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Experimental Genealogy

Contrafactual Genealogy

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

The other day I heard a program that discussed whether or not contrafactual history was “real” history. Some argue that history should only be concerned with what actually happened. Playing with “what if” questions might be fun, but it is fiction, not history. Others contend that analyzing other possibilities, paths that never got a chance […]

Delete Your Database

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

No, not really. Don’t actually delete your database. Think about it instead. Scientists call this a thought experiment. Go ahead, put some effort into it and really imagine it. Imagine that it is gone. Now what? A few thoughts come to mind. The first thought might be about backups. If you don’t have one, then […]

Who Will They Think We Were?

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

I often think about what people of the future might “discover” about me or people that I know well. I think it is an interesting thought experiment. If I imagine what my paper trail will look like in a century or two, I can imagine what mistakes a future family historian might make and perhaps […]

All the Angles

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

So you’ve found some new genealogical evidence. Time to put it into your database and start the next hunt. Or is it? What if someone handed you a new and strange physical object and said, “Here. This is for you. I think you’ll need it.” You probably wouldn’t just make a note “Received interesting object” […]

Doing Some Unresearch

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

There is a little bit of unresearch I like to do every so often. It can be a simple what-if or a real exercise in going through my records, notes and thinking. It is not hard to get the idea. You experiment with the life of an ancestor that you think you understand fairly well. […]

Seeing Like a Pioneer

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

To try to understand the people that I’m researching, I like to try to think like them and to look at my surroundings like a pioneer. Often that means thinking like a pioneer in the forests of eastern North America. The next time you are walking in the woods, try this experiment. Do your best […]

The Future’s Past

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

One of the most important things to realize when thinking about the past is that there is not only much to learn but also much to forget. What we know blinds us to what we could know. We understand that this or that was different yet fail to see how the world itself was different. […]