RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Am I a genealogist or a family historian?

I have this debate going on in my head.

Am I a genealogist or a family historian?

To put this into the #RootsTech 2014 dialogue, am I interested only in the dates on the gravemarker or the dash in between?

I thought I would list some of the symptoms I have of each and see where that leads me.

I am a genealogist because:
I am a stickler for accuracy and believability. I doubt every date and every conclusion until documentation from valid sources indicates a reasonable conclusion. All of the names, dates and places in my family tree are tentative. Nothing is conclusive. My present goal is to amass as much documentation about every single individual in my family tree that is humanly possible. This included stories, photos, documents of all kinds and every other scrap of possible information.

I am a family historian because:
I have gathered tens of thousands of photographs, dozens of journals, contributed piles of documents and documentation to Special Collections Libraries. Published and taught about the importance of stories and photos in hundreds of classes and uncounted blog posts. I have transcribed, digitized and reproduced an entire legacy of many of my family members. I am still in the planning stage of submitting another huge set of digitized and organized documents to another Special Collections Library.

I am a genealogist because:
I don't happen to believe that all the stories I have heard about my ancestors are verifiable and true. I don't accept the printed surname books that have been passed down to me, I have found too many contradictions. I am appalled at the duplication of wrong information in online family trees and the absolute lack of source material. I have spent many years encouraging, cajoling and literally begging people to document their sources. I care about names, dates and especially places. I want them to be accurate.

I am a family historian because:
I care about the individual lives of each of my ancestors. They are real people who faced real problems. I live daily with the burden of my entire ancestral line. I have been waiting patiently (and sometimes not so patiently) for FamilySearch to fix their online family tree so I can make real progress in correcting the errors of the last 150 years. Had I been asked, I would have suggested that FamilySearch include stories, photos, audio files and videos from the very beginning.

I am a genealogist because:
I think like a genealogist. I sleep, eat, drink and breathe genealogy. I have read and re-read the Genealogical Proof Standard dozens of times. I know I am probably considered a fanatic, but I really don't care. I will drive for hours, climb through brambles and sweat a lot just to look at a gravesite. I will sit for hours and days in front of microfilm reader looking at fuzzy images just for the opportunity of finding one date.

I am a family historian because:
I am willing to share without conditions anything I have ever found out about my family. I will give copies of any of my data to anyone who is interested. When I gave over 6300 images to the University of Arizona Special Collections, I insisted and wrote it into the contract that all of the images would be in the public domain. I welcome people adding any sourced information to the FamilySearch Family Tree, but I will challenge anyone who makes unsupported changes.

Now which am I? A genealogist or a family historian? I guess I will never know.

9 comments:

  1. A genealogist compiles a pedigree of the family, a family historian complies a history of the family.

    In other words the genealogist provides the skeleton whilst the family historian goes further and seeks the historic details of members of that family and how they interact with the society they live in (i.e. they put the meat on the skeleton).
    Cheers
    Guy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment. I guess my question would be why is there an artificial distinction between the two terms? Aren't both approaches necessary?

      Delete
    2. Firstly, everything the genealogist does, has to be done by the family historian - Guy said "the family historian goes further and seeks", not "instead of that, the family historian seeks".

      Secondly, in the UK, the two terms are, in practice, now interchangeable. Originally, the two terms were as Guy described, and, if we need to make a distinction for some reason, it's still that distinction we make. Generally, we're "family historians" but recognise "genealogists" as being the same thing. (Saves mis-spelling "geneologists").

      Thirdly - let me ask you a question - why do Americans feel the need to continually use both terms? And act like there is a day-to-day and current difference?

      Adrian B

      Delete
    3. Thanks for the question and another blog post topic. Why the distinction indeed!

      Delete
  2. Great post. You provided food for thought for all of us. I think you are both a genealogist and a family historian. You provide an excellent service. Thanks for the blogs.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'd say you are both. And in my opinion, both are necessary in order to provide a rich and accurate family tree.

    ReplyDelete
  4. James,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in my Fab Finds post today at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/02/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-february-21.html

    Have a great weekend!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I aspire to be both! Thanks for a thoughtful comment---I'd never thought that there were two different labels!

    ReplyDelete