Introduction to Red Book: Conclusion
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This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
The challenge in genealogical research is the complexity and depth of the problem. It is somewhat like piecing together a multi-layered jigsaw puzzle. One’s own resistance to finding out about the past can impede progress, but this resistance can be overcome.
Somehow we feel that others must have known more than we do, and consequently, all that has been found is all that can be found. People who have spent years researching a family line will often tell stories about how they “happened” upon information. It probably was just as much skill as accident. We all are capable of acquiring some of that skill. It is like trying to understand your car. Maybe you never will be a mechanic who is expert in fixing a car or an engineer who can design one, but everyone can be capable of having a meaningful discussion about one.
Genealogical research is like that. Even if you never become a professional genealogist, you can acquire many skills in order to construct a good research strategy, solve many problems, and have a good working relationship with any professional with whom you consult in problem solving.
There are numerous guides to help overcome the concern about not knowing enough. Among the most valuable are the following:
- Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, eds. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. rev. ed. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, Inc., 1997.
- Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. 3d ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000.
- Jacobus, Donald Lines. Genealogy as Pastime and Profession. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1978.
- Mills, Elizabeth S. Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001.
- Stratton, Eugene A. Applied Genealogy. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1988.
- Stevenson, Noel. Genealogical Evidence: A Guide to Standards of Proof Relating to Pedigrees, Ancestry, Heirship and Family History. Rev. ed. Laguna Hills, Calif.: Aegean Park Press, 1989.
The process of research requires documentation of sources. A standard format used for documenting family relationships is presented in Elizabeth S. Mills, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000).
Another type of resistance we may feel in approaching our genealogy has to do with concern about what will be discovered—those “skeletons in the closet.” We all have them. We all descend from a very diverse group of people. No one has a “perfect” ancestry any more than we have “perfect” parents. Each of our ancestors probably did the best that he or she could, frequently under extremely difficult circumstances. We all have divorces, illegitimacies, felons, adulterers, dissenters, persecutors, rich, poor, Democrats, Republicans, religious zealots, and dissenters, and people from diverse ethnic or racial groups in our backgrounds. We all have ancestors who perished in or survived unfavorable odds—slavery, crossing the ocean, leaving the “known” and journeying into the “unknown,” loss of income, childbirth, successive deaths, disease, plagues, droughts, disasters. We are all both ordinary and special.
One of the most pleasurable rewards of genealogy is sharing and celebrating what you have done and learned with others—whether it is at a national or local conference, with a professional, or with other family members. Searching for roots can establish a clear understanding of the past in order to provide tethers as we approach an even more rapid-paced future.