Many people debate whether genealogy is an art form or a hard science. While perhaps a trivial question; how we view the answer does to a large degree affect how we approach our research.
Genealogy as Art Form
For those who see genealogy as an art form, they would “read between the lines” and look for what is not obvious. This approach has its strong points with difficult research, such as Irish, Southern United States, African American, and any number of other specialized areas. In these cases the records often do not cooperate with our research needs.
Genealogy as Hard Science
For those who view genealogy as hard science, they would take the paper trail and with skill and fortitude, pull every last piece of evidence out of what is available. While they may still “read between the lines,” the emphasis in on the record itself, not the possibilities held between the lines. In cultures which have good records intact, the hard science approach works well.
Both Approaches in Moderation
In my opinion, both approaches are correct if used in moderation. If taken to the extreme you can actually come to wrong conclusions or completely halt research in its tracks. On one hand, records are essential; if there are none or at least very few, we are forced to lean towards the art form approach. When records are extant, then we have hard science. It all sounds pretty simple. Yet it is not.
I have found that sometimes too many records can hinder research just as much as not enough records. At that point you may need to combine art form with hard science. The massive archive of British Army records comes to my mind as an example of too many records.
What I suggest is every situation has to be judged on its own merits. Then take the approach which best fits the context you are working to recreate. Don’t get so stuck on “art form” verses “hard science” that you miss what is right in front of your face.
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