Using the Compilations of Others
- Newsletter of the BCG
Linda Woodward Geiger, "Using the Compilations
of Others," OnBoard 7 (September 2001): 20-21.
A compilation is the composition of a set of data, generally
collected from several sources. The compilation may take
many forms, including published family histories, research
reports, lineage applications, or regimental histories.
Methods of distributing compilations are many and include
books; CDs, articles in journals; and online sources such
as family histories, and compiled marriage records. With
increasing technology, more and more compilations are available.
But, alas, many recent publications and Internet postings
do not meet current compilation standards.
Compiled sources are very useful for the preliminary survey
of available records for a particular family. However, all
too often individuals do not go beyond the compilation in
an endeavor to get as close to the original record as possible.
Why? Professional genealogists often are walking a tight
rope trying to balance current compilation standards against
the resisted time and/or monetary limitations set by client
commissions. Such restrictions often cause professionals
to rely more heavily on compiled sources than they would
in other circumstances. Beginning genealogists are often
too engrossed in the collection of names without regard
to the cliché that “just because it is in print,
doesn’t make it so.” Some other professions
that also use compilations in their research include historians
and museum curators. They, too, must to apply a healthy
evaluation process to the works they use.
EVALUATE THE COMPILATION
Although it is not always easy, it is extremely important
for us to make a careful evaluation of each compilation
we use. There are certain tests we can apply to assist us
with our evaluation of derivative materials.
- Who is the compiler? What is the person’s reputation?
- Is the compilation clearly written and well organized?
Where applicable, are standard numbering systems used?
- Is the work well documented with appropriate end or
- If the compilation is well documented, what types of
sources were used—Derivative sources, or Primary
sources, or a healthy balance of both?
- Has the compiler done a careful job of gleaning facts
from original documents?
- Does the compiler appear to have conducted an exhaustive
search of available sources?
- Has the work received positive reviews in scholarly
- Does the work appear in lists or announcements of fraudulent
Bad compilations will neglect facts, contain inaccuracies,
and will be poorly documented. One of the most problematic
areas of compiled sources is error of omission. Fon instance,
just because Jane is not listed as the daughter of Frank
and Righteous Compilation, does not mean that she is not
their daughter. Obviously the better compilations will comply
with current standards, but even they need to be treated
with a cautious awareness.
Using good compilations as an initial survey, we are provided
with a base from which we can develop a strategy for additional
investigation. The research plan will be used to seek out
primary sources of value for the particular research project.
There is little question that the most reliable source
of published compilations is scholarly journals such as
NGSQ, TAG, NEHGR, and The
Genealogist. Perhaps the primary reason for this is
the editors. The editors give each manuscript careful consideration
and send the manuscript out for peer review. Few self-published
compilers put their work to the same test. Fortunately a
few compilers have produced work exemplifying extensive,
thorough research, and sound analysis and evaluation. When
such works are well documented, the compilation is of tremendous
value to genealogists and historians.
As certified persons we have the challenge of educating
the public on appropriate evaluation and use of compiled
All genealogists, professional and amateur alike, prepare
compilations of data. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if
all resolved to follow the current compilation standards
as described in the BCG Genealogical Standards Manual?
Potentially, erroneous information is contained in published
genealogies, county histories, genealogical lineages (including
electronic files), and an abundant number of websites.
Yet all of these sources also have the potential to contain
helpful information for our research. When combined with
proper caution to verify the validity of the material, the
use of these sources can be of tremendous value to the researcher.
Connections and clues are often discovered using compilations
of others. We must not, however, forget to follow up the
connections and clues by trying to get as close to the original
records as possible and conducting our own exhaustive research.
Board for Certification of Genealogists. The BCG Genealogical
Standards Manual. Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing,
Crandall, Ralph J. “Compiled Genealogies: Re-evaluating
the ‘Facts’.” Ancestry Magazine
18 (March/April 2000) downloaded 29 July 2001 from <http://www.ancestry.com/library/view/ancmag/2507.asp>,
Macy Jr., Harry. “Recognizing Scholarly Genealogy
and Its Importance to Genealogists and Historians.”
The New England Historical and Genealogical Register
150 (January 1996): 7–28.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown. “Skillbuilding: Good Genealogical
Writing.” On Board 4: (May 1998): 16
_____. Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family
Historian. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company,
_____. “Skillbuilding: Analyzing and Reviewing Published
Sources.” On Board 3: (May 1987): 16.
_____. “Working with Historical Evidence: Genealogical
Principles and Standards.” The National Genealogical
Society Quarterly 87 (September 1999) 165–84.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown and Gary B. Mills. “Editors’
Corner – Responsible Publishing: Peer Review Is Not
Just for Journals.” National Genealogical Society
Quarterly 85 (September 1997): 163.
Linda Woodward Geiger, CGRS, CGL
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