Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 20 January 2013

The following recent blog posts are those that I consider important or notable. Unlike other similar blog lists, I cannot guarantee that they will all be from the past week. (Some weeks I simply do not have time to read any blogs.) But I will try to write this on a fairly regular basis.

Ron Coddington, “2012 Images of the Year,” Faces of War blog, posted 24 December 2012 (http://facesofthecivilwar.blogspot.com/ : accessed 20 January 2013). The Civil War was one of the first major events–and the first American war–documented with photographs. These images are striking.

Judy G. Russell, CG, “The returns of the season,” The Legal Genealogist blog, posted 26 December 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 20 January 2013). Judy writes about supporting local genealogical societies, a subject I have also addressed on numerous occasions.

Maria Popova, “Richard Dawkins on Evidence in Science, Life and Love: A Letter to His 10-Year-Old Daughter,” Brain Pickings blog, posted 28 December 2012 (http://www.brainpickings.org/ : accessed 20 January 2013). This post quotes from a letter discussing evidence–a very important topic in science as well as genealogy.

Harold Henderson, CG, “Perfectionism: Is the Best the Enemy?,” Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 31 December 2012 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed 20 January 2013). Harold questions whether every article published in genealogy journals has to be a perfectly-proven case.

Eric Schultz, “When Do We Forget?,” The Historical Society blog, posted 10 January 2013 (http://histsociety.blogspot.com/ : accessed 20 January 2013). Mr. Schultz takes a look at what percentage of today’s U. S. population might remember some of the most important–and memorable–events that occurred in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Harold Henderson, CG, “So You Want to Re-Invent Genealogy? Here’s How,” Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 January 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed 20 January 2013). The standards in genealogy have been developed through decades of experience. Do you think your research experience has inspired better standards?

Continuing education for genealogists

Continuing education is a very important aspect of being a professional genealogist, or becoming one. When this post appears a few days after my writing it, I will be knee-deep in the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, where I will be presenting nine lectures in two courses and a tenth evening lecture.

On January 22, registration will begin for the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University.

In May the National Genealogical Society conference will be held in Las Vegas. June will see IGHR and the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree, July brings the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh and the National Institute of Genealogical Research, and August has the Federation of Genealogical Societies annual conference in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

In the meantime, dozens of webinars will be offered where genealogists can learn from the comfort of their living room. Other opportunities for distance learning include the certificate programs offered by the National Institute of Genealogical Studies, and the National Genealogical Society’s Home Study Course and other free and online courses.

For many genealogists, these opportunities and others are well-known.

Did you know that a number of prestigious universities around the United States now offer free non-credit online history courses taught by esteemed professors and historians?

Take a look at a few that have piqued my interest:

Open Yale Courses (Yale University)

  • “African American History: From Emancipation to the Present,” Jonathan Holloway
  • “The American Revolution,” Joanne Freeman
  • “The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877,” David W. Blight
  • “European Civilization, 1648-1945,” John Merriman
  • “Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts,” Keith E. Wrightson
  • “France Since 1871,” John Merriman

BYU Independent Study (Brigham Young University)

  • “Introduction to Family History Research”
  • “Writing Family History”
  • “Helping Children Love Your Family History”
  • “Family Records”
  • “Vital Records”
  • “Military Records”
  • “French Research”
  • “Germany Research”
  • “Huguenot Research”
  • “Scandinavia Research”

OpenCourseWare, Utah State University

Open Courses @ Illinois Springfield (University of Illinois-Springfield)

New York University

University of California-Berkeley (via Internet Archive)

 

There are a lot of other courses available online in addition to these. If you know of some that I have missed, please feel free to include a link in the comments below.

Genealogy organizations: what have you done for me lately?

On 9 January 2013, Amy Coffin posted “Mind the Gap: Comparing Genealogy Associations to Other Info-Based Groups” in her We Tree Genealogy Blog. The post referred back to a blog post written by the CEO of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), “SLA in 2012: Laying the Groundwork for an Essential Association.” I would invite all of my readers to read both posts, as well as the comments on “Mind the Gap.”

Amy wrote that genealogy organizations should look to the organizations of other fields, such as SLA, for inspiration in meeting their members’ needs.

Though I am a member of no less than six state genealogical societies, a few more historical societies, and a handful of county societies, I am only on the Board of Directors of one organization—which is also a professional organization in the same vein as the SLA. Of course I mean the Association of Professional Genealogists.

Quite honestly, while the CEO of SLA used a lot of inspiring catchphrases, I cannot see what actions the organization has taken that could be implemented by APG or any other organization as an improvement. A “vision” without action to back it up is mere fantasy.

Amy made a comment that resonated with me: “Why is APG membership essential to my development?”

For me, the answer is simple: The APG membership itself is essential. By this, I mean the members, individually and collectively. The knowledge of local history, repositories, records, etc., of  members of APG is the greatest genealogical resource in the world, in my opinion. Learning from these members–not just in a classroom or lecture hall, but through one-on-one discussion–has been the single most important factor in my genealogical education.

To bring this perspective back to the discussion at hand: Amy and several other commentors mentioned several things that APG should be doing better.

APG (and other genealogy organizations) are volunteer-run membership organizations. They rely on the hard work of volunteers. So, in essence, “they” are us.

When a genealogist says, “XYZ County Genealogical Society doesn’t provide any essential services or products to me, so I didn’t renew,” there is a distinct, discernible belief that “the Society” must be a provider to its members.

The reverse is closer to the truth.

There is no “Society” without the work of its members. If you, as a member, are just sitting around waiting for “them” to give you something, then you will probably be disappointed. As a member, you should be contributing–whether it be as an officer or on a committee or even just something as simple as writing an article for the newsletter.

What societies do provide to their members rests solely on the backs of other members who are willing to volunteer their time, energy, and hard work to making the society better. The members who contribute nothing but complain that nothing is being done are the biggest problem with societies. There can be no “take” without someone “giving.”

I recognize that time is limited, and not everyone has free hours to contribute. But the dues that members pay themselves help to keep the electricity in the library on, or purchase new books, or pay for a speaker to present. Just by maintaining your membership, you are contributing. And if you suddenly find yourself with a free weekend, maybe you can spend some time organizing or indexing the vertical files, or writing an article for the newsletter, or baking cookies for the next meeting, or filling some other need.

Genealogy organizations, including APG, exist through the efforts of volunteers. Members can either complain about the problems, or work to change them.

My choice to do the latter is why I sit on the Board of Directors of APG and several committees, as well as paying dues to all of the societies of which I am a member.

Looking Back on ’12, Forward to ’13

The New Year always brings reflection. Since I started this blog, I have used it as a way to gauge my professional progress. You can read about my goals from previous years in these earlier posts:

In last year’s post, I set a few goals for myself. Let’s see how I managed to meet them (or not):

1. Continue to design new presentations. . . .

This was a great year for presenting. I did two all-day workshops in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in March, and in Germantown, Tennessee, in May. I also spoke at the National Genealogical Society Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, in May. And in June I delivered five lectures at the Institute of Genealogy & Historical Research in Birmingham, Alabama. I also delivered several individual lectures in Philadelphia and at several societies in Maryland and Delaware.

As for 2013, first up is the Maryland Genealogy Crash Course for Family Tree University on January 10. From January 14 through January 18, I will be on the faculty at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, co-teaching Course 8: Producing a Quality Family Narrative, with John Philip Colletta, Ph.D., FUGA, presenting two lectures in Thomas MacEntee’s Course 6: A Genealogist’s Guide to the Internet Galaxy, and delivering an evening lecture, “What is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search’?.”

Then in June, I will again be on the faculty of the Institute of Genealogy & Historical Research, with three lectures in Course 3: Research in the South, Part II: Cessions & Territories, and one lecture in Course 6: Professional Genealogy. On July 17 I will be conducting another webinar for Legacy Family Tree, “Research in the Old Line State: An Overview of Maryland Genealogy.” From July 21 through July 26 John Philip Colletta and I will be teaching “Your Immigrant Ancestors’ Stories: Writing a Quality Narrative” at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh.

I hope to see some of you in the coming year!

2. Complete some books that have been sitting on my shelf. . . .

Nope, still didn’t get them finished. Maybe I’ll have time in 2013.

3. Finish my updated edition of Online State Resources for Genealogy. . . .

I finished the updated edition in August, with both a PDF and an EPUB edition (which still has some bugs). With the book growing each year, it will take longer and longer to check the links and add new resources. I believe that an annual update will be a more realistic goal, especially considering my other projects. Expect a new edition sometime this summer.

4. Get started on some new books. . . .

I have started the series, and expect that I will be able to get at least the first volume (maybe more) finished this year.

5. Have an article accepted for publication in an academic journal. . . .

I had two articles published in the Maryland Genealogical Society Journal in 2012 and my first article will be published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly in the upcoming December 2012 issue. I have a little more research to do for the article I intend for The Genealogist, but I have already started writing the Maryland Historical Magazine article.

6. Get better at time management. . . .

My time management has improved slightly. Still want to be more productive in 2013.

7. Write some magazine articles. . . .

I had a much slower year in magazines in 2012. I did have an article published in Family Chronicle, an article in the National Genealogical Society Magazine, and two articles in the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly.

8. Submit to genealogy writing competitions. . . .

In April I learned that I had won first prize in the National Genealogical Society Family History Writing Contest! It was such a tough competition that they actually chose two winners, myself and F. Warren Bitner, CG. I would like to take this time to congratulate Warren as well, whom I have finally gotten to know a little bit at the 2012 national conferences.

I didn’t enter any other competitions in 2012, so on that end I failed, but here’s looking forward to the future. :)

9. Attend the new Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh. . . .

Sadly, after being away from home, out of state, for eight weekends in a row̶–̶̶from the 2012 NGS Conference through the Institute of Genealogy & Historical Research at Samford University–I simply had to rest. But, while I did not attend the Institute in 2012, I will be attending in 2013. I am actually going to be on the faculty, teaching the course “Your Immigrant Ancestors’ Stories: Writing a Quality Narrative” with coordinator John Philip Colletta, Ph.D., FUGA.

10. Find some time to research my family for a change!

Not as much as I may have liked. But I have been getting some of my research written into at least one article that I hope to submit to the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record later this year. Maybe I’ll be able to write more than one. If I start writing articles on my previous research on my own and my wife’s families, I could potentially have articles in journals of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and South Dakota! This is a long-term project, though, so don’t expect too many in 2013.

I already have quite a bit planned for 2013, so I am not going to set any goals other than to renew the goals from 2012. Let’s see if I have any better luck this year.

Happy New Year!

Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 23 December 2012

The following recent blog posts are those that I consider important or notable. Unlike other similar blog lists, I cannot guarantee that they will all be from the past week. (Some weeks I simply do not have time to read any blogs.) But I will try to write this on a fairly regular basis.

I finally caught up on most of my blog reading. I missed a lot in the past few months. The following posts are those that were still showing up in that “1000+” in Google Reader, presented in no particular order.

Harold Henderson, CG, “Dueling Birth Dates: Is Your Database the Solution or the Problem?,” Midwestern Microhistory blog, posted 22 October 2012 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed 18 December 2012). I have been highly critical of most genealogy database software in this blog and elsewhere. Part of the reason for my criticism is the design of these software programs after tools for recording conclusions, yet the use of these programs as tools for recording conflicting “facts.” This article explores another aspect of this phenomenon.

Harold Henderson, CG, “What Does It Mean to Be ‘Out of Date’?,” Midwestern Microhistory blog, posted 13 December 2012 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed 18 December 2012). In this post Harold discusses the classic book on American Genealogy by Val Greenwood. Some have argued that Greenwood’s book should be updated to reflect online research. I agree with Harold’s conclusions.

Chris Stevenson, “How Important is an Index?,” Family History Publishing blog, posted 28 November 2012 (http://sgenealogy.com/blog : accessed 18 December 2012). Indexes are arguably the most important thing a genealogical author can include in his book. This article discusses several electronic means for creating your index.

Hari Jones, “The ‘Interpretive Choice’ in Spielberg’s Lincoln,” African American Civil War Memorial blog, posted 23 November 2012 (http://afroamcivilwar.blogspot.com : accessed 19 December 2012). Hari Jones, with the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, DC, defends the history in the new Lincoln movie. The author is one of the most engaging lecturers I have ever had the pleasure of seeing, and a lot of it stems from his ability to provide specific details and statistics from the Civil War without any notes.

I doubt I really need to recommend these articles. Who would expect anything less than the best from this author? But I will point them out anyway:

Kassie Nelson, “Reflections of a Grad Student,” Cedar Tree Genealogy blog, posted 19 December 2012 (http://cedartree.blog.com : accessed 20 December 2012). I have not directly witnessed the anti-academic attitude that Kassie discusses in this post. Sadly, I do not doubt that it exists, and I hope that we—as a field—can move past it.

Randy Seaver, “Watch Out for Early Dates in Ancestry’s ‘Massachusetts Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988′ Collection,” Genea-Musings blog, posted 13 December 2012 (http://www.geneamusings.com : accessed 20 December 2012). This post discusses a very important aspect of colonial research that still causes a lot of confusion: the Julian vs. Gregorian calendars. In this case, Ancestry.com indexers made the mistake of misunderstanding the dates, which will undoubtedly cause a LOT of erroneous family trees.

Betty Lou Malesky, CG, “Genealogy Today: Take time to produce well-sourced, quality work,” Green Valley News & Sun, posted 10 December 2012 (http://www.gvnews.com/opinion/columnists/genealogy_columnist_betty_malesky/ : accessed 20 December 2012). In the flurry of critical blog posts surrounding Sharon Tate Moody’s recent Tampa Bay Online column, Ms. Malesky defends the position that genealogists should produce accurate work.

Roger Courville, “Five #TED talks every virtual presenter should study,” The Virtual Presenter blog, posted 24 November 2012 (http://thevirtualpresenter.com/ : accessed 18 December 2012). I love TED talks, and I love webinars. With more and more genealogy presenters becoming involved with webinars, this post (and the blog in general) has a lot of lessons that should be learned.

Kevin Levin, “Interpretation of Slavery at Civil War Battlefields,” Civil War Memory blog, posted 4 December 2012 (http://cwmemory.com/ : accessed 22 December 2012). Mr. Levin posts a video from a 2002 University of Richmond panel discussion about historic interpretation at Civil War battlefields. I found it interesting to watch, in part due to my continuing involvement with Monocacy National Battlefield, researching the lives of African Americans enslaved on the former plantation.

U. S. Census Pathfinder now available

I recently completed a free PDF e-book: U. S. Census Pathfinder.

This e-book compiles available information from government and independent websites concerning the U. S. federal census. These resources will allow genealogists and historians to use the federal census to its greatest potential. Among the resources are

  • authorizing acts of Congress;
  • enumeration instructions;
  • original (blank) census forms;
  • information about the original manuscript schedules held at the National Archives in Washington;
  • links and descriptive pamphlets (DPs) of the microfilm editions;
  • links to free and pay sources for digital images;
  • statistical compendia; and
  • explanatory or background articles.

If you use the federal census in your research—and what American researcher doesn’t?—please use this to find the background material you need. You can find the e-book in the “Free Resources” section of my business website, or by following the link above.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think. What have I missed?

Genealogical fallacies in logic

When I was in high school I took a course called “Theory of Knowledge.” I may have enjoyed this course more than any other course I had ever taken up to that point and since (right up until I took Course 4 at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research).

One of the course units dealt with classical logic, and logical fallacies. I recently found a handout on “Logical Fallacies” that I received in the course. Sadly I cannot produce a “full and accurate” citation to this handout, as I can’t remember details from nearly twenty years ago.

Much of scholarly genealogical research involves the use of logic–deductive and inductive reasoning. Many of the errors that occur in research similarly result in fallacies of logic. I would like to discuss the most common fallacies, as described on this twenty-year-old high school handout, here.

First the definition of a fallacy:

Fallacies are mistakes in reasoning.

A fallacy is an error in reasoning or in an argument. As such they are not rational in the true sense of the word. Most people who commit fallacies do so out of carelessness or haste. Many people who use fallacies are trying to side-step pure reasoning and manipulate others through psychological techniques. There are hundreds of different fallacies, but a few are listed below:

Not only does this definition address fallacies in a simplified way, it also demonstrates that many of the most common genealogical mistakes are directly caused by fallacies. The small selection of fallacies that I have extracted from the handout for this blog post below further demonstrate this connection between genealogical error and poor reasoning:

1. Hasty generalization – Drawing a conclusion (inference) on insufficient evidence.

2. Dicto simpliciter – Not taking genuine exceptions into account.

. . .

5. Circular reasoning – Going around in a circle – using the premise as the conclusion and vice versa – sometimes called “begging the question.”

6. False cause – supposing that two things that are connected by coincidence somehow cause each other.

. . .

8. Ad ignorantium – drawing a conclusion with no evidence one way or the other.

. . .

11. Appeal to authority – trying to get your position accepted because an authority says so when the authority is irrelevant to the issue.

12. Composition – Assuming what is true of the parts is true of the whole and vice – versa – what is true of the whole is true of the parts.

To demonstrate some of these fallacies, let us examine a few scenarios a genealogist might come across:

1. Hasty Generalization. Susan Smith, age 12 years, appears in the 1860 federal census in the household of Richard Smith, age 36 years. The fallacious conclusion would be that Susan Smith is the daughter of Richard Smith, with no further evidence to support it. The 1860 federal census does not provide family relationships, so any conclusion involving family relationships based on this evidence constitutes a fallacious argument.

2. Dicto simpliciter. Alexander Brown, an African American man, appears in the 1870 federal census in Mississippi. A genealogist falling prey to this fallacy would not even look for Alexander in the 1860 federal census, assuming that he was enslaved until the Civil War. The presence of free people of color in Mississippi (though relatively few) constitute “genuine exceptions.” The possibility that Alexander Brown was free in 1860–perhaps in another locality, migrating as a soldier during the War itself–exists.

8. Ad ignorantium. This fallacy is probably the most rampant in genealogy. Suppose family tradition says that your great-grandfather James Lee was related to Robert E. Lee. No connection is found. Or you great-great-grandmother Beatrice Jones was a “full-blooded American Indian.” Again, no evidence suggests this conclusion. Believing what you want to believe despite a lack of evidence is this fallacy in a nutshell.

11. Appeal to authority. A published family history says that William Mulliken came from  West Virginia. The fallacious conclusion would accept this statement as gospel, without further research. Just because it’s in print–even if the author is a well-respected authority–doesn’t mean its true.

We are all guilty of nearly all of these fallacies at one point or another in our career.

Do you have any other examples that immediately come to mind?

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Genealogical fallacies in logic,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 19 December 2012 (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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