Why Ancestors In the Attic teaches bad genealogy

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I've been watching the "Ancestors In The Attic" show for a few weeks now and while some of the research scenarios are quite touching, I am highly disappointed in the research methodology and tactics being taught.

For a couple of weeks now the online version of the International Genealogical Index (IGI) has been used to piece together 3/4/5 generations of a family. The IGI can be quite useful when the records referred to are extractions as opposed to patron submissions (although these have their value too), although frequently records are incorrectly transcribed. As with any index you need to consult the original records to check for errors and, often where there is a lot of people in one area or parish with the same surname, use other corroborating evidence to check that it is the same person or family (address, witnesses, occupations). Yet none of this is mentioned when genealogy expert Paul McGrath puts together entire family trees using this tool.

In addition he even seems to fail to understand what this database actually is as he tells the audience it is a database of births and marriages, when in fact it is a database of people having had LDS temple ordinances performed for them and as part of the identification process, christening NOT birth, marriage, burial NOT death events have been recorded (included extracted from original records around the world). It is not complete for any geographic location but is substantially complete for Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Another thing that concerns me about this show is how the experts fly to the geographic location in question or visit an archive in person. Do none of these archives have a telephone? What about address or web site?

And I guess none of these archives have had their records microfilmed by the LDS church so they aren't available through the 3000 or so family history centers worldwide.

I can't fathom some of the conclusions being offered on the show. This week Paul McGrath concluded that because two people had the same MacAdam surname, lived 13km apart, one generation apart, that they MUST be related. Not could be, may be, probably were, but ARE related. He told the woman in question that she was a descendant of this famous person when in fact there was no supporting evidence just a common surname and locale. Amazing!

Over the past 8 years or so of working in family history centers, I have seen lots of questionable research by patrons. And while it is commendable to try to encourage genealolgical research using the mass medium of TV we have to make sure that the research being performed as a result is held to the same standards of evidence as that used by the rest of the genealogical community. If we don't, these people might be claiming ancestors that don't actually belong to them.

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