A Fresh Approach To Dealing With Data Overload For Family Historians

The remarkable rate of digitization of historical documents is providing us all with fantastic opportunities to expand knowledge not just of our own family history or historical project but in our overall understanding of history.

    • New data brings us new perspectives and new facts that challenge us to examine long held views and theories, all of this is good news.
    • For the family historian in particular though, the issue has become not one of collecting the data but of curating it.

An individual family tree of 100 people can generate say up to 2000 pieces of primary source material.

    • If each piece of data was a one to one match with an individual, then generating an index is not too much of a problem, whether you are using a paper or a digital system.
    • Many primary source documents are not a one to one match, they are a one to many individuals source and that immediately starts to create a taxing problem.
    • Each census record falls into this category.
    • The paper system is groaning at this point.
    • The computer system continues to do what it does so well, link individuals to sources but there is still something missing.

How do you deal with individuals who appear on conflicting source documents?

How do you resolve chronology issues when dealing with a wide range of source documents, not all of them digitized?

These are the issues we have been grappling with at Intriguing Family History.

    • In order to cope with the sheer volume of data being released, we believe it is going to become vitally important to family historians, to be able to curate material using a taxonomy that is both flexible and enduring.
    • Creating family trees on their own, whilst important obviously in establishing relationships, cannot be used as  the framework on which to hang the data in isolation. What works for the individual or a small number of people, begins to fall down as the numbers become too large.
    • Keeping track of data for one person is difficult, for one family over several generations it’s tricky for multiple families over many generations the amount of data to handle becomes the size of many medium size businesses.

Managing the data then becomes more of an issue than becoming informed by it.

    • Taking that information and turning it into a body of precise, coherent, source based knowledge, whilst it is the ultimate goal, becomes more distant, as the data load increases.
    • We need to be able to place the data into a framework of taxonomy that enables us to see emerging patterns and clusters, rather than just in a linear tree model that holds data to the individual but is incapable of showing patterns in random data fields.

For people who are involved in a one name study, then this becomes incredibly important.

    • In one name studies, the family trees become simply part of a tool kit, they are not the central purpose.
    • Collecting data on the name is though and therefore it becomes critical to adopt a taxonomy that allows connections to be made across disparate pieces of data, articles, stories or whatever.

Curation……. for the one namers is key to success.

We use a different approach with our Intriguing Connections site,  by recognizing that data doesn’t always fall neatly into a family tree. We gain new insights by mapping data and then seeing where clusters and patterns form. The more data you add, the more these patterns develop.

Take a look at a couple of Intriguing Connections sites where we have mapped data and encouraged others to do the same to see what connections and insights can be made. New patterns in the data have emerged and seemingly unconnected family groups have found that they do after all share some common  background.

Go to www.bantingfamilyhistory.com  and www.dipnal.com

If you love your hobby and want to explore the data in a different way then this is an approach that will give you new insights, generate new interest and you be able to share ideas, data and analysis with others.

For less than £10 a month and a fully supported system, try a fresh approach to building family history. Visit Intriguing Connections and contact us, we’d love to help.


Posted in ,


Founder of Intriguing History
%d bloggers like this: