Thursday, April 24, 2008

When journalism and genealogy mix

Earlier this month the Athens Messenger (Ohio) published an article about a local genealogist. (Thanks to Evernote, I still have it and can find it!)

Some people think there's no such thing as bad publicity; in this case I'm not so sure. It doesn't rank with the poor reporting recently that allowed people to imagine that the Social Security Death Index promotes identity theft (in fact, SSDI allows any minimally vigilant bank to stop it in the act), but it's not encouraging.

I've linked to the article, but here I omit the names of the reporter and the person interviewed, because this isn't about them personally. It's about certain habits on the part of journalists and amateur genealogists alike. Here's the key passage:

Finding one's genealogical past is actually easier than one might think, especially with [Genie Ologist's] help. ... Since she keeps many of the books in an office at her house, she's able to do much of the work from home. Often, it can be done in just a few hours.

"I find it difficult to say no to people when I know how easy it is for me to do it," [Genie] said. "I can easily go back five generations in my office in a couple of hours. People are nice to me. I do something for someone every day."
Volunteering is great. Doing people favors is great. Writing about it is great. But did the reporter or the researcher ever ask the key question: At the rate of five generations in two hours, just exactly how do you know that you found the right family?

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