Not long ago, I submitted a case study to the editor of the Georgia Genealogical Society Quarterly for publication. In this paper, I discussed how I “proved” the identities of a young woman’s parents, both of whom had died when she was very young. My research began with this woman’s death certificate, which listed her parents’ names incorrectly (if you’re wondering, the names weren’t even a close match), and worked outwards from there. In the end, the breakthrough records were ones researchers don’t often consult, which was the main point of the article: If the “normal” records don’t help, then look to the “unusual” ones.
The thing is, I wouldn’t have been able to successfully resolve this problem even a decade ago, maybe not even five years ago. I know that when I first started researching, back in the dinosaur days of microfilm and dusty court records, I would have accepted the information on that death certificate unquestioningly, and been stuck with a brick wall until I figured out that such information cannot be taken at face value.
For me, it was a long and steep climb between those two points. In other words, it took me a long time to realize that 2 + 2 = 4, not 22.
Knowing how to solve genealogical problems takes a complex variety of skill sets learned through multiple paths over a long period of time. There are some people who believe that this educational path or that one are the only ways in which one should become a genealogist, but this isn’t true. That’s not to say that education, including instruction at college and professional levels, is not necessary, but it is only one facet of a whole that should encompass many other paths, including reading, studying, mentoring, teaching, and publication, and perhaps even certification or accreditation.
Taking only one of those paths will not lead one to become a good genealogist, because genealogical problem solving requires a multiple-path approach. Most of all, it takes time and practice. This is one field where experience truly is the best teacher.