RootsTech 2015

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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Genealogical Conversation


The following is a hypothetical conversation between four genealogists. As you will see from the conversation, each of these individuals represents an archetypical type of genealogical researcher. I have named the genealogists, M. Black, M. White, M. Gray and M. Red.

M. Black
First, I would like to thank all of you for being here today. I think it important that we chat about the goals and challenges of genealogy from different viewpoints. I am especially glad that M. Red was able to be here, it is such an effort to come to a formal meeting like this.

M. White
Yes, I too am glad to be here. Did you prepare an agenda? I didn't see one being passes out.

M. Black
I thought this would be more of an informal discussion. Let's start by stating some of the goals we think are important in the overall genealogical community. I am recording this discussion and will provide each of you with a copy of the recording.

M. White
You mention a "genealogical community." I am not sure that such a community exists. Don't the members of a community have to identify themselves as members? I would guess that most of the so-called genealogical community members are oblivious to the community's existence.

M. Gray
And of course, you have no clear definition of genealogy. Who is and who is not included in the so-called community?

M. Red
That does raise a question. How do we set some kind of goals and recognize challenges if there are no definitions for the community and even the topic of our conversation?

M. Black
Perhaps, we can come to a consensus on those issues so we can move on to others? What do you think?

M. White
I would think that a definition of genealogy would include something about searching for a person's ancestors. It is this idea that people become acquainted with all of their ancestors that seems to be common denominator.

M. Red
Then what about the millions of bogus family trees online. It seems to me that the reality of the situation is that people don't really care about accuracy and reality. All they want is some names that they can claim to be ancestors. In fact, if those names include famous people or royalty all the better.

M. Gray
That seems to be quite a cynical view of the subject. Why not give those online family trees the benefit of the doubt and include them in the community? The number of people involved would certainly be more impressive if we include all those people rather than defining them out of the community. We have opposing choices when it comes to definitions. We can make them so broad as to include practically the whole world or we can make the definitions so exclusive that we exclude most of the people who consider themselves interested in finding their ancestry. What is it going to be?

M. Black
I don't think we have to take either extreme. I'm comfortable in including anyone interested enough to post a family tree online. Although, I personally would not put my genealogy online where others could copy all my hard work.

M. Red
I cannot agree. I think that merely posting a copied family tree online is not and cannot be called genealogy. I don't what to call it, but simply writing down what you know and copying something from someone else is not actively doing genealogy. I think anything remotely called genealogy has to involve research, documentation and analysis, at least some basics.

M. White
I am not too sure I go along with your definition. What about oral histories. If a culture has no written genealogies, isn't writing down what they know genealogy?

M. Red
Then we get into exception after exception. Perhaps we all just agree that we have no idea what we are talking about and leave it at that?

M. Black
Now, let's not get huffy M. Red. Coming up with a definition of genealogy cannot be too difficult. As to who is a member of some hypothetical genealogical community, let's let the people themselves decide if they are in or out of the community.

M. Gray
If I understand what you are saying, you would have anyone who merely said "I am a genealogist" automatically be counted as a member of the community?

M. Red
Who is counting? Who decides who is and who is not counted as a genealogist?

M. Gray
It seems to me very presumptuous of us or anyone to deign to define genealogy, much less include or exclude anyone from the genealogical community, assuming, of course, that such a community exists.

M. White
I would think that any definition of genealogy would include, at least, the following:
  1. An effort to learn about a person's ancestors
  2. Recording any information obtained
  3. Sharing that information with others in the family
M. Black
I don't agree with the sharing part at all. I once gave a copy of my family file to a cousin and he immediately posted the entire file as his family on an online database program. I told him to take it down but he never responded to me. Since then I find that dozens of other people, who I don't even know, have copied my work.

M. Red
So are we down to a definition of genealogy that includes anyone even remotely interested in their family or do we limit the definition in some way?

A long discussion is held off the record.

M. Black
Let the record show that we had a discussion off the record and have decided that we are certainly not in a position to define either the term genealogy or the nature of the genealogical community. We also have no way to include or exclude anyone from an ill-defined community. I suggest we table the discussion to another time. Any one want to make the motion? Is there a second? Those in favor? Motion carried.


This conversation points out two basic problems with talking to people about genealogy. There is no commonly accepted definition of what is or is not involved in genealogy and there is no defined genealogical community. I must take the position, contrary to my hypothetical conversation, that I would only include those in the genealogical community who take an active part. Putting a family tree online and then forgetting about it does not qualify as doing genealogy. I certainly would not exclude anyone who made an effort to find their ancestors, but I don't think merely copying a family tree and posting it online qualifies a person to be called a genealogist.


4 comments:

  1. James Tanner, what conclusions could you draw if you inserted a good Jewish Rabbi into your hypothetical conversation? I lived for a time with a real Jewish Holocaust survivor, and absorbed from him, a deep appreciation for the House of Israel. Your good Jewish Rabbi would have told them to look to the holy Septuagint; [translation of the Hebrew Bible and some related texts into Koine Greek], for the correct historical word definition origins of genealogist or generational historian.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septuagint

    Your learned Rabbi might initially become very skeptical, like the friends of Job, and ask your fellow genealogists penetratingly, if they were trying to rewrite the law, since [at common law, notarial service is distinct from the practice of law, and giving legal advice and preparing legal instruments is forbidden to lay notaries such as those appointed throughout most of the United States of America.] He would say to your hypothetical friends who are Christians, who look to Christ, that even He, their Savior, considered Himself a legal and lawful advocate between them and their Father. [Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily, I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled.] The good Rabbi would note that historically, [In rabbinic argumentation "destroy" means "misinterpret" while "fulfill" means "correctly interpret."]
    http://tyndalearchive.com/scriptures/www.innvista.com/scriptures/compare/gospels2.htm

    Your good Rabbi would then point to the example of Ezra, and note that currently, in America, there is law and order, under the banner of the U.S. Constitution; it [does not grant power based on popularity], and their records should not be produced to satisfy popular demands. The good Rabbi would present a beginner's understanding of the duties of Ezra, [the ideal type for the New Testament scribe], noting significantly, [New Testament scribes traced their origin back to Ezra].
    http://www.learnthebible.org/what-is-a-scribe.html

    Your good Rabbi would caution your four genealogists to not ever get caught up [in the intricate web of arguments over technical details that kills the spirit of God.] Nevertheless, he would point out emphatically, that meritoriously submitting names for LDS temple ordinance work, without basic elementary documentation, was name gathering.
    http://www.keyway.ca/htm2002/scribes.htm

    Now this humble, yet brilliant Rabbi, would quote Wikipedia "scribe", describing how [Later the profession developed into public servants, journalists, accountants, typists, and lawyers.]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scribe

    The good Rabbi would tell his fellow "genealogists", that their alleged modern profession functioned anciently as the duty of being a scribe. He would note that when a genealogist or generational historian is properly, academically cross-disciplinary credentialed today, their series of responsibilities are also inherent in the notary public, civil-law notaries, etc., legally and lawfully recognized by governments worldwide, (and that they should witness and authenticate all of their research efforts).

    Particularly, the good Rabbi would suggest that like civil-law notaries, they should be [drafting, authenticating, and registering {and validating - invalidating online} certain types of transactional or legal instruments {family trees or pedigrees that potentially have eternal ramifications}], and that it would be helpful if they had legal [expertise in a broad spectrum of private law including family law, estate and testamentary law], etc.; so that their professional decisions will not be altered or overridden by prior or subsequent research findings, because of their excellent, reasonably exhaustive studies of compiled family records.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notary_public
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_law_notary
    https://www.nationalnotary.org/

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    Replies
    1. A very interesting commentary. Thanks for adding that aspect of the post. It sounds to me like you need to write your own blog. Have you thought of doing that?

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  2. Yes, but I write candidly, and am not concerned about being politically correct. I am more evaluation centered; not in having popular approval.
    Two examples:
    https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10201492174961218&id=261975771423
    and, if you take the time, the last reply in LDS Studies . . .
    http://lds-studies.blogspot.com/2010/08/connection-between-melchizedek-and-shem.html

    I used to have Wikipedia notice, but was taken down with vengeance.
    http://www.territorioscuola.com/wikipedia/en.wikipedia.php?title=Thomas_Milton_Tinney,_Sr.
    http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discussioni_utente:Toldhim12
    [FYI - I just cleaned up the article on Thomas Milton Tinney, Sr. per the tags you previously added. . . . I'd appreciate it if you'd have a look. After deleting all the cruft, it appears to me that this fellow is downright unnotable, despite the fact that he's listed in several Who's Whos (perhaps they were the pay-to-play variety), so I added a BLP deletion tag.. . . I can tell you for a fact that Tinney is non-notable in his field (genealogy), but of course, that's just original research. A Google search produces absolutely nothing written about him, just promotional material and message board posts. But I don't think his biography is particularly "specialist" material. It was written in a pretty quirky way, which made it hard to discern exactly what was meant, so I may have thrown some of the baby out with the bathwater. So I'd be happy if anyone other than Tinney had a look at it. If no one does, then I guess he's non-notable.] "Thomas Milton Tinney Sr" currently gets "About 38,800 results (0.40 seconds)" on a Google Search.
    https://www.google.com/search?q=thomas+milton+tinney+wikipedia&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=fflb#channel=fflb&q=%22Thomas+Milton+Tinney+Sr%22&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official

    I may have a "blank" mention in Deseret News for a future obituary, as I have no "importance or significance of a real person."
    http://www.deseretnews.com/topics/1894/Thomas-Milton-Tinney,-Sr.html
    My main concern now is to preserve alive: academic-genealogy.com, which I try to diligently maintain all links unbroken on an annual basis.

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    1. Here is one of my basic rules: Absence of an obituary or death record is not proof that a person is still living. You might want to think about this and some of my other basic rules.

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