Is research a waste of time ?

+10 votes
I am not wishing to cause controversy, but it seems to me that some folk consider Richardson to be the sole source of information worth considering. If that is the case, then we have no need to do any research ourselves, we can simply copy everything he has written word for word, because clearly he can get nothing wrong.

I have seen comments by members that a genealogy cannot be correct because someone paid for it to be written. Does Richardson give his books away ? or does he get paid ? and if so does that invalidate his efforts ?

If we were to engage the services of a professional historian, we would expect to pay for their work, but does this make their contribution worthless ?

What of 'pay to view sites' ? are they worthless ? I'm interested to hear what others think about this.
in The Tree House by Tim Perry G2G6 Mach 3 (31.7k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith
Richardson who?
Greg Slade, assuming you are not trying to be comical :-

Douglas Richardson, just another human being, just as capable of errors as the rest of us.
People not doing research in the areas he (Douglas Richardson is the one I think you are referring to -- early American ancestors, Magna Carta, etc.) will likely have no clue to whom you are referring. It is always a good idea to give a complete reference so that those who aren't familiar can find things. I don't think Greg was being comical and asked a legitimate question. "Who are you referring to?"

Actually, I was trying to ask a serious question in a comical way.

To unpack that a little more, I assumed from the previous answers that Richardson was/is a genealogist or historian of some note, and that his specialty includes early Colonial America, but, as Doug mentioned, since I'm not researching that particular place and era, I had never heard of him. 

Now that you've explained who he is, I looked him up on Wikipedia, since Tim's question implied that he's already done all the genealogical research that anybody ever needs to do, and all we need to do is buy Richardson's books to find out everything we know. Sadly, Tim is wrong on that score, since not one of the titles listed on Richardson's web site deals with the genealogy of deceased astronauts. I was mightily disappointed. Tim, please don't raise false hopes like that.

Tim - We've had conversations about this many times before. For those new to the subject, I recently posted a comment to another G2G discussion that I'll share here:

The magnitude of what the project is attempting to accomplish (a badged trail for each Richardson-documented Gateway) is why we go with Richardson's info... it makes it doable. However, we recently changed our policy on when to select "Confident" for a relationship to require primary proof to do that (but work previously done, which selected Confident based on Richardson, can't be "undone" & switching them to "Uncertain" isn't a good option). See [Policy & Procedures].

See also the Magna Carta Project Page, Space:Magna Carta Project 101 and Base Camp. If anyone is interested in joining the project, please see [the project's join post] (for member requirements, see [this page]).


I am glad to see that some effort is being made to balance the situation, but don't see why it cannot be applied retrospectively.

The very fact that this question has been asked so many times would indicate to me the strength of feeling on this matter.

If the intention is to make Wikitree as truthful as possible, then I would say this :- Truth is an immutable absolute, it is not dependent upon opinion, interpretation, belief, political expediency, or what the consensus feels comfortable with.

Whoever writes the information, it is either supported by documentary evidence, or it is not, and if not it is only opinion, not proven fact.

7 Answers

+2 votes
Best answer


Your original question(s) cover a lot of ground.  I want to address your question regarding Richardson and follow up with the kinds of sources that are acceptable to the Magna Carta Project  I will give an answer in keeping with my understanding of current Magna Carta Project policy and practice.   My current affiliation with the project is that of co-Leader.

You asked: ''I am not wishing to cause controversy, but it seems to me that some folk consider Richardson to be the sole source of information worth considering''.

The Magna Carta Project was founded to document, explore and improve the bios and lineages of the 17 Magna Carta surety barons known to have descendants living as late as the 17th century and whose descendants immigrated to the American colonies.  These early colonial immigrants are known as "Gateway Ancestors".  To assist in this task the works of Douglas Richardson , in particular, "Magna Carta Ancestry" was chosen by the Project as the foundational source that the project's work would be based upon.  The reason for this is that Richardson's compilations are considered to be generally very reliable, are supported by primary sources in most cases and they provide a ready "at hand "source reference to assist in the documentation of project approved Magna Carta lineages.  However, Richardson is not considered by the project or it's membership as the only acceptable source and Richardson's works are not considered by the project as being infallible.  Alternate, high quality sources are also allowed as long as the validity of these sources can be ascertained and firmly established. Here is the Magna Carta Project written policy in regards to Richardson and other acceptable sources:  "Magna Carta Ancestry and Royal Ancestry by Douglas Richardson are the foundational sources for the Magna Carta Project. Where there is a conflict regarding the facts on a profile, we follow Richardson, unless there is more recent published research that adds to or corrects his work. For details on implementing this policy, please see Magna Carta Project Policy and Procedures  I would also add that primary sources are always acceptable, if these sources (usually consisting of transcriptions) can be validated and are properly cited.

To answer your 2nd question regarding the value of research I would say that any effort that adds to our knowledge or that uncovers and corrects existing errors in the current biographies is important.  To this end, with the ultimate goal being increased accuracy and knowledge in the subject, serious research supported by reliable sources is encouraged and welcomed by the project.  

Thanks for your question !

David Douglas

by David Douglass G2G6 Pilot (117k points)
selected by Bettye Carroll
+16 votes
Research is always worthwhile. Personally viewing - and even holding - an original document that states a fact regarding your ancestor is the ultimate goal.  We all make mistakes and may misunderstand or misinterpret information, so the work of others should always be reviewed.  Some researchers, such as Richardson, are known for their reliance on primary sources, their attention to detail, and their scrupulous documentation so their work is generally accepted as reliable.  While many early colonial people left records behind, most didn’t, so there is always more research that can be done.
by Kathie Forbes G2G6 Pilot (374k points)
Kathie, I accept your point concerning early colonials, many of whom were illiterate, but let us not forget that America is but a relatively small portion of this world. Many races and societies existed sometimes thousands of years before colonization. I consider the biggest contribution that DNA tests have bought to genealogy is that it makes folk aware of their own ethnic background.
+12 votes
In any discussion people will cite sources they feel are reliable, but it would be a mistake to consider any body of research as unimpeachable. The advent of DNA testing has ripped some major holes in works previously felt to be solid. In short, research is not a waste of time. Other than being useful it is fun, so enjoy yourself.
by Anonymous McCormick G2G6 Mach 5 (56.0k points)
Agreed, but I have problems with folk that ignore contemporary evidence, for the sake of something written perhaps 500 years after the event. Yes, I would say that there might be some doubt, but it is foolish to simply dismiss data altogether.

I understand your point and agree wholeheartedly. Solid evidence found of original documents should always supersede investigative work that generalizes an opinion of what the fact should be. We are happy to have the generalization but should rely on the actual fact.
+7 votes
For me, in doing the research, genealogy quickly becomes family history, family history quickly becomes cultural history, and then world history.

If all I got out of this was a list of names and dates of ancestors, I would probably stop.

It is the stories I learn about through research that makes it all worthwhile. Compilation works by others, are but one source of many.

It always amazes me how much time, effort, and money went into creating the records and compilations. I have also learned, that as sure as people were, it sometimes is proven that "being sure has nothing to do with being right".

For me, the research is worth it.
by Peter Geary G2G6 Mach 4 (44.3k points)
+5 votes
When doing research, you should always strive to get the best documentation possible. That is, primary documents or other contemporary documentation to an event, when possible. There are times that researchers such as Douglas Richardson might have gained access to a document in private possession that is not going to be available to the general public so his publication may be the only source. That doesn't mean we shouldn't look further for any other documentation.
by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (425k points)
+5 votes

To me Genealogy 101 says that you don't rely on other people but you try to dig down and find the original or primary sources for yourself and make your own judgements/interpretations, and like other people I find this research the most fascinating part of this 'hobby'.  In fact I often find myself getting lost in following one lead after another and not leaving myself enough time to actually write anything up.

However the further back in time we go, the more those original records become difficult to find or if found to actually read, and that's when we have to rely on researchers like Douglas Richardson.

Yes, he can make mistakes, and personally I find it very frustrating that he doesn't cite his sources, just gives a list of the sources he has used, but sometimes he is the only source that is going to be readily accessible for many people.

That said, I don't own his books; I'm fascinated by European royal and noble genealogies but not from the United States so less interested in early colonials and gateway ancestors, but he often posts on the soc.genealogy.medieval discussion group, and that can be a way of finding out about his latest research.

by John Atkinson G2G6 Pilot (481k points)
+4 votes
I don't understand what the drama is over Douglas Richardson. He has a Master's in history, he reads medieval Latin, and he's a professional genealogist. He cites his primary sources in his work. Why must we rehash this topic every month on G2G? What is the controversy?
by Jessica Key G2G6 Pilot (201k points)
Trouble is, he has this habit of saying Sir John married Mary _____, and when you go on Google to find out what her name was, it only takes you 10 minutes to get the name Clifford, with a citation from Burke's 1838 and a direct descent from Edward III.
Jessica, as John Atkinson says in his post prior to yours, sources are not always cited. Like John, I have very little interest in colonial genealogy, and make no particular effort to seek out gateway ancestors.

It was not an attempt to rehash old topics, but rather to ask why some folk consider his work to be of better value than contemporary data.

Greg, I appreciated the humour, and was not trying to imply that all the research had been done. I was asking why some people assume that everything is already known, and that one only needs to quote Richardson to validate a fact. This might be valued by a colonial desperate to claim aristocratic ancestry, but for the rest of us, all our ancestors are of equal importance.
RJ, if Burke's 1838 is saying her surname is Clifford, and Richardson saying it is Unknown, I'd be going with Richardson.
In the case of "Sir John", would it not be logical to note in his bio the comments of both Richardson AND Burke, whilst you search for the marriage record. Until you have documentary evidence, it is surely just speculation, but failure to locate a marriage record is not proof positive that it did not take place. It could be lost, destroyed, or simply recorded somewhere you have not searched. In which case it has to remain "Awaiting proof". Perhaps a search of the children's birth records will provide some clues as to their mother's name.

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