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Two dimensions are better than one?

Discussion in 'Comments on the latest newsletter' started by Pauline, Dec 29, 2019.

  1. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Superstar

    In the odd moments between visiting, visitors and over-indulging, I've been puzzling about this item in the Christmas Day newsletter, and wondering if I am misunderstanding it. You seem to be suggesting, Peter, that people who focus on researching their direct line (what you term a one-dimensional approach) are more susceptible to the kind of pitfalls exampled.

    Am I reading this correctly? Because if so, I'm afraid I don't understand the logic behind this.
  2. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    My argument - supported by experience - is that single-mindedly focusing on direct ancestors and ignoring their brothers and sisters (and families of the same name living nearby) greatly increases the chances of making mistakes.

    Several of my distant cousins have identified their ancestors incorrectly because they made this error - and as a result they came up with plausible, but incorrect answers. Fortunately for them I was able to point out where they had gone wrong, but it would have been far better if they hadn't made the mistake in the first place - after all, there won't always be someone like me who can put them right.

    Does that help?
    • Thanks! Thanks! x 1
  3. Britjan

    Britjan LostCousins Star

    I wouldn't have met online distant cousins and visited some with whom I'm still in contact if I hadn't taken the broader approach. Sadly one has since passed away and one has a husband I never met as he was in ill-health for many years. In some cases we still agree to disagree on pre 1841 information particularly as some relates to cousins with the same surname who married.
  4. Bryman

    Bryman LostCousins Megastar

    This can be a major problem for many of us, especially when forenames are also similar and they live close to one another. That is where LC matches can help to get alternative views and possibly additional documentary evidence to help. Fortunately, when researching backwards in time, such lines usually combine within a generation or two so even if the 'wrong' individual is chosen, the identification of earlier ancestors may not be invalid.
  5. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Even 1st cousins only share half of their ancestors, so at most the problem is only half-solved.
  6. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Superstar

    Yes, thank you, it helps clarify what I thought you were saying.

    I guess my puzzlement is because I haven't ever associated this type of error with a particular focus or scope in researching, more as something that might arise from inexperience, or in a more experienced researcher, from slack techniques. Folk with "two dimensional" trees seem to me equally likely to fall into the trap of picking the wrong baptisms or failing to realise an ancestor was already widowed when they married etc.

    In a pre-internet age, when it was more usual for researchers to focus primarily on going backwards rather than sideways (though rarely to the extent of excluding siblings), it was perhaps those who used only the IGI (as opposed to consulting original records) who were seen as being more susceptible to this kind of pitfall.

    Maybe the equivalent today is those who primarily rely on online indexes and other people's online trees without ever checking things out properly for themselves?
  7. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Of course, anyone can make a mistake, but people who research families rather than focusing on their direct line are going to make fewer errors on their direct line. Whether experience is a factor depends on what you mean by experience. Someone can have been researching their family tree for decades without acquiring much experience - experience isn't about time served, it's about learning from mistakes, learning from others, learning from doing, and learning by experimenting.

    If anything it's the people who have been researching the longest who are most likely to have bad habits, or (to put it more kindly) habits they acquired in the pre-Internet days when many things took a hundred times longer than they do today, and some things were virtually impossible.

    Fortunately I read a good book when I started - so, even though I began my research at the tail-end of the dark ages, I developed good (though not perfect) habits and sound strategies.
    That's a different problem. Both involve a lack of attention to detail, but people who depend heavily on other peoples' trees are rarely one-dimensional in their approach, and it's rare for me to come across a LostCousins member who relies on other peoples' trees, for the simple reason that those sort of people rarely join LostCousins (or if they do, they don't participate).

    By contrast, there are far too many LostCousins members who are one-dimensional in their approach - otherwise I wouldn't have written that article. Indeed there are some who are only researching one or two of their family lines, and are only interested in finding living cousins who bear one of those two surnames (and amazingly, some of those researchers are women - so much for equality).
  8. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Superstar

    I'm not sure I follow the logic in that, but perhaps it depends what you mean by researching families rather than focusing on the direct line. I would say I focus primarily on my direct line, but for me that includes siblings of ancestors. In general the scope of my tree is my ancestors, all their spouses, all their children and all their siblings (and the spouses of all of those) but not nieces and nephews etc - maybe you would call that researching families?
    Agreed, but not learning from our mistakes and from peers, and not refining our technique over time, is partly what I meant when I referred to 'slack technique'.
    'Ancestral Trails' is one of many such books on my family history shelves, and I agree, a very useful one to have - it's one of the books I consult regularly, though it wasn't available when I was starting out.
    I guess it's each to their own. I have done some extended research into a few of the more unusual surnames in my ancestry, but not to the exclusion of all the others. And overall I am more interested in going backwards than sideways, while others I've come across are not particularly interested in going very far back and prefer to search more widely in more recent times.

    Ultimately I feel it's not what we do that matters but how we do it.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  9. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    I just think it's wrong to talk about experienced researchers having 'slack technique'.
    For me it's hard to imagine not being motivated to get back ever further on as many lines as possible. I can't stand people who say "I've finished the family tree" as if it was a jigsaw or a crossword puzzle. I'm sure they're very nice people, but I find it hard to understand how they can be so incurious about what came before.

    Researching sideways is part of understanding the context in which our ancestors lived their lives. But more importantly it can provide valuable clues that will help with our direct line - the story I didn't include in my article was about the Keehner cousins who came up against a 'brick wall' because they didn't research sideways. The clue was in the will of their 3G grandmother's brother-in-law, but because their approach was one-dimensional they didn't even know she was their ancestor.
    Personally I think they both matter. What we do is so much more than a pastime, we're creating a legacy - even those of us who don't have children of our own.
  10. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Superstar

    I agree, but clearly not everyone feels the same.
    A fairly standard approach is - "if you can't go backwards try going sideways". But nevertheless it isn't always necessary to research sideways in order to go backwards so long as you take a broad view as to the records you investigate. Some people rarely look for wills or land records, for example, but both can be invaluable in identifying family relationships, particularly when registers and BTs are lacking. And even those who do look may only check for known surnames when a broader location search may be the key to finding the information needed.
    I have mixed feelings about that. In one sense we are creating a legacy but the reality is it may be an unwanted one. In a fairly recent SoG magazine, professional genealogist Michael Gandy wrote "We find it hard to accept that genealogy is just a hobby. .... One day we shall go to our reward and leave it all behind us. At that point our fascinating files just become a disposal problem. ..... Having it on the computer just makes it easier to ignore ...."

    Of course, most of us are more than willing to share our research with others, but I guess that ultimately our main motivation for researching is simply that we enjoy doing it.
  11. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    That's a very cynical point of view - you can tell he's not a LostCousins member. I suspect he's trying to encourage readers to donate their research to the SoG.
    Well, I can't say I enjoy doing it - it's such a solitary occupation that for me it's more like work, than pleasure. It's like being a detective - most of what we do is tedious, scanning through mostly boring data looking for evidence that's relevant (or might be relevant in the future).

    The excitement comes when we make a discovery, and the sense of achievement comes when we pull together information from diverse sources to create a narrative that explains something about our ancestors that wasn't obvious before. But the high spots can be few and far between.

    I have benefited from the research done by deceased cousins who I never knew, simply because they shared it with cousins who I came across decades later. So why shouldn't my own research benefit others in the same way?
  12. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Superstar

    Possibly, but I think the main purpose of the article was about how to present your family history in a way that non-genealogists will more likely want to keep. I thought his reminder about genealogy being just a hobby helped put things in perspective.
    I'm not quite sure what to say to that - only that if I didn't enjoy it I wouldn't do it. I love the thrill of the chase and the only thing I'm a bit less enthusiastic about is the record keeping, so I keep that to the minimum necessary.
    Yes, those Eureka moments. I think they are one thing that was better when researching in the dark ages - nothing like the high from a breakthrough following months or years of searching. Someone once suggested that all record offices should have a Eureka room where you could jump up and down and shout 'yippee' without disturbing other researchers!
    There's every chance someone will benefit from it, I just feel we shouldn't necessarily expect someone to or make that our motivation. I am always delighted if someone is interested in my research but that is not why I do it.
  13. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Superstar

    Quite a fascinating discussion and I find myself carefully treading between the various aspects of the debate I have read so far.

    I start off by saying I am NOT a one-dimensional researcher, not in any sense. I may have started with a direct line approach, moving backwards as and when I could, but the real interest came after choosing to move sideways to see what brothers and sisters (and yes nephews and nieces) made of their lives. I tell family the Family Tree consists of trunk, branches & twigs, and if they look hard enough they will find a fair few leaves.

    I agree with Peter when he says it is wrong to talk about experienced researchers having ‘slack’ techniques. Techniques vary according to experience and the mind-set of the individual. It is not always necessary to scrape the bottom of a barrel to be absolutely, absolutely - did I say absolutely - sure of something. But, on the other hand when further, and often sideways research, does uncover an error, it is time to admit you could have dug deeper. At the risk of repeating one of my own ‘saws’ …if it has the trunk of an elephant, the tusks and feet of an elephant, chances are it is an elephant.

    I want to comment on reliance on other Ancestry Trees which tend to get a poor press, particularly with Public Trees. I maintain, and will not be swayed, that it takes little ‘nous’ to sort the ‘pretenders’ from the ‘real’. If experience counts for anything (and it should) then it takes seconds (literally) to determine quality. Sometimes on a particular line of research none pass muster, but then I come across those that show merit which I probe in more depth and (if necessary) message the owner. Time and again such Trees act as steppingstones and open up new lines of research, one of the reasons I am a great advocate of Ancestry and its Trees (and DNA is the icing on the cake).

    Finally, to ponder on whether I actually enjoy researching my Tree. My thoughts closely mirror Peter’s (and no doubt many others). ‘No’ because sometime it is boring, repetitive and mind numbingly tedious, and ‘Yes’ when that epiphany moment arrives and the research sun shines. Then it is all worthwhile.
  14. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    You're not deprived of those moments - only about half of English parish registers are online.

    But I can find it just as exciting when I knock down a 'brick wall' using the Internet, or DNA - it's the length of time that a 'brick wall' has been blocking my path that is the main determinant. Most of the 'brick walls' I've knocked down recently have involved a decade or more of conventional research. but there is a limit to how much time I'm prepared to spend peering at microfilm. There are over 500 parishes in each of the counties where my ancestors came from - and I'm never going to search all of them. Even if I did, there might be nothing to find.
  15. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Superstar

    No, and of course I do still have them, but some of the best I can remember were back in the 1990s (before I was internet enabled), possibly because they were from long-standing brick walls and in my near ancestry.
    Yes, sometimes it's apparent that we may be on to a loser, and might do better diverting our energies elsewhere.
  16. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Usually it's only apparent after we've spent tens or hundreds of hours searching. Several of my 'brick walls' date back to me first year of research - and of course, they're the ones which are the ones I'd most likely to solve.
  17. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Thinking about it, researching our family tree is a bit like gardening. A lot of what we do is hard work and quite boring, but we do it because the only alternative is to pay someone else to do it on our behalf. And as with gardening, we have to do the right things at the right time to get the best results.
  18. canadianbeth

    canadianbeth LostCousins Member

    I spent hundreds of hours searching for my Dad's family, only to find out that the names I was given were incorrect. DNA did help with my grandmother, but so far the "brick wall" for my grandfather is still very much there. Those to whom I have written have not bothered to reply. Every name I have added to my ancestors at LC has been linked to either my mother or my paternal grandmother, and the latest ones that I added the other day had no matches. I have been working on the "sideways" folks for my maternal branch; those were the ones I added the other day. I am becoming very discouraged, however.
  19. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    If the relatives you entered from the 1881 England & Wales census the odds of an immediate match are better than 1 in 15. But even if you don't find a cousin today, the entries will count double in the New Year competition.

    I find it helps to keep an eye on my Match Potential - as long as this is going up I know I'm going in the right direction.
  20. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Superstar

    Or we can just not do it! We're not under any obligation to research our family history.

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