Today I was cleaning out an old box of genealogical supplies that had been stashed away in an obscure corner. In it I came across a container of typing correction paper from 1976! (For those too young to remember this product, it was a modern miracle in its time to correct errors when using a typewriter.) It made me smile as it brought back memories of typing out the old, long form family group sheets and pedigree charts. One by one I would type them, number each, and then cross reference the group sheets to the pedigree charts. I would file the pedigree charts numerically and the family group sheets alphabetically. My photographs were miniscule in size and glued to a pedigree chart. It was satisfying to watch my bookshelf fill with binder after binder of data.
Though I enjoyed that minute of nostalgia, I am so grateful to say…wow, have things changed in the genealogical world since then! How lucky we are to live in a time where we have access to so much information and so many ways in which to organize and share it. 30+ years ago I never thought it would be possible to access vast databases of digitized images of original sources from home, or to imagine the ease of organizing data in genealogical software, or networking via sites such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.
How we access information has changed. However, one thing that has remained constant is the need to follow good genealogical research procedures. This is especially true when researching via online databases. Professor Thomas Jones said: “There is no question the Internet is highly useful to genealogists, but the extremely high proportion of erroneous information resulting from poor research habits, including over-reliance on online data, should caution us about its use. Just as we should verify any genealogical source by comparing its data to that from independent sources, we should subject online information to verification and corroboration with original sources before we accept it. Any source can be wrong (sometimes intentionally). Without verification, we have no way of knowing whether an uncorroborated source is giving us right or wrong information. We also need to continually engage in a process of analyzing all our findings, failed searches, and assumptions to avoid unsound reasoning and accepting false data.” (In Sallyann Amdur Sack-Pikus “Contemporary Topics in Genealogy: A Conversation with Professor Thomas Jones,” The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, Avotaynu Winter 2009, Volume XXV, Number 4, page 5.)
Luckily there are many resources available to help us increase our skills and to help us avoid research pitfalls. I highly recommend the online training video Inferential Genealogy by Professor Thomas Jones located on the FamilySearch Wiki. This Wiki also contains many articles regarding general research procedures and also research articles particular to a specific country or region.
Unlike the old typing correction paper, remembering to use good basic research procedures and verifying our data using the Genealogical Proof Standard will never go out of style. At the same time, relying only on past skills will not allow us to keep up with the fast changing world of genealogy. As with everything else we do as genealogists, we need to remember to keep one foot in the past as we learn in the present to help create the future.