Thursday, August 01, 2013

Comparing French records to diversity in US colonial and state governments

The Mastering Genealogical Proof Study Group focuses on concepts expressed by author Thomas W. Jones. (1) During our almost weekly G+ Hangouts on Air, archived on DearMYRTLE's YouTube Channel, panelists relate personal research challenges where applicable.

I've been following Anne Morddel's series of responses in The French Genealogy Blog. Ol' Myrt here has a problem with Anne's post today titled "Mastering Genealogical Proof" and French Genealogy - Part 5. France is an older country with more or less defined boundaries that began public vital record keeping under the influence of Napoleon.

Settlement in colonial American began essentially with 13 colonies, each governed by distinct forms of provincial government owing to the religious and/or government background of the inhabitants. See: Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America for one treatment of these variances. Add to this the varied governments in French and Spanish colonies in America, and you've got a patchwork of government styles. Some colonies had elitist residents who supported strong central government. Other colonies, with residents bearing a history of government oppression, supported strong local governments.

Compound the issue of the expanding westward growth pattern. Bare subsistence-level frontier life afforded few resources for recording such niceties as births, marriages and deaths.

For these reasons it is unfair to classify all US vital record keeping as problematic because of "having arrived late and of people having taken advantage of officials' somewhat minimalist approach to creating early vital records." See: "Mastering Genealogical Proof" and French Genealogy - Part 5, particularly paragraph 5.

The US government didn't require vital record keeping until sometime in the 1920s, and left it to each state to implement the forms and procedures. There is no national registry -- each state determines accessibility.

For colonies such as those in New England, with a history dating back to the 1600s, the records are well-maintained. Only those few US few states can be fairly compared to the record keeping practices in France as described by Anne.

But then generalizations aren't particularly useful when crafting meaningful comparisons.

(1) Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof  (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013). Book available from the publisher at: 

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
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