Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The transition from name gathering to research

One of the most maligned activities in the genealogy community involves the practice of "name gathering." Notwithstanding its undesirable reputation, name gathering is very, very common. It is not unusual at all, especially in the realm of online family trees. The hallmark of the name gatherer is a pedigree back to Charlemagne or even Adam. This fact is usually bragged about with pride as if this were a laudable goal.

Name gathering is commonly defined as the process of finding additions to a pedigree based on little or no evidence other that individuals with the same or very similar names. The practice also involves copying or incorporating entire pedigrees with very little or no documentation or sources. Defined most inclusively, genealogical sources are documents created at or near the time of an event that provide information about an ancestor's involvement. For example, a birth certificate is a document that is usually considered to be a source. Of course, there are a huge number of additional considerations concerning evaluating source documents for consistency, accuracy and pertinence.

In some cases, name gathering becomes an end in itself and the name gatherers spend all their time amassing huge files of a 100,000 individuals or more. That is not to say that conscientious researchers cannot amass a huge file, but any pedigree that is created without reliable and accessible sources is subject to suspicion.

Name gatherers can be insidious, gathering names from relatives, books, and other places in addition to copying online family trees. It is not the process of adding names that is the problem, it is adding them without any substantiation whatsoever. Unfortunately, this practice is not limited to newly minted genealogists, it is very often found in those with a long time habit. One way name gatherers work is to add anyone with the same surname from the same general location as an existing ancestor. They do this under the assumption that anyone with the same surname from a small town or area was likely related.

Very infrequently, a name gatherer realizes the limitations of what they are accomplishing and how misleading their information may be and decides to do some research to see whether or not what they have accumulated is reasonable or not. This change is very difficult for a confirmed name gatherer because it may involve severely pruning their family tree.

Competent research genealogy is the antithesis of name gathering. A good genealogist would not add a new family member to their pedigree without a substantiating reliable source and even with a source there would be other considerations heretofore unmentioned. I have never been too successful in converting a dedicated name gatherer into a source-centric researcher. Usually, if they realize the futility of what they are doing, they are devastated and abandon genealogy altogether.

Genealogical research involves the research cycle, but also presupposes that names and events are not added to a family without specific documentation or reasoned analysis. Application of the Genealogical Proof Standard usually eradicates the problem.

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