What Dog Shows Can Teach Us About Searching For Our Ancestors. Wisdom Wednesday.

Dog shows?  I know you are thinking that I’ve lost it.  Or maybe I’m looking for an excuse to post a picture of my dog. (Guilty!)

But I was watching the Westminster Dog Show a week or so back and it hit me.  The way a dog show is judged is pretty smart and efficient.  And it’s not a bad methodology for what we are trying to do when we hunt for records when we search.

Stay with me.

Let me introduce you to Coco.  This picture was taken when she was about 3 months old.  She is a beautiful little chocolate lab.

Coco, a 3 month old chocolate lab

Coco, a 3 month old chocolate lab

OK, now here is Frankie.  (He’s not mine.)  He’s a Leonberger puppy, about 4 months old.

Frankie, 4 month old leonburger and Augusta and adult in the background.

Frankie, 4 month old Leonberger and Augusta an adult in the background.

Raise your hand if you had a brief moment where you wanted a puppy.

Frankie and Coco are similar.  They are both crazy puppies.  And they both are going to grow up to be big dogs, although the Leonberger is twice as big as a Lab.  One has a fluffy coat, one has a double coat.  They have similarities and differences.

But what does this have to do with genealogy?

On to the Dog Show!

So the purpose of a Dog Show is to find the best dog.   But they don’t take the hundreds, thousands of dogs and throw them all into the ring and walk around and pick one, do they?  They do not.

First, they start with each individual breed, and find the best of breed.  So they throw all the Labs into the ring with a judge who knows Labs.  And this judge in his infinite wisdom says, this is the best Lab.  And he picks the winner based on the characteristics a perfect Lab should have.

Same thing in genealogy.  Let’s your ancestor, John Labrador, lived from 1837 to 1911 and that he served in the Civil War.  You know he should be in the US 1850 through 1910 censuses. And various Civil War records. And Vital Records.  Now you can do a big old massive search and hope you pull everything out of it that you need.  What could possibly go wrong with that?

But you are the expert on John Labrador.  Doesn’t it make more sense to methodically go through the known record types.  And because you are the expert, you can pick out the best record in each record type.  So you’ve got the best “Lab” for each record type, whether it be census, military pension, local history or whatever.  And because you’ve gone through each record type one at a time, you know you’ve looked at everything.

Now what question are we trying to answer?

Back to the dog show.  The next round pulls dogs of similar breeds together. Our Lab would be in the Sporting Group.  And the judge for this group, knows she has the best of each breed, so she can start comparing the dogs to each other and pick the one she thinks is the best.  She answers the question which dog is the best sporting dog.

Once you have all of your records together, you can then start to ask and answer questions.  When was John born?  Who were his parents? You know, the questions we always ask.  You look at your records, and you select the documents and other records that are going to help you find the answer.  You find more records if you need to.  But you aren’t looking for the best 1880 census.  You have it.  Now you can focus on finding the answer.

And the winner is….

Now all the best of groups gather.  And the judge puts them through their paces.  He pokes and prods and watches.  And then he picks!  He has the answer!  The best dog.

And that is where you are in your research.  You’ve found the best documents and records.  You’ve selected the ones that help you answer a question.  And then you start to pull them all together and you have the answer.

So what did we learn?

I really like dogs. 🙂  Also, it’s probably not a good idea to do everything at once.  Find a record, find the right record.  Ask a question and select the right records for that question.  Then you can spend your time on careful analysis and find the right answer.  One step at a time.

Is it just me, or does anyone want to go watch Best in Show right now?

6 thoughts on “What Dog Shows Can Teach Us About Searching For Our Ancestors. Wisdom Wednesday.

  1. jacqistevens

    That’s just fine about using the dog show analogy, Anne. That analogy thinking is what helps us think outside the box–exactly what is needed to break through those brick walls.

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