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Notes to Participants in Genealogical E-mail title image

from the Autumn 1996 issue of the HFA Journal,

by Phyllis J. Hughes, HFA Genealogist (now retired)

An excellent article, entitled “The Uses and Abuses of E-mail,” by George W. Archer, McLean Virginia, can be found in the NGS/CIG Digest, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp. 1, 16, within the National Genealogical Society Newsletter, Vol. 22, No. 4, July/August 1996 issue. Mr. Archer, in a very entertaining and instructive manner, gives The Seven Golden Rules of Messaging, which should enable the e-mail participant to write intelligent and courteous queries and thereby receive the most helpful answers.

It is exciting to make your own breakthroughs. It is fascinating to construct well-documented pedigrees. Embarking on a research journey can stretch and enhance our minds...

He also cautions about retyping information and family group sheets into e-mail, when photocopying and surface mail will do very well and will result in fewer errors overall, because of transcription typos and omissions. The “slower, non-tech way” also enables the sender to include those necessary sources and documentation, which are often omitted in on-line messages and e-mail.

Your HFA Genealogist’s own experience with queries sent by e-mail and those appearing on computer bulletin boards has been much less than satisfactory. For example, not once have I received the all-important SASE or family group sheets by surface mail after requesting them in order to straighten out the eternally widespread and erroneous information on the Hulls which I find posted on the genealogy message boards.

This speaks to us, in very serious and sad ways, about certain elements in the procedures of genealogical research today. Our present high-tech age is allowing information (both good and bad) to be disseminated very quickly and easily. Speed and ease frequently seem to rank foremost in many minds, with computers allowing this luxury, along with the added downside of accessing undocumented material which is laden with errors and, therefore, has nothing to do with our own family or our correct and true ancestry.

Genealogy is not a paint-by-numbers kit—nor is it just a “fill in the blanks” exercise. E-mail is just the first step in acquiring information.

Many people today are overlooking the very fascinating and demanding task of doing their own original research in order to verify their information by: (1) participating in library work, (2) investigating the original records in court houses, historical societies and archives, (3) doing an in-depth analysis of these records, and finally, (4) when proper conclusions have been reached and all data have been synthesized, compiling those necessary personal family group sheets and pedigree charts, citing each and every reference.

One will enjoy this avocation to its fullest extent if we remember that genealogy is not a paint-by-numbers kit—nor is it just a “fill in the blanks” exercise. While e-mail might be a first step in acquiring information and can be helpful in offering clues, it should not necessarily be the final and ultimate step to solving one’s genealogical problem.

Prospects for success in your research are better than many will tell you. They depend to a great extent on knowledge and determination and the motivation to find help wherever possible. The excitement of discovery always seems to be in proportion to the frustration that comes first.

— The Genealogical Helper

March–April, 1979

So don’t be wary of getting your hands dirty in a dusty archive. Go to the cemeteries and unearth that buried stone! Read and study those almost indecipherable microfilms of the original records. Become educated in regard to the primary and secondary sources one needs to do creditable research and correctly prove a pedigree. Learn which are the most reputable records and references—and which are the least reputable. This is what the real world of genealogy is all about.

It is exciting to make your own breakthroughs. It is fascinating to construct well-documented pedigrees. Embarking on a research journey can stretch and enhance our minds, our powers of concentration and patience, our reasoning abilities, our knowledge of history, geography, economics, sociology, genetics, medicine, and psychology—as well as broaden our knowledge of our own personal ancestral roots.

Genealogy is not an exact science and never will be, but the electronic world of bulletin board messages and e-mail should be considered as a preliminary tool to begin the process of research—not as an end in itself.

Responses and varied opinions on this subject are invited and encouraged, and can be sent to the HFA Genealogist at: