John French Master File (JFMF)
The JFMF is available to PRA Members only. The JFMF is accessed on the PRA's Member's only website hosted by MyFamily.com - a different and private website than this website.
Once you become a PRA Member, you will sent an invitation with information on how to access the PRA Member's only website hosted by MyFamily.com with a user name and password.
JFMF - What Now?
Since 1998 the JFMF has been the focus of a substantial effort by the Board and the Research Committee. In February 2003, a report to the Board titled "JFMF - What Now?" was submitted by Gene Pennington, Research Director detailing the many issues surrounding the JFMF and making two (2) recommendations. The Board approved both recommendations and now the JFMF's purpose and access to it has been significantly changed.
The John French Master File is an electronic genealogy database of the Pennington Family. It was begun by John French, using his own research and that of Bobby E. Pennington as the starting point. From there, he searched past issues of Pennington Pedigrees, adding what he found to the database and referencing it back to the Pedigrees. I’m sure he recognized the Pedigrees was often a secondary source, but also a source that can be corrected by the PRA when proven wrong.
Another important part of the information in the JFMF came from several separate requests sent by Ayvonne Roach and Dr. Vernon Kirby, as officers of the PRA to their membership. Requests were also printed in the Pedigrees and Courier. Information was received from members and others wishing to add their research to the collection. As a result, information is not always documented; very often, the same or slightly different data was received from more than one source. It may only be a given name or a detailed documented biography, depending on the sender’s knowledge and expertise. At times, John, who had researched Penningtons for over twenty-five years made decisions about what he entered based on his own opinion. Currently the JFMF contains over 70,000 individuals with at least one entry, more often there will be several.
The file is very much like the records any of you might make on paper to record your own family histories. It can produce printed or electronic reports in several formats. Most of these will be familiar to professional Genealogists as well as beginners working on their immediate family, the most common being Family Group Sheets and Pedigree charts. There are many other reports available including a variety that can be user defined. It is generally accepted that an electronic format allows access to information that paper alone cannot provide, although both have a place in genealogy research.
The files are part of an ambitious attempt by the PRA to become the best known, most reliable source of continuing Pennington family research. The JFMF and output from it becomes the non-exclusive intellectual property of the Pennington Research Association. Copyright notices, disclaimers of accuracy, and liability will be included with all forms of distribution. This will offer some legal protection to the contributors, the organization and people doing volunteer work.
Most of the people working on this project believe the existing PRA organization is the ideal way to consolidate a base of data and keep it free of commercial interests. The information is generated and kept under control of the same people most interested in preserving the knowledge for non-profit use.
The PRA Research Committee, with the Group Leaders as the focal point of research in each of the PRA’s Family Groups has completed one round of Petitions for Making Changes to the JFMF. They will have all information from the JFMF on their group. Each Group Leader is the real center of research for that Pennington line. Each group generates data and determines what is the best information to include in the master file. Our hope is the JFMF will grow through exchanges between Group Leaders and become a continuously improved history of the Pennington Family.
Since the file is electronic and necessarily kept on someone’s computer, it naturally is best used by a PRA member, with e-mail and on the Internet. The PRA website is becoming an increasingly important way for the PRA to conduct its business. As such, the advantages in information collection and exchange will be used to handle these needs of the JFMF, whenever possible. Not all the techniques are worked out yet. The officers and Research Committee members are working to provide services and benefits to PRA members, with and without computers.
Anyone interested in helping with the project in any manner is invited to contact a member of the Research Committee. Your help will be very much appreciated by those already involved. It is definitely not a job that can be done without cooperation.
Of all the projects undertaken by our Research Committee, this one has the potential to be of the most value to our members and researchers. However, there have been many significant problems encountered. In addition, a number of technical problems need to be solved before any serious attempts can be made to see the project to its' completion.
It was John French's dream to see this work become a cornerstone for the Pennington Research Association and its' future. There are over 70,000 names in the database along with sources, evidence and footnotes.
The Research Committee and the Executive Board want to see this major work become available to our members. It will be of real value for our members and for future generations.
One of the hardest things to do with our genealogy research is to gather and document evidence/proof and sources to support the information we add to our files and books. It is very important that as a researcher discovers new information, or information that changes what they have in their genealogy material, they must document it. This documentation needs to be carefully evaluated before it is accepted as worthy enough to replace what information a researcher may already have.
As part of this evaluation process, primary and secondary evidence are key components as well as a researcher confirming the information themselves if at all possible. If they can't, they need to be sure to add this to their records so the next researcher reading their research knows what the source/evidence/proof is, where it came from and if the author has confirmed it.
Note: The procedure detailed below have been updated and several major changes have been made as to how this process will work. I've left the details below for reference. Gene Pennington, Research Director - 3/25/03
What to do with the JFMF, how to handle changes and updates and the many related problems associated with maintaining a large database for genealogy research was, and is, the single biggest challenge facing the PRA. Our Research Committee struggled with these issues for more than a year before we finally developed the process for making changes and related procedures.
We recognized very early that Group Leaders are the best person to handle the changes/additions/deletions for their Family Group. We provide the Group Leader with their family file from the JFMF so they can see what information, sources and evidence we have to support the data. In many cases, there are no sources, evidence or anything to support the data because the person who submitted it to us to include in the JFMF did not provide such documentation. In fact, one of our biggest problems is that most of the data in the JFMF cannot be traced to the person who submitted it or its source. That is why we are trying so hard to document what we are now doing!
The Group Leader has to be the first person "in line" to collect and then COMPARE and then EVALUATE the new information as it is received. This initial review is a critical step and can take many days or weeks to complete.
The next critical step is for the Group Leader to share the new information with the rest of their group members and ask them for their feedback, etc. This takes time as well and could result in more additions/changes/deletions.
Once these 2 steps are completed, the information has to be summarized and a petition constructed to be sent to the Research Director along with any gedcom file containing just the NEW/CHANGED information and its' supporting evidence/sources/proof and copies of such items if needed.
We just started this process and initially we thought we could do two (2) cycles each year. However, what we found was that the first one took many more months to complete than we originally thought. We identified several problem areas that we can streamline but one of the biggest delays was getting the Group Leaders to submit the data and petitions in a timely manner. The next biggest delay was getting the Group Leaders to review the petitions and data and send back their comments and recommendations. It became obvious that we should just try to do this once a year and give our Group Leaders more time.
The critical aspect of documentation will help to preserve the historical records for each Family Group. The Research Director has a file folder for each group and he is trying to build each group's file so we can always go back and see the history of changes made, how the group started, etc.
The amount of work that Jim Pennington (previously the Assistant Research Director responsible for the JFMF) had to do when he received an approved petition from me was no small task either. We asked him to check the petition and the data affected and look for any potential problems (which he found) and then to help resolve them. He also had to record the changes he made. Then when he was through, he created a new version of the JFMF, made backups of it, etc. This all takes time and since we are all just volunteers, the process gets spread out over several months.