Sunday, September 18, 2011

Data is not Information

Do you think you have much of the data you need for your ancestors? Does your family tree have lots of names and dates? Mine does. In fact, when I look at a five generation chart there are very few blanks. This quick view of my ancestry gave me a false sense of my progress in pursuing my family’s history.

One way to discover where the gaps are is to turn a chart into a narrative. Think of your own life and how you answer the question posed by new friends: “So, tell me about yourself?” The basics – we usually have those – I was born in Brooklyn, New York. I have a younger brother. I was married in Dover, New Jersey. We’ve lived in New Jersey, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. I’m a technology instructor and former business owner. I have passions for photography and genealogy and also like to cook.

These simple, everyday questions and answers for our own lives are the ones we need to be able to answer for our ancestors. These are the building blocks of their lives and our history. We stand on their experiences and decisions. Take a look at one of your grandparents and see if you can “fill in the blanks.”

Hi, I’m Sophia Hoenig from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I’m one of seven children. I have three sisters and three brothers. My youngest brother died when I was fifteen. His name was James. There was also a boy who only lived a week but I never knew him – that was before I was born – that was Thomas. Lewis my oldest brother went on to become an archbishop in the Episcopal Church. I remember visiting him in his home in California after he came back from missionary work in China. That’s where this vase comes from. Anyway…..

See – these are the stories of our ancestor’s lives. The births and deaths, comings and goings of their family members were events that shaped them. So even when you have the dates and names on a chart you don’t have all the information. Try putting the lives in context with a narrative. It may help you understand them better and may expose the gaps in your data. I had never thought about how old my grandmother was when she lost her “favorite” brother. I knew the chart but not the context. Just something to think about. 

Happy Hunting!

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