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Putting the Chart before the Source

By Daniel Hubbard | April 10, 2016

Genealogy is certainly all about people. As we research we try to find out what we can about ancestors, their relatives, and sometimes even their whole communities. It is easy to forget that those people, and the relationships that connect them, are not the starting points for our research, but the results. Except for those few relatives that are contemporary, or nearly so, we don’t start with people. We can’t. We start with documents and DNA, grave markers, memorial plaques, paper, microfilm and image files, photographs and heirlooms. We start with evidence, not pedigrees, otherwise we are guilty of putting the chart before the source.

cartbeforehorse

In wagon driving, the cart doesn’t go before the horse. In genealogy the chart doesn’t come before the source.

That thought, “Don’t put the chart before the source,” occurs to me whenever I hear someone say that they have roughly fifty gajillion people in their database. We’d probably be better off without genealogical bragging, but if it is going to exist, why can’t it be something more along the lines of “I have eleven hundred well-analyzed original sources of primary information in my database.”? Sources, like horses, go first.

Sometimes, out of necessity, I find myself using software that requires, for example, a person be added to a tree before any work can really be done. What if there is a real question about a person’s identity? What if a source is relevant to many people via a complex rationale that does not generate a series of neat facts that can be expressed in a dozen words or less? When there is no hard work to be done, no load to be hauled, the cart can go before the horse, but the challenge and fun of research is when there are tough puzzles to solve, then one just can’t get away with putting the chart before the source.

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Topics: Genealogy, Methods | 1 Comment »

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One Response to “Putting the Chart before the Source”

  1. James Tanner Says:
    April 10th, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    You make some really good points. I like the idea of having a source before adding a person to a database. It makes good sense.

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