Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Revisiting the Genealogical Travelogue

Nearly a decade ago I wrote about the use of travelogue-style organization in genealogical writing.[1] My point-of-view was that genealogical writing should be document-centered. I wrote that a travelogue is only reasonable for a report about negative research findings and then only if it is structured around the types of documents which were sought.

Recently I had another opportunity to think on this topic. A quarterly journal from a state genealogy society included a travelogue article.[2] To be fair, it is a follow-up to a more conventional article in the previous issue which won the society’s 2012 “Tell Your Family History” prize.[3]

My thoughts were contradictory to each other. I felt that the articles were both clearly written and that they both analyzed the evidence quite well. Source citations supported the statements of fact. Those sources were credible. The quarterly has an editorial committee and has been improving in article quality every year since I snidely alluded to it in 2002. This article had been approved by the committee. All of these elements were pluses. On the other hand, I came away with an emotional feeling that I had to endure needless details and unnecessary drama.

It was quite a good story, but I wanted to get to the bottom line quickly. I wanted to learn about the person under discussion and not about the research process.

This led me to develop another way to describe what I don’t like about genealogical travelogues. If discovering the documents in a different order would have led you to a different conclusion, then the research path is relevant. If not, then please don’t make me read the travelogue.

I’m sure I speak for all of us when I assert my belief that kinship structures are more stable than routing choices on the AAA roadway map. Kinship can be just as complex and confusing as the roadways in Boston, but I believe that at its core it is impervious to the order in which we make our discoveries.


[1] Barbara Jean Mathews, CG, “Reporting on a Brick Wall: the Genealogical Travelogue” Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly, 27 (December 2002):129-132.

[2] Barbara Fay Boudreau, “Searching for William Andrew Fay,” The Connecticut Nutmegger, 44 (September 2011):111-114.

[3] ______, “William Andrew Fay and Henry ‘Harry’ Edward Fay,” The Connecticut Nutmegger, 44 (June 2011):12-19.


  1. Dear Barbara:
    So just when I'm thinking I CANNOT read one more story about "mom's cherry pie served at Easter, 1972" that passes for a genealogy blog ... surely SOMEONE must be writing about the difficulties of serious research ... I read an announcement of the Geneabloggers Radio show scheduled for Friday, clicked on your blog, and it's great!!! THANK YOU for all this research talk. Keep arguing!!! It's wonderful!!

  2. I felt that way too. When writing down the family stories, I wrote down what was said about the historical relative. However, over time, I realized that my capturing the information is also a part of the family history. So whenever I can, I add the details about how or why I had the occasion to meet with the members of the family, where we were, etc.

    I am capturing the history of capturing history. Right now it may seem boring, but over time, people will be able to see the efforts I put forth in capturing the history.

  3. What the first commenter said. I can see this blog has to go on my home page so that I don't miss any more posts!