We did not do GPS. We believed everything we found was true.

So the idea of a Genealogy Do-Over is to put all that aside, maybe even throw it all away, and start completely over and do it again but correctly this time.

It may have been started by Thomas MacEntee, the master GeneaBlogger, who even purchased a domain name for his topic: http://www.genealogydo-over.com.

Elyse Doerflinger said she did one a few years ago, and for her it was worth it.

Then many started for themselves. Bart Brenner, Jenny Lanctot, Jennifer Morris,
Carrie Norwood gave us the image below as her rendition of her Do-Over:

and many, many others started taking this up as well.

Resources started popping up to help including this BagTheWeb page that tells you to join “thousands of others who will set aside years of genealogy.” and even a Facebook page.

Some notable bloggers decided to support the initiative but not go all the way, such as Dear Myrtle who is doing a “quasi” do-over, and Russ Worthington who said he will participate but not start his file over.

Others have decided not to do it, including Yvette Hoitink who gave 3 reasons and most notably Randy Seaver who has over the years documented his effort to improve what he has.


So What’s Going On Here?

Do people really need to redo their work. Is it that bad?

Actually, in most cases, Yes, it is that bad. We have been name collectors. We haven’t recorded sources. Our work is a mess. Our organization is a mess.

Even in my case, the last set of data I put together 15 years ago for my extended Kessler family of 1,600 people was all names and events (dates and places). No sources in that file. However, I did at the time realize the necessity to record sources and I instead had each document filed in binders, organized by source type and source. So it’s all there, just not entered into the last genealogy program I used.

For too long, genealogy software have stressed building your tree, and not documenting the evidence or your reasoning behind it. Even if you tried to document your sources properly, the software never promoted it. You had to do extra work to do so.

Things have got a bit better, but not much, and some efforts have gone backwards. The inclusion of citation templates actually adds a lot of overhead into your recording of sources. You have to find the right template and figure out precisely how to properly enter each field. It is not simple. It’s actually onerous.

Really, what you want to do is do four things:
1. Be organized
2. Record all your sources
3. Ensure that all the information from all your sources is included in your tree.
4. Document your reasoning for your conclusions.


But, Do We Need A Do-Over?

No. There’s a better way.

I’m a programmer. I’ve learned that it is not good to throw work away. There are gems in your previous work that you’ll never get back. And starting from scratch takes way longer than you expect. It’s a lot of work. Progress at times doing a do-over will be slow. Motivation will sometimes be difficult. So much so, you may stop looking forward to the “tedious” work you still have to do to get back to where you once were and you may lose the joy of genealogy that you once had. That would be a disaster.

The recipe, instead of a do-over, is an incremental fix. Keep what you’ve got and fix one part of it. Stir. Repeat until done.

To incorporate those four things I listed above, you need to switch modes. Switch from being people/conclusion-based to being source/record/evidence-based.

Do this incrementally. Take one of your sources, any one you want. Go through it rigorously. Find all the people and events that the source gives information about and go to your family tree program, check that each of the items is included and is accurate, and assign this source to it. If this is a digital source, put it in a new area on your computer organized in a source-based (not surname-based) way. If it is a physical source, place it in a new storage area organized by source-type and source. There are many ways to set this up, but that’s another topic for another time.

And every new bit of research you do (and you are allowed to do new research, which is more difficult during a do-over) will use your new source-based techniques.

Here’s the magic and beauty of all this. You will always have your entire genealogy to work from. Some will be old school, but it will slowly migrate to new-school. Each source you complete will make you feel very satisfied. You will correct past errors. And once one source is done, you’ll know you’ve covered it completely. Each one you do gets you closer and closer to getting your Re-Do done – the right way!

Now, I’m not saying this Genealogy Do-Over trend is necessarily a bad thing. The ideas being brought forward are great. The initiative is getting people involved again in their own genealogy in a big way. All the discussion is about trying to get you to do it the right way. This is fantastic.

In the end it’s up to you.
But I like the Source-Based Incremental Genealogy Fix.

5 Comments           comments Leave a Comment

1. bartbrenner (bartbrenner)
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Joined: Thu, 8 Jan 2015
2 blog comments, 0 forum posts
Posted: Thu, 8 Jan 2015  Permalink

Thanks for the mention. I decided to participate in the Do-Over as a way of changing my genealogical mind-set from ‘conclusion-based’ to ’source-centric.’ As I have continued to reflect on the overall process, my one disappointment is that Behold won’t integrate word processor editing until June 2016. So, I am beginning to reflect upon how I might use my word processor as a primary tool in the overall process which I have conceptually divided into three phases: Source Session (finding, tracking, citing, filing sources); Claims Session (transcribing / translating / abstracting, extracting claims, connecting claims with people); Conclusion Session (resolving conflicts, writing proof statements / arguments, entering conclusions into my database). Evidentia will be the primary tool for the Claims Session. I am now reflecting on the variety of ways I can use my word processor for the rest of the processing and am considering the possibility of Behold’s Everything Report as my database for maintaining the fruits of my labor. It looks as if my next big task is to immerse myself in Behold. I’ve been waiting for ver. 2.0. I can wait no longer. I will have to ‘cobble together’ my own processes that will include Behold. Any suggestions?

2. Louis Kessler (lkessler)
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Joined: Sun, 9 Mar 2003
232 blog comments, 226 forum posts
Posted: Thu, 8 Jan 2015  Permalink


You can add your “Conclusion Session” as notes on the events or people that they pertain to.

Your Source Session (finding, tracking, citing, filing sources) information should all be stored with the source that they deal with. Does your current genealogy editing program allows you to enter information directly into sources, rather than requiring them being attached to conclusions, and does it allow notes for the source? If so, put some information into a note on a source, and see if your program exports that into the GEDCOM. Then see how Behold displays it with the source, and that can guide you as to how to set it up.

If your current program does not allow notes on sources or doesn’t export them, then you’ll want to use a word processor to record them. Just use one page per source, and treat the information on the page as if it were a note field on the source. When editing is added to Behold, you’ll be able to copy from the word document and paste directly into the source notes in Behold, and use Behold after that to edit and add things.

Try to make your process as simple as possible. Simple notes are sometimes better than a complicated formal structure.


3. bartbrenner (bartbrenner)
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Joined: Thu, 8 Jan 2015
2 blog comments, 0 forum posts
Posted: Thu, 8 Jan 2015  Permalink

Thanks, Louis.

4. uwem (uwem)
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Joined: Fri, 9 Jan 2015
2 blog comments, 0 forum posts
Posted: Fri, 9 Jan 2015  Permalink

Hi guys,

I’m a bit astonished that you seem to believe that source-based genealogy is a new concept and/or trend. No serious genealogist (well, at least the ones I know…) would base his or her research on hearsay, assumptions or other people’s GEDCOM files ever. The data available at the LDS is a good example, because it’s unreliable for various reasons. Not only have people uploaded their junk family trees in the past, but most errors in the databases stem from the fact that transcribers had an insufficient knowledge of the old scripts.

If you haven’t checked the details yourself and haven’t found proof, no piece of information should go into your family tree and be treated as fact. Or, to come back to the LDS example: don’t trust your screen unless you have checked the microfilm at your local family history center.

My 2c

5. deckie49 (deckie49)
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Joined: Fri, 20 Jul 2012
19 blog comments, 2 forum posts
Posted: Sat, 10 Jan 2015  Permalink

Very well stated. uwem. And absolutely true. Speaking of the LDS data, it’s not only people uploading their “50,000 name” files with little or no source documentation. Much of the transcribed work by the hard working and well meaning LDS volunteers suffer from plain old fatigue. Imagine sitting in front of a computer transcribing data from sometimes difficult, if not unreadable images. After a while, anyone would get tired and make mistakes. The 1880 US Census project put ou by the church years ago is a prime example. It is so filled with transcription errors that in some cases is unusable. The bottom line as you say: If you haven’t checked the details yourself and haven’t found proof, no piece of information should go into your family tree and be treated as fact.


The Following 2 Sites Have Linked Here

  1. The Genealogy Do-over and Genealogy Software - Sue Adams - Worldwide Genealogy : Fri, 23 Jan 2015
    Louis Kessler proposed the Source-Based Incremental Genealogy Fix in To Do- or Not To Genealogy Do-Over. He lays blame at the door of traditional genealogy software, which makes source citation and documentation of reasoning onerous.

  2. Genealogy 2014 - 2015: Successes and Goals - Judy Webster - Worldwide Genealogy : Mon, 30 Nov 2015
    My genealogy goals for 2015: ... Organise my records ... My paper filing system has always been source-based, so Louis Kessler's idea of a source-based incremental fix will suit me perfectly.

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