Tuesday, September 18, 2012

NGSQ2009: The Peril of Certainty

DearREADERS,"Genealogical proof does not require certainty. Research standards allow new evidence or reasoning to overturn conclusions previously considered proved." Source: "Editors' Corner," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, volume 97 (September 2009): unnumbered page.

Editors Thomas W. Jones, phd, cg*, cgl, fasg, fuga, fngs, and Melinde Lutz Byrne, cg, fasg assert it is impossible to be absolutely certain about our genealogy research conclusions. Nevertheless, we conscientiously build the strongest case.

In the early 1980s, a non-genealogist requested proof of his Cherokee ancestry with a two week deadline. The majority of our initial interview centered on his business concerns. In three week's time, he intended to submit a contract proposal where he would receive preferential treatment as an ethnic minority if I "did my work correctly."

To the untrained, ten hours research with a two week deadline may sound reasonable but I declined the case. First, it would take weeks to obtain copies of vital records, and we didn't have the internet and multiple online genealogy databases. More important to my decision, the man lacked knowledge of his father and his grandparents' names and admittedly had no Native American ancestry evidence other than a history of "high cheek bones" and family that moved to Oklahoma in the mid 1950s.  

I believed the man was more interested in forcing the lineage for financial gain than researching his true heritage.

Potential clients logically attempt to quantify our research efforts by imposing deadlines. We can meet deadlines, and stop research when the hourglass runs out of sand, but that doesn't mean our conclusions will coincide with the client's desired outcome.

One must remove 21st century cultural blinders, undertake an exhaustive, broad search of surviving record groups, and compare existing research conclusions in light of new information. Conflicting evidence must be reconciled.

We rarely inherit a well-sourced family history, but even so, we must revisit lineage conclusions, analyze new interpretations and consider newly-discovered sources of information. A fresh set of eyes may prove or disprove previous lineage determinations. 

It is our privilege to serve our families by thoughtfully moving our lineage work forward, keeping up with new technology and recently unearthed record groups. 

"Let's putting on our thinking caps." (Quoting my 3rd and 4th grade teacher Miss Ann Berg, Laurelhurst Elementary School, Seattle, Washington, circa 1958-59.)

Happy family tree climbing! 
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

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1 comment:

  1. My wife runs into this from the opposite side. Her research has convinced her that an unjustified leap of faith was made in order for a woman to qualify to join the DAR. She regularly runs up against this old canard on other people's lines and does what she can to fix the problem but, "It's the D.A.R." makes it an uphill battle.