01 August 2016

Are You a Gatherer, Grower or a Genealogist?

I do a lot of thinking when I am working in my gardens.  One day I was thinking that gardening is like genealogy.  You grow and gather when gardening.  You grow and gather in family history.  

I started researching my ancestors with very little knowledge of what I was doing.  I would jump from one web page to another and just grab all the information on my family that I could.  I didn't save where I got the information from.  I didn't evaluate the information, I just gathered it!

I wasn't happy researching this way.  I would look at my research and think, "Now, where did I get this from?"  It led to a lot of frustration and confusion because I could not go back and find the information I had gathered so carelessly.  Was this Jonathan, Sr. or Jonathan, Jr.?  Who knew?

I decided a do over was needed.  I decided I needed to get serious about my research and do a good job with it.  If I was going to spend hours and hours of researching I wanted to be proud of my work. I researched genealogy software and decided on Roots Magic.  I checked how-to books out of the library, I read online how-to articles, I attended workshops, I joined my local genealogical society and I started watching webinars.  I started growing as a researcher.

The more knowledge I gained the more I grew as a researcher.  I learned about how to conduct solid research, how to analyze sources, information and evidence.  I learned about the Genealogical Proof Standard, I even printed a "Does It Meet the GPS?" card and placed it on my desk.  I started a blog! I learned a lot about genealogy.

There has been discussion in the past about who can call themselves a genealogist and I don't want to get into that controversy, but Merriam-Webster defines a genealogist as a person who traces or studies the descent of persons or families.  I believe this definition should be taken a step further and add "using sound research practices." 

I am proud to say I am a genealogist.  I didn't become one overnight.  It has taken years to get to the point I am at.  I am no longer a gatherer.  I save the record and the source for everything! No more wondering where I got that document.  I have grown as a researcher over the past ten years.  Does that mean that I no longer continue to grow.  No, but now I am growing as a genealogist.

I still read books and articles, attend workshops, and watch webinars.  I am still a member of my local society and three others.  I am President of my local society.  I have taken the knowledge I have obtained and have spoken to societies.  I am on the board of the Michigan Genealogical Council.  I am continuing to grow, the difference is that I am doing it as a genealogist. How about you?  What type of family history researcher are you?


  1. I think I am a little of both - a genealogists and a gatherer. I'm still all over the place, but believe I am improving all the time. Let's say I'm striving, and as I continue to do that I'll get better. I'm a good researcher, but am working to become a better writer. Very good article.

  2. Great post Brenda! I was a gatherer too .... ashamedly. I too have seen the error of my ways in the frustration of having to redo so much of my early gathering. I too took the time to learn, study and grow. While not certified, I do consider myself a genealogist as defined by Merriam-Webster. And I continue to learn and grow - and to always Cite My Sources!! :)

  3. Thank you Grant. I think the more one writes the better he/she becomes. Blogging has made me a better researcher and writer and vice versa.

    Ancestor Archaeology, I think everyone begins as a gatherer, the excitement of finding things is more fun than recording everything.

  4. Hi Brenda, maybe it's not an "either/or". Rare is the gardener who starts by analyzing horticulture books, taking courses at their local extension service, or joining a Master Gardener class. Often a love of gardening starts with planting some flowers (or veggies) and experimenting - facing problems and wanting to know how to be more successful - falling in love with gardening/by gardening often comes first. Becoming a genealogist (like becoming a Master Gardener) might be a process of growing in knowledge over time.

  5. That is true, I didn't look at it that way. The analogy to gardening is an excellent one. I have had to prune a couple of branches off my family tree as I have gotten better at researching.

  6. I like the gardening analogy. I've ripped out beds and started over in my garden and I have done the same with my genealogy. I have favorite sections of the garden that I spend a lot of time working on and others beds are sadly neglected and it is the same with my genealogy lines.

  7. I wholeheartedly agree with Anonymous above.

    I am 10 years into my family history journey... I begin research into each family by gathering the information and recording the place I got said information all together. Sometimes I am able to include additional tidbits of information that enhances the story of a person's life. Other times it is all I can do to get a birth/baptism/marriage/death/burial. Sometimes it's difficult to get any further than that.

    I have evolved over time; I am also continuing to evolve.

  8. I love your garden analogy. I've been working on my family tree for nearly 40 years now (*sigh*) and now I'm pruning and weeding. I've gathered and grown. At this point I am now working on preserving and sharing the bounty. That's why I started blogging, too.

  9. Charley, I do the same thing with my tree, and garden!

    Beth, I hope you continue to evolve for many more years.

    Heather, sharing the bounty is important in gardening and genealogy. Anyone need any cherry tomatoes? We have tons this year!