There are many aspects of the umbrella term "research." Research can be directed at finding out about things we do not know and have yet to be discovered or research can investigate information about our past. Basically, the word "research" is polysemous, i.e. it has more than one meaning.
From time to time, I have written about this subject on my other blog, Genealogy's Star, but it has been some time since I have written directly about this particular subject here. Since this blog is specifically aimed at treating genealogy and genealogical research from the point of view of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereinafter referred to as "the Church"), I think there are some aspects of genealogical research from an LDS viewpoint that should be considered.
It might be a good idea to remind my readers of my Disclosures and Disclaimers that reside on a tab at the top of the title to this blog.
Now back to the concept of research. Genealogy is a narrow branch of history. As I have noted previously, genealogical research consists primarily of identifying information about people who lived in the past from historical records. This is in contrast to "scientific" research that has as its main objective discovering things about the physical world that are not yet known. Genealogical research assumes that the information being sought was recorded at some time and place and that by following a certain methodology, this historical information can be "discovered." But the doctine of the Church expands on this viewpoint.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 88, we are admonished as follows:
118 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.According to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead” (History of the Church, 6:313). Because of this statement and many others, the Church has become extensively involved in genealogy (family history). So the question that immediately arises, is how is this "seeking after our dead" accomplished? It is evident from the first quote that the process involves both study (I would say research) and by faith. Essentially, we go to the record books of the world and find our ancestors "by study and also by faith."
In this regard, the statement in the Bible in James 2:20 that states, in part, "that faith without works is dead." So we have to work, i.e. do the research, and exercise our faith. Evidently, the idea of doing genealogical research from this perspective is fundamentally different from what is commonly thought of as research. This idea is expressed by President James E. Faust (1920-2007) of the First Presidency who stated:
The process of finding our ancestors one by one can be challenging but also exciting and rewarding. We often feel spiritual guidance as we go to the sources that identify them. Because this is a very spiritual work, we can expect help from the other side of the veil. We feel a pull from our relatives who are waiting for us to find them so their ordinance work can be done” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2003, 59; or Ensign, Nov. 2003, 55).As President Faust stated, this process of finding our ancestors one by one can be challenging. But as members of the Church, we cannot assume that we can skip the "study" part of the process. We have a duty to learn how to do the research as well as a duty to do the research.
In today's world, the process of doing genealogical research has been rapidly evolving from the traditional methodology. Powerful computers using online digitized records and global search engines such as Google are revolutionizing research in general and despite the resistance from "traditional" genealogists, genealogical research is also being swept up in the changes.
One of the ways I have personally been involved in helping people understand genealogical research as it is done today on computers is to help with The Family History Guide. This website is starting to play a major part in helping to educate and train people how to do genealogical research. Of course, there are many other websites and resources for learning about how to do genealogical research, but right now, this is the most effective way I have found.