Archive for September, 2012

September 24, 2012

If You Can’t Prove It, It Ain’t a Fact

I recently had a conversation with a fellow researcher that I thought was a mutual complaint about undocumented research.1 I’m sharing the gist of my remarks because I think they’re relevant to the problems encountered when sharing information with other researchers.

Now, I want to start this off by saying that I’m just as guilty as the next researcher of making statements of “fact” without having adequate evidence…or was, when I was beginning researcher, a stage it took me a long time to leave for a variety of reasons I shan’t name here. Unfortunately, and much to my present embarrassment, some of those statements are still hanging around, although I’ve retracted as many as I could and am correcting what I could not.

Secondly, it’s difficult in certain forums to give specific documentation, message boards being the one that comes to mind because that’s where the above conversation took place. So, please do not read this as a criticism necessarily of those who have not named sources with their message board posts. I understand how difficult it is to do so. As long as you’re willing to share that documentation when asked, that’s probably the best one can hope for (although I know many professional researchers who would disagree with me).

The problem I have, then, is not necessarily with people who don’t name sources, but with people who refuse to name sources when asked. I’ve encountered a number of those, including the person I was ranting about the other day. I find it particularly hypocritical when someone complains about the circulation of undocumented lineages in one breath, but in the next won’t name, specifically with identifying details, the record from which he or she gleaned a piece of information he or she is touting as fact.

Here’s the thing, though: If you can’t prove it, it ain’t a fact.

Now, I’m not trying to be a hardliner here. Believe me, I understand about research foibles, having made plenty of my own with enough left over for two or three others. But when someone asks you for documentation, be prepared to man up (or woman up, if you prefer). You don’t have to share the actual document, but you should be ready and willing to share enough information about that document that someone else can chase it down. Citing a “birth record” found in a “newspaper from Virginia” doesn’t tell anyone diddly squat. What newspaper in what location? What issue and page number, and where is that newspaper held? Or if you took it from microfilm, what was the title of the film and what was the agency that filmed it, or where did you access the film? And so forth. I’m not talking about academically correct citations here, but about giving enough identifying information that a document can be retrieved by someone else.

If you’re not willing to share the documentation, then, respectfully, don’t share the information. Withholding the former while spreading the latter only makes the problem of undocumented lineages worse. It’s certainly not helping anyone with their research, particularly those who don’t understand what does and does not constitute proof, let alone the differences between proof, evidence, information, and sources.2

So please, share your sources when asked for them. If you have no intentions of doing so, then perhaps you should think twice before “helping” the unwary with undocumented assertions.

* * * * *

1. The other person apparently was in another conversational realm entirely. S/he thought I was demanding that s/he turn over all of his or her research, which of course I was not. (I’m being gender-non-specific because this person refuses to attach his or her name to any message board posts, etc.) I merely wanted to know exactly where this person obtained the information s/he was widely purporting to be fact, which s/he only did after a great many requests, and then only in the most vague manner possible.

2. Many thanks to Elizabeth Shown Mills for making discussions about proof (linked to above) freely available online through her web site, Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage. The web site is a companion to her book, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd Ed. I highly recommend both to all researchers.

September 23, 2012

A Sunday Walk Around the Blogs: Saving the Georgia Archives Edition

The decision by Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp to close the Georgia Department of Archives and History to the public has sparked outrage and concern across the nation. Here are a few responses to this decision.

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September 18, 2012

Surprise! (Although, I Should’ve Seen This Coming)

The 118th Annual Anderson Reunion was this past Sunday, and a good time was had by all. Especially me, as I had the pleasure of playing with my new cousin, Izzie, who is not quite five months old. Yes, she is adorable, and my only regret is that I couldn’t also spend some time with my other new baby cousin, who is three months old and also adorable. And that is the joy of a family reunion: seeing old friends, and making new ones as well.

If you’re wondering, this reunion is for the descendants of Mansfield and Harriet (Black) Anderson, who lived in Blount and Sevier Counties, Tennessee, before moving to Macon County, North Carolina, before 1850. I’m connected to the family through my maternal grandmother, Ruth (Anderson) Ledford, who was Mansfield and Harriet’s great-great-granddaughter. I’ve spent a little time researching Mansfield and Harriet, but have mostly left them alone because so many others are researching the family, including Roy Duane Collier, who published an article on the couple in 1987,1 and a cousin-in-law, Steve Beck, with whom I corresponded a little in the early 1990s, among others.

After the reunion, I spent some time on the Internet looking through FamilySearch‘s wonderful online database. I thought I’d see if they had any records online in Tennessee for Blount and Sevier Counties, something I hadn’t had a chance to look at yet. Honestly, I was really just piddling and didn’t expect to find anything.

Funny how those things turn out.

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September 16, 2012

Yet Again, the Georgia Archives Scheduled to Close to the Public

O. C. G. A. ยง 50-18-70

(a) The General Assembly finds and declares that the strong public policy of this state is in favor of open government; that open government is essential to a free, open, and democratic society; and that public access to public records should be encouraged to foster confidence in government and so that the public can evaluate the expenditure of public funds and the efficient and proper functioning of its institutions. The General Assembly further finds and declares that there is a strong presumption that public records should be made available for public inspection without delay.

As many of you have probably heard by now, the Georgia Department of Archives and History is scheduled to close to the public on November 1, 2012 due to budget cuts. After that, appointments will be available to those needing access to the Archives’ holdings on a limited basis dependent entirely upon the number of staff available at the Archives to handle such appointments. Since the Archives now has just enough staff to maintain its primary function (processing and storing certain governmental records), it is clear that the number of appointments available after November 1 will be low.

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September 10, 2012

118th Anderson Reunion, Sunday, September 16, 2012

Please join the Anderson clan for their 118th annual reunion on Sunday, September 16, 2012 beginning at about 11 a.m. This year’s reunion will be held in the Macon County Coon Hunters Club building, located off of Prentiss Bridge Road just south of Franklin, North Carolina. All descendants of the Mansfield and Harriet (Black) Anderson family are invited to attend. Please bring a covered dish (or two!) and drinks, plus any stories, photos, or ephemera you may wish to share or show. We look forward to seeing y’all there!

September 2, 2012

Cemetery Sunday: Harden Cemetery, Rabun County, Georgia

Yesterday was a lovely day, in spite of scattered rain showers, or possibly because of them. Richard and I decided to take the Jeep out on the back roads to avoid the heavy traffic on the main arteries from tourists out enjoying the Labor Day weekend. He suggested visiting a small cemetery located about halfway through Burrell’s Ford Road (Forest Service Road 646) off of Highway 28, near Rabun County’s eastern border with South Carolina.

To get to the cemetery, we took Warwoman Road (off of Highway 441) from Clayton, which dead-ends into Highway 28 at Pine Mountain. Take a right toward South Carolina. (Going left will take you through Satolah and into Highlands, NC.) Some distance out, take a left on Burrell’s Ford Road. Exactly four miles from 28, take a left onto an unmarked road, and from there take the first unmarked road on the left. You’ll do fine in just about any normal-clearance vehicle until hitting the last road. Either park at the bottom and walk up (it’s not far, but it is steep and rough), or bring a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle. The cemetery is at the end of the last road.

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