Good genealogy research means paying attention to detail. But is it possible to try to be "too" perfect?
Let's Be Clear
I am not advocating doing bad research. I'm not saying that we should just flip a coin when we have conflicting sources. What I'm talking about is how our sense of getting everything perfect hurts our research efforts.
Perfectionism Keeps Us From Sharing and Connecting
One of the most hotly debated topics in genealogy is whether or not to have a public online tree. One of the most common reasons that I hear people say for not having a public online tree is, "My tree isn't good enough. My tree has mistakes in it."
Yes, your tree has mistakes in it, and you know what? So does my tree. Everybody's genealogy has mistakes. It could be that you have assigned the wrong parents to someone. You might have missed a spouse. Maybe you missed a child who died in infancy. Maybe you have a marriage date wrong.
All of us have something wrong with our trees. (We are human and humans make mistakes.) If the thought of mistakes is the only reason that you're not putting your information out there to connect with others, I would encourage you to rethink that. Having an online tree is a great way to connect with others researching the same line.
Of course, there are times when we know that the tree we have is in bad shape. Let's say that you have a line of the family that you're really having a hard time sorting everybody out. You actually can have two different trees. You can have a public tree where you have the things that you're confident in, but then you have another tree that's just for your research purposes. When you reach a conclusion that you're confident in, then you can copy that information over into your public tree. It's like having the best of both worlds.
Perfectionism Keeps Us From Writing Our Genealogy
Perfectionism can also prevent us from actually doing something with our research. I have served as the editor of several genealogy publications and something that I would hear fairly frequently from people that I would approach about doing an article was, "I don't know enough about that ancestor."
Somehow we think that we have to know absolutely everything before we publish something, whether it's an article, a book, or a blog post. Nothing could be further from the truth. For one thing, the process of writing can actually be a great way to analyze your research. It makes you look at what you have and where the gaps are in your research. You can spot consistencies in your logic.
Trying to be "perfect" can prevent us from using an incredible research tool.
Perfectionism Can Stress Us Out
I see this frequently with regard to source citations. Yes, you do need to cite your sources, but don't get hung up on the format.
Become familiar with what the elements of a good source citation are, such as the title, the author/creator and the work, when it was published/created, etc. Once you become familiar with the elements of a good source citation, you can go ahead and record those elements and worry about the commas and semi-colons later.
Perfectionism Can Destroy Our Genealogy
This last aspect of perfectionism literally could be ruining your genealogy and that is when it comes to preservation. I hear the question all the time: What is the right way to organize my materials? What is the right way for me to preserve what I have? So often we get hung up on what is the absolute correct, most perfect way to do something and we end up not doing anything. If we don't do something to preserve our genealogy, it's not going to last.
I mentioned organization as part of this because we do need to consider organization as part of our methods of preserving our research. If we just have piles of papers, well our descendants aren't going to know what to do with it. We need to take the time to get those materials into some sort of organized fashion.
Organization experts Drew Smith and Janine Adams agree that there really isn't one perfect organizational method. The best method to use is something that makes sense to you so that you'll continue using it. You can check out my interviews with them here:
We all want to do a good job with our genealogy research. But when we think that nothing less than perfect will do, we end up losing out on some of the benefits of genealogy: making connections, sharing with others, and preserving our work for the future.