Benfer’s comments on Cyndi Howell’s (of Cyndi’s List) book Planting Your Family Tree Online which is “is designed to take you step-by-step through the process of creating a genealogy Web site.”
I absolutely agree with the book’s premise that creating a website is an important tool for anyone interested in doing serious research on family history. It’s Benfer’s conclusion that a website will make a book unnecessary that I disagree with.
It seems Mr. Benfer had a bad experience with publishing. He recalls:
“Twenty years ago, using only a very simpleminded computer as a glorified typewriter, I put together a thick volume of lineage on part of my wife’s family, the result of more than a decade of close research. Because of my very limited budget, the production values were poor and fewer than two hundred copies were printed and mailed.”
Having discovered websites in the interim he now recommends: “Publishing on the Web is the least expensive and mostly widely accessible method of disseminating to others what you’ve learned.”
What Mr. Benfer ignores is that a virtual revolution in book publishing has occurred in the twenty years since his less than successful effort. As we have discussed several times in this blog, digital publishing and print-on-demand have made it possible for a self-publishing author to create a bookstore quality, heirloom book, even with a “very limited budget” like Mr. Benfer’s. And that's not even considering formats like e-books.
More importantly, Mr. Benfer concludes that a website is superior because, “Your research is always a work in progress anyway.”
It is here that we part ways. The problem is that there is a very great distinction between research and publication. Research is the gathering of information – raw data. Publication is a product of reflection on that data to analyze, organize and draw a conclusion from it.
I’ve spent over forty years researching and publishing on California and San Francisco history. Through those years I’ve taught several thousand students that a historian should always try to answer three questions about whatever he is studying:
- What is your evidence? How do you know this is true?
- From whose point of view is it true?
- So what? Why is this important?
These questions apply to family history as much as they do to any other historical study. Posting exhaustive research data on a website won’t answer them. Only when someone makes the effort to draw conclusions can we learn the answers. That means preparing one’s research for publication.
A person who wants to go beyond research to become a “family historian” might very well need a website to aid in gathering data, but she also needs a book to her share what that data means and why it’s important.
Click here to read Issac Benfer’s post.