the Myth of Instant Gratification
By Steve Paul Johnson
February 16, 2001
It seems I keep reading more and more articles and tutorials warning
about the use of online information. The term "instant gratification"
is being used to associate the Internet with bad genealogical practice.
Whenever genealogists explain that information should never be taken
for granted, they seem to always cite online information as a prime
example. While its correct that genealogists must assess the validity
of their research, I can't help but shake my head at the bad rap
the Internet is getting.
Just what kind of message are we delivering to a beginning genealogist?
It seems to me the message is saying that online information is
best avoided altogether. It's good to encourage beginners to validate
their research, but the notion that disaster walks hand-in-hand
with the Internet is being driven into their minds.
I happen to be an owner of a genealogy website, and I have been
a computer hobbyist for over 20 years. I take offense when people
use the Internet as the poster-child for bad genealogical practice.
would not be enjoying the popularity it now has if not for the Internet.
The real issue is that a genealogist must assess the validity of
information he or she obtains, whether online, from print, or from
word of mouth. A transcription is a transcription regardless of
the medium by which it is conveyed.
The amount of genealogical material in print still exceeds that
appearing online. Why then do we not stress this issue with printed
information? Why should a GEDCOM be more problematic than a descendancy
published by a genealogical society?
Online databases are indeed very convenient. But is "instant gratification"
something that can only be achieved through a database? Can not
someone lookup their ancestor on a Soundex card, and get a transcription
of information found on the census sheet? Can not someone open up
a book of tombstone inscriptions, lookup their uncle, and get his
date of death? Are these not also forms of "instant gratification"?
Online databases don't turn us into bad genealogists. Bad genealogical
practice is a product of inexperience and lack of discipline. Is
there inaccurate information on the Internet? Of course there is.
But not any more so than in print. As I said before, there is still
more information found in print. A genealogist is more likely to
get fouled up offline than online.
It's without a doubt that the Internet has changed the way people
approach genealogy. Long time genealogists have prided themselves
over the techniques they have developed. But with the Internet,
people have developed new methods. But are these methods bad?
Well, half of genealogy is validating your research. The methods
we employ define what kind of genealogist we are. The end result
is to arrive at the truth, and if we find the truth, the end will
justify the means. If you feel comfortable that you have found the
truth, beyond any reasonable doubt, then your methods are just fine.
Therein lies the art of genealogy. Appreciation of a shrewd genealogist
means that we both understand and enjoy the methods he or she employs.
If genealogy were a science, there would be no appreciation, because
there would only be one method.
Associating the Internet with bad genealogical practice is detrimental
to the advancement of genealogy. We should all be encouraged to
embrace the Internet. I hope to see future articles and tutorials
place emphasis on validating research period, regardless of the
medium used. We need to encourage beginners to express their own
methods for approaching research.
We need to constantly devise new solutions and new ideas to attract
more people into genealogy. The Internet is an example of such a
solution and idea. It was because of the Internet that genealogy
found new popularity. Let's promote it, and continue moving forward!
- Steve Paul Johnson