HomeThoughts and MusingsWondering Wednesday: Of Collaboration and Cliff’s Notes

I’m just gonna say it: I probably don’t want to collaborate with you. Not even after a few drinks. Don’t be upset – it’s me, not you, but thanks for the invitation.

As most who know me and/or have read my blog will attest, I’m not exactly a high-and-mighty sort of guy. I’m not a lofty genealogical idealist that scoffs at the work of everyone that is not me. I don’t require a credentials check before engaging in genealogical exchanges. It’s not that I don’t think that your work is inaccurate. It’s just that I find running around looking at every family tree megasite, uploading here, downloading there, comparing, swapping, trading them with your friends –  to be a fairly unsatisfying (and often frustrating) activity.

I know, I know, “But Chris, think of all the time you could save by finding information on these trees. All you need to do is go back and verify that information rather than research from scratch.” Yeah, okay.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument,  that a particular family tree is correct and well-documented. So are Cliff Notes. I’d rather read the book and sort it out for myself – even if I don’t understand it the first time through, even if you can read the notes in ten minutes and it takes me ten weeks to get through the book. I know plenty of people who used Cliff’s Notes. I don’t know many people who used Cliff’s Notes and then actually read the book afterwards, other than maybe to pick out the required number of quotes for their paper. I think the same is true about online/shared/collaborative family trees. Most people will never go back to the original documents to see if what they have is accurate.

Now let’s assume that someone actually DID go back and read the book after they’ve read the Cliff’s Notes. I can respect that approach. People want to understand, people want to save time, and there’s no denying that people also want things to be easier. However, how much of what they’ve read is influenced in some way (or every way) by what the Cliff Note’s told them? Are they reading and interpreting on their own, or are they simply looking to show themselves that they can see the Cliff’s Note’s points? Again, I’m not casting anyone in a negative light – this is purely my preference in how I do things. I don’t want my experience to be influenced by outside ideas. I want to read and interpret the work with as little outside coloration as possible. With regard to research, shouldn’t the same be even more true? I would be willing to bet that most of us have, at one time or another, missed clues in documents because we thought we were looking for something else. That subtle hint a document gave us simply passed under the radar until years later when we picked it up again with fresh eyes.

So have I used Cliff’s Notes, or their genealogical equivalent? Absolutely. I had at least one major break through using an online family tree at Ancestry. My preference is to work through things, draw my own conclusions, and hopefully arrive at specific questions I was unable to answer on my own.  At that point, I have a reasonable base to better judge what I see or read. Of course, if you really like Cliff’s Notes, you would use a similar argument to justify why you might read the notes first. But those thoughts and conclusions are someone else’s, and wouldn’t you rather start with your own conclusions before turning to the conclusions of others?

If no one put their information online, then there would be no genealogical Cliff Note’s. From that standpoint, I advocate putting your research online and sharing it. Unlike some, I don’t believe that the greatest advantage of the internet is collaboration – I think it is access to information at a click of button (okay, a couple buttons). I don’t want my data merged with others. I don’t want people to typing their info into my database, either. But I do want to be able to access their data, and they, mine if need be. There’s not one big book of Cliff’s Notes that contain every guide for every book ever written. You just go find the little one that has your book of interest. I think user-submitted trees should be the same way.

Cliff’s Notes for this post:

  • Chris thinks you should research first, then look at the user-submitted trees if needed.
  • One school of thought states that Chris doesn’t like megatree sites. Other schools of thought claim Chris doesn’t mind that the trees are there, but just aren’t for him.



Wondering Wednesday: Of Collaboration and Cliff’s Notes — 3 Comments

  1. To each their own and you have a good point. I spent more than twenty hours over the last week tracking down the sources I needed to prove a theory I had. I could have cut that down to five or six if I’d had read all of the message board posts about the family and the research that had already been done first. But I’m pleased with myself for having found all the documentation and getting it added to my tree for others to find.

    On the other hand, there is nothing like the thrill of opening my email in the morning to find a notification from Ancestry.com that a cousin has added photos or documents to my tree! I love that they can add to my tree and I can add to theirs.