Mega-Trees and Mega-Collections

Published September 22, 2011 by Steve Watts #

The pursuit of one’s family history beyond the basic chart of child/parents/grandparents/great grandparents can be a big job. In the past, it was often a lifelong hobby as records tend to be scattered across large areas. The family historian tended to spend time in libraries, writing letters to relatives, churches, governmental organizations, professional genealogists, societies, etc. and planning/going on trips to gather more information. Making connections to other family historians pursuing related family histories, or possessing histories gathered in the past tended to be some of the more rewarding experiences but these connections likely didn’t happen frequently. The goal of these efforts was likely a book and decorated charts illustrating histories that would be passed around or reproduced for a limited number of family members. The result was often quite impressive, especially considering the available tools.

With the advent of computers - and more particularly the Internet - the pursuit of one’s family history is changing dramatically. Records that in the past had to be physically searched for and interpreted are increasingly being made available online (fee and free) in computer/human readable form. The tools to search for them are developing to the point where they come to you with suggestions. You simply search and begin entering your tree, and after you’ve shown the program what you are interested in, the suggestions start popping up. The better tools will also suggest people who are researching similar family histories. They will help you find errors, weaknesses, and even help you determine your plan of action.

Simple, right?! Well, maybe. For the highly motivated, experienced, knowledgeable and technology savvy DIY family historian, the answer is probably yes. These folks can situate themselves to drink from this fast developing technological fire hose to satisfy their needs at pretty much any level. Make no mistake, though - it is a hose that not everyone is inclined to drink from. Accessing these mega-collections of records can be quite rewarding, at least in terms of creating mega-trees. If you are after a mega-tree, then all is good. If not, then you’ll need to think further.

In the end, we all need to decide for ourselves what we’re looking for as the product of our efforts. Hopefully at a minimum we’re looking for a work that we can treasure and share with our family members and friends, and preserve for future generations to treasure, share and improve. As a pursuer of family history, one would be wise to seriously consider making things interesting and entertaining as well - and I don’t mean just for a genealogist. We’ve been particularly surprised in our case just how difficult it is to get people interested in their family history - even when handed to them completed. Perhaps that’s because the attraction is the quest, or perhaps it is because the work is either uninteresting, difficult to understand, overwhelming, or perhaps all of the above.

Tool builders have made efforts to help you with this problem. They build automated charts and summaries to provide interesting facts, and location data, time lines, etc. None of the above changes the fact, however, that it is up to the historian to make the history interesting. As we work with more clients and family members, we are reminded just how important this is and we’ll be focusing proportionate effort on this aspect of the work going forward. It’s not easy and not everyone is interested and entertained by the same thing. We’ll let you know how it goes.