August 16, 2013

I(ntrovert), Genealogist

I’ve been trying to post a list of my genealogy readings on Fridays, but this week I want to share a book that is related to genealogy only by chance. I ordered Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain through Inter-Library Loan because I’m an introvert (yes, really), and being an introvert has a devastatingly negative effect on my career. Yes, really.

The first section of Quiet deals with the “Extrovert Ideal,” that is, the emphasis our society places on extroversion, and the many assumptions that follow because of this emphasis. Extroverts are seen as natural leaders. Their ideas are followed more frequently not because they’re right, but because they’re assertive and talkative. Extroverted people are seen as more attractive, more intelligent…just more. Not because of their character or anything tangible, but simply because of their outgoing nature.

Introverts, on the other hand, are negatively labeled in just about everything, and I can attest to this from personal experience. If I had a dollar for every comment my parents made to me about speaking up in public, finding a “real” job (working with the public, naturally), being more like my sister (the brilliant, beautiful, outgoing teacher and coach with an active social life and tons of friends)…

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August 9, 2013

This Week’s Readings

Genealogy-related reads over the past week.

Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Good Genealogical Writing,” originally published in OnBoard 4 (May 1986): 16; available online through the Skillbuilding section of the Board for Certification of Genealogists web site. I love the BCG web site, because it has some really useful educational tools, including reproductions of articles that appeared in past issues of OnBoard. I read all of those articles when I first discovered the web site (and continue to read “new” articles as they are added), but I also periodically review the articles I’ve found to be most useful, including this one.

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August 7, 2013

The Appalachiana, Vol. I, Issue 1, August 2013

The first issue of the Southern Appalachians Genealogical Association’s quarterly newsletter, The Appalachiana, has just come out. Many people put much work into making the newsletter a reality, from the authors to members of SAGA’s Publications Committee and Board of Directors. We’ve put the Table of Contents for this issue online. Our feature articles include:

  • The Georgia Archives Endures, by Michele Simmons Lewis
  • Research at the East Tennessee History Center, by Sue Ann A. Reese
  • Exploring the 1906 Eastern Cherokee Applications, by Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt
  • From the Experts: Two Writing Tools for Managing a Research Project, by Julie Cahill Tarr

All of the contributing authors did an excellent job, and we thank them for their patience and commitment to this project.

August 6, 2013

Now Available: Rabun County, Georgia, Writs, 1836 – 1859

I’m very pleased to announce the release of my newest book-length project, Rabun County, Georgia, Writs, 1836 – 1859. This book covers early Superior and Inferior Court records that have never before been published, and that are not microfilmed. The only way to access these records is by viewing the originals, which are located in the Clerk of the Superior Court’s office in Clayton.

In spite of the title (which was taken from the titles of the original bound record volumes), this publication includes many different kinds of court records, including: complaints or petitions, affidavits, acknowledgments of service, executions of writs, receipts, confessions of judgments, answers, pleas, verdicts of juries, bonds, counterclaims, and, of course, writs (e.g. subpoenas). The covered court cases were primarily civil in nature.

By using these writ and other records in conjunction with extant court minutes, dockets, and other court records, one can gain a more clear and detailed picture of the nature of court proceedings, as well as the activities of one’s ancestors.

Rabun County, Georgia, Writs, 1836 – 1859 is hardcover, 6×9″ with 334 + x pages, with a glossary of legal terms and an every-name and subject index. The cost is $30 plus $3 shipping and handling. Orders postmarked on or before 21 August 2013 receive a $5 discount off the total cost of the book. To order, e-mail me or write to: Dawn Watson, P. O. Box 292, Rabun Gap, GA 30568.

August 3, 2013

On the Value of Information, Genealogical or Otherwise

I continue to see a troubling phrase in regards to certain records, that they “hold little genealogical value.” Is this our only concern as researchers, that records hold genealogical information? Is it not possible for records to hold information important to one’s research, in spite of the presumptive lack of genealogical information?

The answer to the latter question has been demonstrated, repeatedly and by various individuals, to be an unequivocal and emphatic yes. Directed searches in records that, in general, are believed to “hold little genealogical value” can still be quite useful in sorting out two (or more) individuals of the same name, pinpointing the residence or daily activities of an ancestor or potential ancestor (and thus placing him or her in close proximity to potential relatives), or overcoming local governmental records losses.

One needn’t look far for an excellent example. Helen F. M. Leary in her pointed article “Sally Hemings’s Children: A Genealogical Analysis of the Evidence”1 used information from a wide variety of sources including Monticello’s architecture to demonstrate that Thomas Jefferson was, indeed, the father of all of Sally’s children; but, of equal importance, to refute evidence to the contrary. Other examples of the need to expand research into records of “little genealogical value,” when circumstances dictate the necessity of doing so, are published regularly, if not frequently, in modern genealogical periodicals.

When records are described as “holding little genealogical value” or otherwise limited in use by well-intentioned authors, it sends mixed signals to less-experienced researchers (should one expand research into non-traditional records or not?) and discourages them from using records creatively in ways that the author might not have considered, in spite of his or her familiarity with the same. A researcher’s best action is, therefore, not to ignore such advice, but to judge the value of a record on the merits of how its information affects research outcomes, not on the presumption of whether or not it holds genealogical information.

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1. Helen F. M. Leary, “Sally Hemings’s Children: A Genealogical Analysis of the Evidence,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 89 (September 2001): 165-207. This special issue of the NGSQ included several perspectives from various scholars on the Jefferson-Hemings affair.

August 2, 2013

This Week’s Readings

I read an awful lot of material every week, most of it pertaining to genealogy and related fields. Here are a few of the things I’ve read this past week.

The Genealogical Reader edited by Noel C. Stevenson (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1958). One good thing about the APG mailing list is that members will occasionally post books they’ve weeded from their own libraries in the hopes that another member will have use for those particular books. A while back, I lucked out and procured through the list a discarded library copy of this book. I had a little time this past week, so I pulled it out one night and spent a few hours devouring it.

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July 26, 2013

The Internet and the Public Domain: Usually Two Different Things

Some people erroneously believe that if it’s been published on the Internet, it’s in the public domain. For the vast majority of works, including blog posts and web sites, this is simply not true. Even if a work does not carry a copyright notice, either the standard one or a license under Creative Commons (or something of that nature), and even if it’s not formally registered, it still falls under the protection of federal (and likely international) copyright laws.

The only exceptions to this are things like government web sites and publications (because the government is a public entity, its publications are always in the public domain) and works where the copyright protection has lapsed, such as many of the older books that have been digitized by Google, etc. Even still, common practice and standards in genealogy dictate that these should be appropriately attributed.

Let’s be frank, folks: Copying someone else’s work without proper attribution is plagiarism, regardless of whether or not a work is protected by copyright or license.

It’s unethical, if not outright illegal, to take someone else’s work and pass it off as one’s own. And when someone blatantly plagiarizes another person’s work, the solution is not to ignore it or titter behind one’s hand, like school children on a playground, but to bring this infraction to the public’s attention in a manner that is calm and rational.

Me? No one could accuse me of possessing either trait. My first reaction is always to go in with fists flying. (Or maybe cast iron pans. Hey, whatever’s handy.) Hmm. That must be the Scots-Irish in me…

July 25, 2013

Letting the Links Do the Talking

Copyright, plagiarism, and citing your sources by Michael Hait on his blog Planting the Seeds. Also, the slide show at the bottom of that post, “‘Top Ten Rules of Genealogy’: A Case in Plagiarism.”

Barry Ewell: Prayer is the most important tool I have as a genealogist (an excerpt from Ewell’s book Family Treasures: 15 Lessons, Tips, and Tricks for Discovering Your Family) by Barry Ewell, published in the Deseret News.

July 14, 2013

A Sunday Walk Around the Blogs

Stephanie West, an archaeology student at the University of West Georgia, is digging up swampland in Richmond Co., GA, along the Savannah River searching for clues to that area’s prehistoric settlements.

The Knitting Genealogist shares a fascinating look at a broken down brick wall in her family in Magenta Divine, which explores the generations-long involvement of these families in the wool industry.

Hoyt Bleakley and Joseph Ferrie have published the draft form of a paper titled Up from Poverty? The 1832 Cherokee Land Lottery and the Long-Run Distribution of Wealth. It should be noted that the reasons for distributing land in Georgia through a lottery system had nothing to do with helping the poor or distributing wealth, in and of itself. Instead, the system was undertaken because of earlier fraudulent practices, as the authors rightly explain. This paper should be very useful to genealogists who are concerned with the effects historical events had on their ancestors. Thanks to Harold Henderson for pointing it out.

Dave Lynch of 200 Years in Paradise has an interesting post Law & Order: Research & Proof in Genealogy, inspired by recent discussions in one of the groups studying Thomas W. Jones’ Mastering Genealogical Proof

June 30, 2013

When 2 + 2 = 22: A Multi-Path Approach to Getting It Right

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.