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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Is there a middle ground in genealogy?

After one of my usual diatribes, a commentator questioned if it were possible that there was a "middle" ground in genealogy. Having attended and participated in an endless number of settlement conferences and arbitrations, I think it is usually pretty simple to determine, within the first 10 or 15 minutes of such a session, whether or not the parties involved will come to a settlement or be satisfied with an arbitration decision. Just in case you are unaware of the difference, a settlement conference is a voluntary or mandatory meeting where the parties get together with or without a third party facilitator and try to resolve their differences. They can be an effective was to avoid or terminate litigation. In some jurisdictions, such as Maricopa County, Arizona, in many cases the parties are required to hold a settlement conference before proceeding with litigation in the court. An arbitration, on the other hand, can be binding or non-binding. Many commercial contracts (such as those you agree to when you buy software or use an online database) require the parties to go through arbitration either before litigation or instead of litigation in the courts. In an arbitration proceeding, the parties participate informally (i.e. less formally than in a court of law), and the arbitrator is usually either someone who holds arbitration hearings as a profession or is appointed temporarily by the court to preside at the proceedings.

Now, what does this all have to do with genealogy? There are a significant number of controversies associated with the practice of genealogy that approach the level of contention that usually ends up with people suing each other and going to court. The claim that there is or should be a "middle" ground in genealogical disputes is the same impulse that impels courts to mandate settlement conferences and appoint arbitrators and order arbitration hearings. It is an altruistic feeling that if people would just sit down and discuss their differences, then those differences could be reconciled. As I hinted at above, my experience with both settlement conferences and arbitration hearings has been mostly positive, but I can usually tell far in advance whether or not a case is going to settle without going to a trial or court hearing and which are not.

Usually the issues I write about (unless I am in one of my wacky moods) are not the kind of disputes that lend themselves to resolution by settlement. This does not mean that a "middle ground" could not be imagined to exist, it just means that they are not the kinds of differences that are normally resolved by reasoned discussion in a "settlement" conference environment. The challenge of settling these issues by claiming some kind of middle ground is that none of the differing opinions in the genealogical community have a common forum or venue in which such discussions could take place. For example, let's suppose that one of the controversies is the existence of untidy, unrealistic or outright faulty online family trees. I am fairly certain that few, if any, of those individuals who contribute such drivel online are even remotely aware of the greater genealogical community and would be surprised to learn that any cared about what they put online in "their" family tree. You can't begin a settlement conference unless the parties are willing to attend or can be ordered to attend by some entity (like a judge) who has the authority to order the parties to attend.

It would be nice if we could get the Summer and the Winter to agree that the weather should always be resolved to be adequately warm and not too cold, but there is no mechanism for bringing these two opposing parties together. Likewise, there is little chance that some of the more egregious issues presented to the genealogical community cannot be reconciled completely. Our societies resort to imprisonment and in extreme circumstances to war to resolve some of the more serious issues. It is unlikely that those same types of issues as reflected in the genealogical community will be amenable to resolution through negotiation either.

So how do we proceed short of bombing the opposition out of existence? We proceed as we always should have in past and must also in the future. We follow the admonition of Paul as expressed in his letter referred to in 2nd Corinthians, Chapter 6 and if you do not believe in the Biblical injunctions, then you follow whatever similar impulses that control your own beliefs.

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