Things That Make You Go Hmm

Google Reader is perhaps one of my favorite tools. I have several blogs I follow religiously, and Google Reader makes it incredibly easy for me to keep track of all of them. One blog I particularly like is Craig Scott’s As Craig Sees It, where he recently posted The Angels, the Donkeys, and the Prodigal Son.

I’m fortunate enough to know a lot of genealogy angels, but I’ve also had the misfortune to run into a donkey or two. One memorable experience occurred a few years back, not long after I began researching professionally. I made the mistake of posting to a mailing list in search of guidance. I was writing an article about a family of mine, hoping to correct a genealogist who had incorrectly linked a family together in a publication. But I was stuck and needed a bit of help.

Now, to me, writing is one of the best ways to poke holes in your research, and that was one of my aims with that article. Not everyone feels that way, as I found out the hard way. Another genealogist, who bills herself as a professional genealogist and a teacher, no less, chastised me openly on the mailing list for daring to write an article before I’d finished my research. The problem is that I thought I had finished the research. One point I was trying to make in that article, however, centered around a slave, and I had no idea at that time how to conduct slave research, nor did I know when I set out to write the article that I even needed information on that individual. The whole experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth and a reluctance to reach out when I need help, something I already tend toward.

I’ve since learned that the “professional” in question is one of Mr. Scott’s donkeys, and I’ve done my best to treat her accordingly by ignoring her whenever possible and not lingering on the hard feelings she engendered when she attacked me so openly and in such an unprofessional manner.

Unfortunately, the world is full of donkeys. I ran into another one on a blog post discussing the dying art of cursive handwriting, something that concerns me deeply. Many schools have stopped teaching cursive to young students in favor of keyboarding skills. The latter are necessary, although probably not at such a young age. (I learned how to type in my teens and do very well, thank you.) One commenter said, essentially, that we should forget cursive. He hadn’t used it in ages and saw no need to continue teaching such an outdated mode of communication. Let it die, he said, and good riddance.

I had a few choice words to say about that, none of them kind. When our society as a whole loses the ability to decipher cursive handwriting, we will have lost the ability to read historical documents and will thus lose our history. Some people will undoubtedly retain that ability, people like me who are fascinated by the past, but it is never a good thing to have knowledge accessible to only a few. If you have doubts, you need only look to any attempt throughout humankind’s history to stifle learning through book burnings, etc. I fear that successive generations will be disconnected from their past, leading at the very least to the myopic apathy of the commenter mentioned above.

Still, there are angels, including some that aren’t human. I published my first book independently through CreateSpace this past week. It was a very positive experience. It took about three days from the time I finished the manuscript to having a published work. Two days after that, the book became available on Amazon.com. While I’ve viewed the digital proofs, I haven’t yet actually held a copy, and won’t for another week and a half when my copies will hopefully arrive in my mailbox. The speed from manuscript to finished product is enough to boggle the mind!

Here’s my last hmm, in the form of another angel. Harold Henderson, author of Midwestern Microhistory, recently published an article at Archives.com called Getting the Most When Hiring a Professional Genealogist. One section of his article is called “Focus on the Problem, Not on One Solution,” and it hit home with me in a big way. I’ve had numerous people contact me looking for a record who become keenly disappointed to learn that a record might not exist, if it was ever created (e.g. death certificates in Georgia prior to 1919). It’s difficult to explain to these researchers that they should focus on the problem they want to solve, not on solving it with one record. I can now happily point these individuals to Harold’s eloquent explanation.

And now I’m going to sit here, drink my tea, think about the differences between angels and donkeys, and wonder which side of the spectrum I’m on.

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