Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Proof is in the Pudding

Randy and others have written in reaction to Sharon Tate Moody's genealogy column in the Tampa Bay Online newspaper website titled "Drive-by genealogists should learn a few rules."  The concept concerns what to do about sub-standard research work.

In his post "How Can We Communicate the Right Way" Randy suggests persons apply for a license to a possible new group to be known as the "Genealogical Research Licensing Board" espousing adherence to the Genealogical Proof Standard. He then explains there is a failure to publicize the GPS standards. This could be true.


You'd have your Julia Childs (aka Elizabeth Shown Mills) proffering advice at the highest level.

But we'd also have some mighty good "Rachel Ray" genealogists who manage without accreditation or certification to deftly climb family trees, documenting the experience for those that follow. At the very least, they are part of the ongoing ancestral conversation.

Photo: Kraft's Southern Banana Pudding
But as many of our grandmothers have said:

"The proof is in the pudding." 

It has to do with whether or not the final product "sets" and is "palatable".

Must a compiled genealogy include citations? Good cooks share their recipes (how they arrived at this delicious pudding) and include cautions to test our ovens, as "cooking time may vary".

Why aren't we testing our genealogical ovens to ensure accuracy? We don't want to come up with something "half baked". A prematurely published genealogy may be considered "raw", and there are to be no "cooking the books" so to speak.

You've known great cooks in your life -- your mom, a favorite aunt, or your cousin with a flare for all things barbecued. Most great cooks you know aren't professionals -- they didn't study at the Cordon Bleu nor will they win a spot on Celebrity Chef.

Some great cooks host TV shows and write books sharing their best kept secrets. But the majority of great cooks go through life experimenting with new herbal combinations to brighten time-tested recipes much to the delight of their family and friends.

Compiled genealogies aren't meant to be delightful, neat and tidy sweet treats. Sometimes the result of diligent research is unpalatable, especially when encountering unsavory ancestors with criminal records, brick walls, and identity conundrums involving three men named John Smith with wives named Elizabeth. 

My sister-in-law is compiling a genealogy with lots of pictures, obviously strong for 20th century family relationships and family stories. She includes citations to census, military draft registrations and passenger lists. Her work steps boldly forth in two arenas: beginning with what you have, and working back for the first time on a compiled genealogy. Is her work finished?

Will a genealogist's research every be concluded? In Cat's case, four years research results now comprise her gift to her father this Christmas. She says if she doesn't publish now, he won't be around to see what she has gathered. Ol' Myrt here thinks this type of genealogy is awesome.

We all know when the pudding is soured by too much salt and not enough sugar. Our taste buds react with immediate revulsion.

With all this talk of mtDNA inherited from your mom and yDNA traceable through male descendants on your father's side, you'd think we'd have a similar biological reaction to inaccurately compiled family histories.

Yes, we must be cautious when reviewing a compiled genealogy. We must verify the sources of information, and see for ourselves if we'd arrive at the same conclusions. But someone has to get the ball rolling. I am thankful for people like Elizabeth Shown Mills who show us the ideal, but I am also thankful for the tens of thousands of amateur genealogists who are working to the limit of their capability to share the story of their ancestors as they see it.

Why can't we have a discerning palate when it comes to evaluating a previously compiled genealogy? Why can't we use the same care when researching our family histories as we do when following great-grandmother's banana pudding recipe? 

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

Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
G+: +Pat Richley-Erickson
Second Life: Clarise Beaumont

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