The Rules of Genealogy

by JL Beeken on 8-21-2012

Someone came to JLog awhile back wondering if there are any ‘rules of genealogy’. They didn’t spell genealogy right but I’m sure that’s what they meant.

If you’ve seen some of the trees online you might wish more people would ask that question.

I’m trying to get inside the head of that person. Did they wake up in the morning thinking, Are there any rules to genealogy? Or did they think, I’m interested in genealogy, maybe I should find out first if there are any rules or do I just get to do what I want to? Do they think it’s a video game with a short 1., 2., 3., rules list before they hit the Start button? Help me, people.

The exact way they phrased their question landed them on The Genealogy Police (#2 search result out of 8,000,000). But I kind of like that other post where I was trying to terrify newbies about source citations.

Because we have Google now I looked up ‘rules of genealogy’. Only 16.3 million search results. That’s a few people talking about rules. I don’t want to read any of them because they might change my bias. You can if you want to and probably should.

When I ‘started’ (and when was that anyway? the first question? the first photograph?) no-one told me anything about rules. Natural curiosity took its course. And when I read people being worried about who’s going to inherit all this work after they die it makes me wonder something. Did everyone start out in this very serious vein, or was there ever a fun and innocent part to it?

The sheer joy of … (something)?

Or do a lot of people get up in the morning thinking, I have a few spare minutes in my life, I think I need a new job. Huh, genealogy sounds like a good one. I’d better get out there and start studying all the Rules of Genealogy.

I’m not talking about the professionals. I’m just talking about us more regular folk if there’s any of us left.

A long time ago, when my father was still living, he gave me a photo of my great-grandaunt, Amelia. I’m really grateful to my father for doing that because The Mystery of Amelia was almost too much to bear. They called her Miel (pronounced ‘meal’). Maybe because her sister-in-law was Amalia and it got too confusing.

Miel was the first bona fide ancestor I ever met as a child that I never actually saw. She died one year after I was born and by the time I was asking ‘Who’s Miel?’ the only answer I ever got was, “Miel died.” For years that’s all I knew about her. She died.

Years later, (it’s a good thing we know what patience means) when I was old enough to understand what it meant, I was told she had ‘a great sense of humour’.

And then later, confirmed through census records, that she was married twice, the first time to a man who owned a hotel. Still haven’t found out what happened to him.

Cuz sent an email late last night and said she’d hit the gold mine in her research and had identified two of our previously unidentified photographs. That’s amazing! She’s like a dog after a rabbit. It just never stops being a thrill.

Do I get out my genealogy regulations and write back, Did you do such and such and so and so? No. I take her at her word and wait until she sends more detail.

If I was pushed to the wall I think I’d say the only rule of genealogy is to find the part of it that’s enjoyable to you and don’t sweat the rest. God knows we don’t have time to do it ALL.

If you had to, what would you say about genealogy rules? What are yours?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Ken M 8-21-2012 at 10:57 PM

I haven’t been visited by the Genealogy Police yet but if I was I would probably be locked up for life for all the supposed infractions I’ve committed over the years.

My overarching rule for family history/genealogy research is “Do the best that I can.” The corollary is “To keep learning more on how to do what I do so I can get better at doing it.” This especially includes citations since that is usually the biggest gripe heard. If my citation isn’t perfect, so be it. Tell me what I did wrong and why you think it is wrong. If I agree then I will change it and do better next time. If not, at least I’ve heard a different view point and maybe learned from it. But it isn’t a criminal offense … at least not yet.

Now my mantra is “Trust no one [including myself since I do make mistakes], verify everything [since even I make mistakes], and even if it is written in stone it might not be true [from personal experience].”

One other rule and this is the most important one. When someone freely provides you with information, even if it may not be right, at least say “Thank you.”

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JL Beeken 8-21-2012 at 11:21 PM

I especially like that last one too. Why do we think we have a right to everything but appreciate nothing? Thank-you for writing.

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Susan Clark 8-24-2012 at 8:04 PM

Amen! I need to take your point about not sweating the rest to heart. My only rule has been to enjoy the work. That said, I do feel a need to finish the project of digitizing the family papers I’ve inherited. Boring, but it matters to me.

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JL Beeken 8-24-2012 at 9:28 PM

Isn’t this fun? We have so many places to talk to each other.

I think I wrote the post to remind myself to stop being so neurotic. Time out to remember where I started and wonder how I got to the point where it’s become an endless to-do list. Getting something done can be a form of enjoyment. It certainly is for me sometimes. I might not want to do the doing but I really want IT done and then I get to do my Happy Dance.

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Caroline Pointer 8-27-2012 at 5:10 AM

The only rule is there are no rules. Go with it. Or not.

{I mean, it’d be nice if you did, but you’ll get no bullying from me.}

It’s like the art was taken out and replaced with science. Pure science.

~Caroline

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