Catch-22s

Alicia Crane WilliamsYikes! Just as I was starting to write this post following-up on the discussion engendered by my penultimate post, I learned that I made an egregious (and embarrassing) mistake regarding Mayflower passengers in the sketch on Samuel Maverick – I made the mother of Rebecca Allerton, who married Sam’s brother Moses Maverick, her step-mother, Fear (Allerton) Brewster. This is the second time I’ve done something like this – the first was back in the beginning of the project when I made Samuel Fuller’s uncle his father. After forty years of working with Mayflower families, I used to know all of this like the back of my hand, but the backs of my hands these days are getting wrinkly and veiny, and clearly the back of my mind has had to shed some information to make room for all the new material coming in from the Early New England Families Study Project. I just have to remember to remember that.

This sort of leads us back to where I left off last time – suggesting that genealogists not wait for someone else to finish the Great Migration or Early New England families or their family genealogy. Yes, a generation of academic genealogists has been working relentlessly toward creating a professional model of genealogical research. The good part of this is that we have a lot of very good genealogists following approved methodologies and creating new and improved genealogies all the time.

The Catch-22 part is the tendency to anoint “professional” genealogists as experts to the extent that everyone else stands back and waits for them to do everything. New researchers can see the complexities of compiling genealogies under these high standards, so it is logical for them to think that there is some magical point of experience one must attain before one is even allowed to compile a genealogy, much less publish it, but if you don’t practice, how do you learn to play the instrument?

Just do it and stop worrying about getting it perfect the first time. You will learn. Don’t let anyone dissuade you from trying just because they want it done precisely this way or that. Do be conscientious about learning best practices, good methodologies and clear presentation. Then find ways to share and compare – blogs, websites, the bulletin board at your cat clinic, whatever.

Think of it this way. With tens of thousands of families in need of good, solid genealogical treatment, if you don’t do it, it may never get done.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia is the lead genealogist on the new NEHGS study project, Early New England Families, 1641-1700. Prior to joining the NEHGS staff, she compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant, the Alden Family Five Generations project, and the Harlow Family : Descendants of Sgt. William Harlow (1624/5-1691) of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University. In October 2016, Alicia was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists.

26 thoughts on “Catch-22s

  1. Thanks to your wonderful posts about genealogical writing, you’ve made me give serious thought to starting on writing my paternal family history. That thought got a boost by my local county historical society when I was there recently doing some research for a distant cousin’s DAR application. After at least a half hour of deflecting suggestions by saying “no, he belongs to this line and he’s buried there” and “no, she’s married to THIS George, the uncle and they are buried here” the volunteer said “I don’t think anyone knows this family as well as you do, we’d love to have a detailed family history and you should write it”. It’s a huge family, and I become overwhelmed with where to start. I’ve bought good books on writing and citing. I will take your advice and just start at the beginning and write. Please don’t stop posting encouragement to those of us who are not quite professional, but have been our own family genealogists for a long time. I know I certainly appreciate it!

    1. Maria, good for you. And remember that you don’t have to do anything in any particular “order.” I suggests starting with the parts that are most interesting. Whenever you get bogged down it will be because you are getting bored, so let yourself switch around to keep up the “excitement.”

  2. You are forgiven, having done family history, genealogy since the 1970s, I have become so unsure sometimes that I never do anything without checking my program and paperwork so I always warn family that off the top of my head I cannot give any information first and tell them I am always open to correction as well. It gets to me sometimes that my memory isn’t as good as it used to be:) But have to own up to it for sure:)

    1. A wonderful thought, I had a Boss once who made a similar comment when I would make a mistake. “If you aren’t doing anything you won’t make mistakes” In fact he was my first Boss and a good one! Very encouraging!

  3. I so enjoy your articles and especially the one today. About twenty five years ago I received a package in the mail with about 10 ancestor forms of my mothers family. I then worked diligently to put all on word processor-typewriter. Filling in holes by trips to the library adding people where the charts left off. Became bold when my husband was given a computer and finally found a web site that I could express my joy at finding someone who listened to my rambling about my ancestors. Well I made an error, mostly because I did not stop to check my research, but just typing away from memory. The reply to that email was not pretty and I have never been that bold since. I enjoy the articles and read them over an over. I am and have been a DAR Member. My Revolutionary Soldier is Daniel Northup from Rhode Island. Love, love this family who was sooo courageous.

    1. Ellen, Yes, it can be cut throat out there when one makes a mistake, or when somebody thinks you have. Not fun, but it does reflect how passionate genealogists are. We all tend to get caught up at times but just need to remember that most of the chatter is meant to be helpful, although one often wants to tell some people to stop helping!

  4. You may have stuck a toe off the pedestal but no one is exempt from mistakes; the only problem comes when we can’t or won’t admit it.. trudge on through that pile of sketches and we’ll try to put our stuff on paper too!

  5. Thanks for your posts. They give me energy to move forward with my own family history project. I hope you will eventually write about the progenitor of my family, James Langley, but with his marriage one of the latest [ca 1700] to appear in Torrey’s book, it will not happen anytime soon. So I have decided to strike out on my own to see if some clues I’ve unearthed, including DNA, will guide me in finding his origins. I too encourage others to write their history, it’s the best of family gifts.

  6. I am at a kind of stepping off point. I am beginning to feel comfortable enough with my research and analysis skills that I WANT to write some of it up to share! Posts like yours make it easier to put it out there. I have been leery because so much of what I inherited was so poorly done, and I want what I put out to be accurate and documented enough that the next generation or other researchers feel they can rely on it. My work is slow, as it is not possible for me to travel much. But the other day, I was analyzing the half a dozen 1940 census sheets for a small mining community where my widowed grandmother lived at the time as a domestic, augmenting it with maps and historical details, and with info about my grandmother’s life. Somewhere there is a photo of her taken about that time. I realized I had just put together a story about the community that reflected my grandmother at a point in time, in transition. Not sure I’d publish this one right now, but members of my family will appreciate it. I find that when I write up research notes, they often take on this shape. This is my kind of genealogy. Time for me to step out! Thanks for your example, Alicia.

      1. Alicia, thanks so much for your encouragement. When I get it to the point I’m ready to share with family, I’ll add citations and send it to you, as well. My computer is barely speaking to me right now (I’m doing a major backup right now, and typing this on my tiny tab), so not soon!

    1. It is in the research, so when letting others know, just add where you found it. Then they can look it up for themselves. If something doesn’t look right seems as if it isn’t too hard to go back myself to see where I made a mistake or not. Doesn’t bother me to source where I found something, especially to family freely. Next generations can then go to it if they are interested. Or look up other sources. There is never an end to materials that can be located. Certainly I don’t have them all. A Family Bible turns up, something else is found in a Census I didn’t find, etc. That’s what keeps it fun to me anyway. I was lucky to have lots of photos my maternal Grandmother had labeled. She labeled one couple wrong in a formal photographers photo. When I shared it, a cousin said it was her Grandparents. I was glad to have that correction. But will say My Grandmother wasn’t wrong very many times and am thankful she labeled as many as she did:) She just had this couple part of her own line, but it was part of her husband’s line, (My Grandfathers side) it got me a connection with the cousin in my own generation for which I was happy…..

  7. Thanks for owning up to a mistake. So many take umbrage when a mistake in their research is pointed out…often ridiculous, glaring mistakes even. It is refreshing to see someone acknowledge and FIX their error. Many will not, even in the face of irrefutable evidence. That is rather bizarre if you ask me…why do people want to claim ancestors that are not their own?

    1. Carol, because they THINK they are their own ancestors and don’t want to give it up. When I edited the Mayflower Descendant I had a regular section of errata and addenda. One day one of our Board members asked me why I made so many mistakes in the magazine. I told him I made no more than anyone else, they just didn’t admit it.

  8. I descend from Mary ALLERTON. Though I haven’t done primary research, Mary’s sister is named Remember in many places. You say her name was Rebecca, and I now see references to that effect. Were Remember and Rebecca interchangeable names? I’m confused!

  9. I look forward to your articles & read every word & certainly won’t ask you to do my taxes. I really appreciate your admitting the very few errors you make. It allows me to be more comfortable to know those wiser than me sometimes have a slip of the key on the computer or a lapse of memory. At 82 that happens more often than it used to but I keep trying. Genealogy is a way of life for me which I treasure. Your articles help me continue to discover new & helpful ways of research. Bless you!

    1. Loved your comment here Barbara, I’m with you on Thanks for these articles and am right behind you on the age thing by a year:)

Leave a Reply