I deal with two very extreme and opposite genealogical situations at the Mesa FamilySearch Library (and elsewhere); the patron who has tens of thousands of names in a database and those who have none. For the patrons who have no names, the way to start is obvious. They start with themselves and their parents and so forth. The other extreme, a very large data base, is much more of a challenge. This series is about the challenge of the very large database.
I guess I need to go back and define a few terms. Let me discuss some of the characteristics of what I consider to be a very large database. Very occasionally, when I am confronted with this issue, I'm actually speaking to the person who compiled the information contained in the pedigree file. Some of the larger files I have seen contain well in excess of 100,000 names. In some cases, this can be attributed to name gathering, but in a small minority of the cases, the files have been compiled over sometimes 50 years or more of genealogical research. I have not talking primarily about these extraordinary individuals because they seldom ask questions or are concerned about what research they need to do next. The people I see most frequently are those who have inherited these files from someone else and have no idea what to do with all the informatin.
Since the introduction of FamilySearch.org Family Tree, I've seen a marked increase in the number of people who are for the first time confronting a huge genealogy file. This particular phenomena may not be unique to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but usually, when a patron has a huge file that extends all of the family lines back at least five or six generations, they are members of the Church. Also, it is not unusual that person will have a huge file or ancestors from one parent and not from the other. I recently spent five consecutive Sundays introducing FamilySearch Family Tree to the members of our Ward. A significant number of the people who were reviewing their family tree for the first time, or nearly the first time, had no missing ancestors even at four, five, six or more generations in the past.
I might point out, that when I began my genealogical research, I found myself in this exact same position. Not only had I been told that all of my genealogy was "done" but that appeared to be the situation. The first missing ancestors and my pedigree chart were six generations in the past. Today, after more than 30 years of research, the first missing ancestors are seven generations in the past. What does this mean? It means, that the first missing people in my family line were born in the early 1700s. We are not talking about easy or low hanging fruit. These particular ancestors have resisted discovery by concerted research efforts of dozens of people over the past 100 years. So what have I been doing for the past 30+ years? Because of the lack of any computerized systems when I started doing genealogy, it took me nearly 15 of those years to merely get to the end of the research that is already been done. This does not mean that I found all of the information to be correct, because I often had to do research to verify contradictory information from different researchers. Since then, I have been adding sources and correcting information and trying to get to the point of extending some of the lines.
If you view your genealogy is that of being confined to direct line ancestors, then I can understand a perception that viewing such a file with names going back into the past meant all the work was done. Take for example my children who now are one generation removed so their pedigree chart goes back to the first missing ancestor eight generations in the past. But, of course, once you begin to work with such a file, you realize the limitations and the perception that the file is "complete" rapidly disappears.
So this brings us to the question of what do you do if your genealogy appears to be all done? The answer to this question is highly individual and complex. I have often wondered, when there is a discussion about involving the youth in genealogy, what the youth are being told when they see their own pedigree chart with no missing ancestors back into the early 1700s? Previously, with New.FamilySearch.org, the newcomer to genealogy could simply harvest the abundant crop of green arrows. Now that this is no longer possible, everyone will be confronted with exactly the same situation of having to start to do research. Do you know what to tell the youth in this situation? Suppose you help a teenager sign on to Family Tree. What do you say to them when records on both sides of their family seem to stretch back into the dim past?
I expect that we will have a very interesting time at the Mesa FamilySearch Library beginning in January 2014 with the read only status of New.FamilySearch.org. In my next installment of the series about very large genealogical files I will discuss why I believe that the majority of these files are based on inaccurate information. I will also begin discussing the strategies I have taken over the years to work on particular areas of my family.