Archive for April, 2013

Historical writing and when to use present tense

As a professional genealogist, much of what I do on a daily basis consists of writing. From client research reports to case studies to instructional articles or blog posts or even books, I probably write on average a half-dozen pages a day, every day. (Aside: in today’s digital world, is it still appropriate to discuss writing in terms of pages? It almost seems a bit like giving directions in terms of time, like “go down that road for seven minutes, then turn left.) This, of course, does not include the volumes of emails I compose and send every day, to clients and colleagues.

Recently Ben Yagoda, a professor of English and journalism at the University of Delaware, posted “Ben Yagoda Gets Sick of the Historical Present” on the Lingua Franca blog—an excellent blog for anyone interested in writing and editing. Mr. Yagoda gives several examples of the historical present tense, a history of its use in various genres of writing, and an exploration of why it might be so popular. He concludes that the tense is “essentially a novelty item. It’s tacky. Give it a rest.” The comments to this post are also quite informative, as a debate arises over the use of the historic present in discussing literature.[1]

There are two basic conventions for use of past and present tense in genealogical writing:

1. When discussing people or events of the past, use the past tense, e.g. “On 9 June 1827 Victoire sold L’Hermitage to John Brien.”

2. When discussing specific documents or records, use the present tense, e.g. “Baptismal records describe Caroline’s children as illegitimate” or “No Joseph Ridgely appears as a Maryland household head in 1820 or 1830 [referring to the federal census].”

The use of the historical present tense in these situations stems from the same logic as the use of the tense when discussing literature. Records exist in the present time. What they say (or don’t say) is said in the present time, when a modern reader reads it. So it would be proper to state that Victoire sold land in 1827, and that the deed describes the property in a certain way. When I look at the deed in 2013 (hypothetically) it says the same thing that it said in 1827.

Other genres tend to use the historical present to describe a past event. As historical writers, however, we should be careful to follow the two conventions mentioned above. Not only does this limit the possibility of confusion, following grammatical conventions simply makes our writing more professional.

SOURCES:

[1] Ben Yagoda, “Ben Yagoda Gets Sick of the Historical Present,” Lingua Franca blog, posted 23 April 2013 (http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca : accessed 28 April 2013).

A case for the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine

For many genealogical writers, the “top of the food chain” is to be published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

Other journals carry the same weight in the genealogy world: The Genealogist (published by the American Society of Genealogists) and The American Genealogist (founded by Donald Lines Jacobus, published independently) among them. Most genealogists include the New England Historical and Genealogical Register and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record in the same category.

Then there is the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine.

The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine was first published in January 1895 as Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, Volume I, No. 1. This early date of publication makes PGM the third longest-running genealogical journal in continuous publication, after the Register (1847) and the Record (1870).[1]

This first issue contained the following message to members of the Society, from the Committee on Publication—L. Taylor Dickson, P. S. P. Conner, and Thomas Allen Glenn:

The Board of Directors of the Society has long thought it desirable to place before you some part of the valuable papers from time to time received, and which, if bound up in the regular manuscript volumes of our collections, might not be so available or interesting as if published. Lack of sufficient funds for such a purpose has prevented printing until the present month, when the following pages are issued at a trifling cost, and will, if approved, be continued periodically.[2]

The second issue under the same Committee on Publication was released in July 1896; the delay was certainly due to the continued “[l]ack of sufficient funds.” It contained forty-five pages of abstracts of seventeenth-century Philadelphia wills, followed by lists of the Society’s officers and members, and the Third and Fourth Annual Reports.[3]

The last issue of the Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania was released in the Spring of 1947. That last issue is a milestone for several reasons.

Firstly, in a “Statement of Policy Concerning Future Publications,” the Committee on Publications submitted nine recommendations, among them that the title of the journal be changed to Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and that “lists of tombstone inscriptions, pastoral lists of baptisms, marriages, and burials, and similar data be allotted a much smaller space in future numbers of the Magazine than has been accorded them in the past.”[4]

Secondly, the newly-appointed editor, John Goodwin Herndon, described the new mission of the journal on “The Editor’s Page”:

Readers will notice in the current number two departures from previous practices. . . . The second change which our readers will have noticed is the inclusion herein of certain family studies. . . . We hope that all readers who have interesting and carefully prepared articles ready for publication, which relate to Pennsylvanians or their families, will submit them to the editor, so that out of a rich stock of genealogical manuscripts, a fine choice may be made for inclusion in our new Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine.[5]

It is worth noting that Mr. Herndon was elected to the American Society of Genealogists in 1945.[6] It is also worth noting that one of those first two “family studies” was “The Stauffer–Stouffer (Stover) Family of Pennsylvania,” written by Meredith B. Colket, Jr., M.A., F.A.S.G.[7] On his “Editor’s Page,” Mr. Herndon recited Mr. Colket’s qualifications:

Mr. Colket is the associate editor of The American Genealogist, secretary and Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, governor of the Mayflower Society in the District of Columbia, member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Order of Founders and Patriots of America, and on the staff of the National Archives, Washington, D. C.[8]

Mr. Colket was also elected the National Genealogical Society’s Genealogy Hall of Fame in 1992, the seventh overall inductee.[9]

Thirdly (and finally), this last issue under the Publications title published an address to the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania at its Fifty-fifth Annual Meeting, held on 3 March 1947. This address—entitled “The American Society of Genealogists”—was delivered by John Goodwin Herndon, Ph.D., F.A.S.G.[10] The many significant passages in this published address included:

  • “The American Society of Genealogists was formed in 1940. From then until now its president has been Dr. Arthur Adams, of Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, known to many in this room. Originally there were twelve Fellows. In 1942, the number was increased to 36. The following year the number was constitutionally fixed at 50. All nominations and elections necessary to complete the membership were filled by the summer of 1944. . . . On 30 March 1946 the Society was incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia. As stated in its charter, its purposes include ‘the association of genealogists for their pleasure and benefit; the encouragement of genealogical research and the publications of the results; and in general the securing for genealogy recognition as a serious scientific subject of research in the historical and the social fields of learning.’” [page 164]
  • “The two most important committees thus far appointed are those on Publications and on Standards in the Genealogical Profession. . . . The responsibility of the latter is to recommend the steps which it believes should be taken to insure to the employing public a guarantee of the capacity and integrity of a certified genealogist.” [page 166]
  • “I said a few minutes ago that the second part of the Society’s program bears upon the establishment of standards in the genealogical profession. The time has come, I am sure most of you believe, when official or other protection should be extended to the practicing genealogist in the same way as standards are set by the American Bar Association for lawyer’s [sic], the American Medical Association for physicians and surgeons, and so on for other professional men and women. Thus we have certifying boards for accountants, architects, engineers, nurses. . . . Such steps were not taken in order to deny freedom of choice of occupation to individuals but to protect the public from misrepresentation and various corrupt practices.” [pages 167–168]

Here in 1947, we see the first stirrings of the creation of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, which would not be established until 1964.[11] Mr. Herndon even used the term “certified genealogist”!

The next issue, that of October 1948, was the first published under the name Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, Volume XVI. That issue contained research articles from Robert M. Torrence, Howard T. Dimick, John Goodwin Herndon, F.A.S.G., and Meredith B. Colket Jr., F.A.S.G.[12]

Volume XVII in 1949 further upheld the new ideals. The June issue included articles by Lewis D. Cook (elected to the American Society of Genealogists in 1949), Milton Rubincam (a founding trustee of both ASG and BCG, elected to the Genealogy Hall of Fame in 2003), and William J. Hoffman, F.A.S.G. The December issue included articles from George V. Massey II (elected to the American Society of Genealogists in 1950); and Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr., F.A.S.G. (elected to the Genealogy Hall of Fame in 2007), and Lewis D. Cook, F.A.S.G.[13]

The following Volume XVIII (1950–1951) included articles by John G. Herndon, F.A.S.G. and Walter L. Sheppard, Jr., and Lewis D. Cook, in the December 1950 issue; and Rosalie F. Bailey, F.A.S.G. (elected to the Genealogy Hall of Fame in 2010), in the September 1951 issue.[14]

Volume XVIII (1950–1951) was co-edited by John Goodwin Herndon and Lewis D. Cook, both Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists. They continued this relationship through Volume XIX, issue 3 (September 1954), when Lewis D. Cook became the sole editor.

With Volume XXIV (1965–1966) the editorship of the Magazine was taken up by Mrs. Hannah Benner Roach, elected to the American Society of Genealogists in 1961 and the Genealogy Hall of Fame in 2002. She served in this role until 1972.

Other members of the Publications Committee during this era included John Insley Coddington, F. A.S.G.,  and Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr. Mr. Coddington was also a former editor of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and was elected to the Genealogy Hall of Fame in 1997.[15]

Most recently, in 2001, Patricia Law Hatcher, F.A.S.G. (elected to A.S.G. in 2000), served as editor of the Magazine. She was joined by co-editor Aaron Goodwin in 2011, who became the sole (and current) editor the following year when Ms. Hatcher retired.

With such a long and illustrious history of publishing quality genealogical research, I must ask: shouldn’t the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine be included among the “top tier” of genealogy journals?

For more information on the Magazine, see also Aaron Goodwin, “The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine Now Online,” online reprint, Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania (http://genpa.org/sites/default/files/12-2_Goodwin.pdf : accessed  19 April 2013); originally published in American Ancestors, Spring 2011, 18–22.

SOURCES:

Note: Digital images of all issues of the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine (and the preceding Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania) cited below have been viewed in the Members-Only section of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania website (http://genpa.org/publications/pennsylvania-genealogical-magazine : accessed 19 Apr 2013).

[1] New England Historic Genealogical Society, “The New England Historical & Genealogical Register,” American Ancestors (http://www.americanancestors.org/the-register/ : accessed 19 Apr 2013). “The Record Online,” New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (http://newyorkfamilyhistory.org/research-discover/elibrary/record-online : accessed 19 Apr 2013).

[2] Committee on Publication, “To the Members of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania,” Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania 1 (1895): 5.

[3] Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania 1 (1896), no. 2.

[4] “Statement of Policy Concerning Future Publications,” Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania 15 (Spring 1947): 277.

[5] John Goodwin Herndon (uncredited), “The Editor’s Page,” Publications 15: 278.

[6] “Roll of All Fellows,” The American Society of Genealogists (http://fasg.org/AllFellows.html : accessed 19 Apr 2013).

[7] Meredith B. Colket, Jr., M.A., F.A.S.G., “The Stauffer–Stouffer (Stover) Family of Pennsylvania,” Publications 15: 216–258.

[8] Herndon, “The Editor’s Page,” Publications 15: 278.

[9] “NGS Genealogy Hall of Fame Members,” National Genealogical Society (http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/past_halloffame_winners : accessed 19 Apr 2013).

[10] John Goodwin Herndon, Ph.D., F.A.S.G, “The American Society of Genealogists,” Publications 15: 161–169.

[11] Kay Haviland Freilich, CG, “BCG History,” Board for Certification of Genealogists (http://bcgcertification.org/aboutbcg/bcghistory.html : accessed 19 Apr 2013); originally published in OnBoard, Volume 7, Number 1, January 2001.

[12] Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine 16 (1948).

[13] Cook, “Commodore Thomas Truxton, U.S.N., and His Descendants,” Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine 17 (June 1949): 3–32. Rubincam, “The Lure and Value of Genealogy,” PGM 17: 33–44. Hoffman, “Jan Willemsz Boekenoogen: An Early Settler of Germantown,” PGM 17: 45–55. Massey, “The Simpsons of Paxtang and Sunbury, Pennsylvania,” PGM 17 (December 1949): 59–68. Sheppard & Cook, “Harris of Cumberland County, New Jersey,” PGM 17: 79–109.

[14] Herndon, “Wiltbanck–Wiltbank Family of Sussex County, Delaware, and Philadelphia,” PGM 18 (December 1950): 3–72. Sheppard & Cook, “Harris of Cumberland County, New Jersey: Supplementary Notes,” PGM 18: 81–83. Bailey, “The Foos Family of Pennsylvania and Ohio,” PGM 18 (September 1951): 87–114; and “Griffith Families of Eastern Pennsylvania Using the Name Joseph,” PGM 18: 115–117.

[15] “NGS Genealogy Hall of Fame Members,” National Genealogical Society.

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “A case for the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 20 April 2013 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

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