The only right answer is “It depends!” For me, it depends on what I am writing and who is my audience.
I used to think that making good genealogy reports was only a function of the computer program I bought. I now think differently.
I had always believed (and still do) that the computer program is for storing evidence about my ancestors and their descendants. This evidence is the result of the compilation of information that has been analyzed by me and connections/relationships have been identified and recorded. I used to believe that if I just worked the information cleanly enough then I could “punch a button” and out would come a really good report I could use in all situations. I was wrong. The information is sterile; the stories are repetitive….this doesn’t make them bad, but they are just not acceptable in all situations such as the books I write or for the requirements of certification. I also admit that my requirements have changed over time; I never started doing genealogy because I wanted to write the family book or get certified!
I am now careful about when I use what is “canned” in the computer.
This is what I do: while I gather the data I try to think of the good “stories” that each person could tell. Is there anything unusual, such as a very young or old person getting married? …a solo emigration at a young age? …anything odd about the timing of children (my grandfather was a “1 day baby”….his parents married the day before he was born! It was a miracle!)? Or, did they work outside the parish frequently? Did their parents die when they were young? All events tell you something about their lives. Because I am an architect, I also think that our physical environment shapes us, so I ask questions about the land and how it might have influenced decision making. Lacking our ancestors direct communication, we have only our own analytical abilities to rely upon. These questions can sometimes be answered by looking very closely at the “public” information provided.
Let me give you an example of information you can gather which is a great story:
- the Christmas Day Flood in 1717 struck the entire North Sea coast of Holland, Denmark and Germany and affected all families living in it’s path.
- this is documented in a beautiful map (see below)
- Also in 1719, to pay for the improvements to the Ostfriesen dike, the officials conducted a tax census and counted households.
- All my mother’s ancestors were within the flood zone.
- I have over 80 identified family members who are survivors of this flood
In my computer program, I can create a tag that allows me to link people to the flood and tax census events. But, the repetitiveness of that story for each person is mind numbing and implies that each had the same experience. If you look closely at the map, one can see that those closer to the dike break had a different experience than those further away and others ended up with a ship in their backyard! It’s a great story and it’s all on the map or in the census! If I were to use just the computer program’s suggested language it would tell the same story for all but not a true story.
When I wrote books on two of my immigrant families, Bengt Peter Anderson and Ryke Rykena and their families (http://www.lulu.com). I quickly found that I was using the information stored in the database but very little of it was “canned” from the computer, the notable exceptions were the pedigree charts and family group sheets at the end. Of course, I could have written it differently, but I wanted the books to be for a family audience not the NGS, BCG and not even other genealogists. I also knew that the more graphic rather than narrative information I could include, the better the book. This approach would not be suitable for the types of reports needed for BCG. For certification, the format of these reports is so prescribed, it takes me less time to rewrite then it does to use the “canned” report and modify. (I admit that because of my internal set up with my MAC, the latter is not even a possibility.) The writing style is better if “fresh,” rather than relying on the repetitiveness of a computer.
How do you work?
What I have done since the last post: Added 500 words to the Dahle lineage report and have the narrative completed. Now to start the footnoting. Worked on my class assignment for the Bibliography. We have to find 15 different sources and annotate them. I have all but 3 or 4. All relate to Dahle’s Civil War service and his stint in the hospitals of Washington DC. Also found some very interesting photos.