Peterson, Carla L. Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2011 :
In short, our field is belatedly undergoing the standardization that pharmacology and every other respected discipline has had to undergo to enter the ranks of academic fields of study.Is this correct? Is genealogy belatedly undergoing standardization? At this point, I might suggest reading another book I have referred to several times. This one talks about the history of genealogy in the United States: Weil, François. Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America. 2013. The history of genealogy as both a pastime and a profession is much more complicated than a simple characterization of a dichotomy between, as Tammy states,
Experts who believe that the only way to do genealogy is GPS-guided research don’t understand what genealogy is. Like most liberal arts, it falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. It is about truth and meaning. Denying the role of meaning altogether rejects much of what makes genealogy a distinct discipline.The reference to GPS is the Genealogical Proof Standard. There is a very extensive discussion in the comments to Tammy's post that I recommend to anyone even vaguely interested in topic. What caught my attention was Tammy's link to a post by Drew Smith that was essentially aimed at some of my own earlier comments.
I would like to make a few points. First of all, unlike other hobbies and even professional disciplines as a genealogist, I am not dealing with an abstract concept. I am dealing with my family and my relatives. Let me go to my usual hypothetical situations. Let's suppose that I would like to build a house and live in it. Do I care about the standards to which the various components of the house are constructed? Do I care if the electrical wiring is "up to code" or conforms to some standard? Sure, I could hire someone off the street who thought it would be "fun" to build a house. But would I want to live in the house that resulted from this fun activity?
The difference between genealogy and other avocations, interests, hobbies or what not, is pretty simple. I have to live in the family tree house built by the other genealogists. I do not have an elitist or scholarly viewpoint about the standards of construction of my genealogical house. I have a very basic practical issue. When there are people who are either related to me or claim to be related to me and they make up information or do sloppy work, I have to live with the results. We are not talking about someone's efforts to sew or make their own woodworking projects, We are talking about a shared inheritance of information. The fundamental issue is one of accuracy; am I really related to these people or not? I understand that you may think I am overly fastidious about my efforts to convince people to be accurate, but they are building my genealogical house and I have to live in it.
There is a pretty good review of the issues involved through Tammy's post and extensive comments. But all this talk about whether or not there is a place for "hobbyists" in genealogy misses the point. Of course people are entitled to participate in their own activities. But as we live in complex societies, we limit those activities that impinge on the common good and interests of the group. Out here in the Southwest, we have a lot of people who have the hobby of riding All Terrain Vehicles or ATVs. I don't happen to one of them. But do we allow people who have fun riding ATVs to drive their vehicles anywhere and at any time they please? No, we set some standards for their participation in their "fun" activity. Why do we do this as a society? Because what they do for fun can impinge on what we perceive to be a greater good; the preservation of our wilderness areas. Because, like genealogy, we all have an interest in the general environment. Is there a heated dispute between the ATV riders and those who wish to preserve the wilderness? Of course. Likewise, there are the same kinds of interests being disputed in the genealogical community.
If you are an ATV rider, you may think my objection to your "sport or hobby" is elitist and academic. But even though you don't like my viewpoint, my answer is the same, too bad. I have my viewpoint and you have yours. I will not give up my standards and if I had my way, ATVs would be even more limited than they are presently. Do those who ride ATVs have a right to ride their machines? Yes, of course, but only so long as they maintain certain standards. For example, do not ride in a National Park off of designated areas.
My example is not a contrived as you might think. The question is this: do I have some kind of expectation that my ancestors be correctly and accurately identified? This issue becomes one of more than academic interest when you factor in the issue of a unified family tree such as FamilySearch.org's Family Tree. Does some hobbyist have the right to go in and change my mother's birthdate to the wrong date just for fun? Should ignorance be an excuse?
Most of the discussion by the various parties on Tammy's post talk around this issue but regardless, it is a basic issue. When we share the genealogical road with each other, we should have some expectation of conformity to an established standard. We do share this road because we are related to one another. Are we really prepared to let the genealogical ATV riders go anywhere they please at any time?
From my standpoint, the issue is whether or not accuracy in family history really matters. I happen to have deeply held philosophical and religious beliefs that say that accuracy does, in fact, matter. So you can brand me any way you like, but I will still go on teaching and writing as long as I am able and trying to help anyone interested enough to listen to aspire to higher standards of accuracy, hobbyist or professional alike.
Of course, I am not a certified expert and my opinion does not count in some circles but I do think I know a little bit about what genealogy is and is not. This brings up another issue, probably the topic for another post, who is and who is not an expert genealogist? How do I place myself in the community? Is community validation important? Isn't the issue one of self-awareness and even self-promotion rather than any particular level of competency? I am certainly not always "right" as my readers and detractors are quick to tell me.
I would like to end with an excellent comment by Drew Smith to the original post cited above. I quote,
And the one thing that *all* aspects of genealogy share is that they are about establishing relationships (parent to child, sibling to sibling, spouse to spouse), whether those are biological or legal or some other variation. It may involve all kinds of other things, too (family stories, photographs, historical context, and much more), but at its heart, it is still about establishing the relationships. And if those relationships cannot be established with evidence to justify the conclusion, then it all falls apart. It may be wishful thinking, but it isn’t genealogy. It simply doesn’t qualify under any reasonable definition of the term.Sorry for all the mixed metaphors.