Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Live at NGS Charleston: Day 1

Like public radio, the National Genealogical Society's 2011 conference in Charleston SC, "Where the Past is Still Present," has sponsors. One of them got to give his pitch just ahead of the Archivist of the US at Wednesday morning's opening ceremony. has big things in mind and we'll clearly be seeing more of their digitized records.

The US archivist (that's reported an attendance of over 5,000 at their genealogy fair last month in DC, and in general NARA is getting with the digital program -- not just with a redesigned web site but with eleven blogs, 29 Facebook pages, and its own YouTube site.

Elizabeth Shown Mills held forth on "Finding Fathers" in her traditional talk in the first regular session of the first day. Suspecting that her audience already knew her advocacy of FAN Club research by heart, she emphasized the importance of also getting to know the problem person's community -- its history and then-current concerns -- by reading the local newspaper. I think this would be a good CD purchase, although some points definitely gained from being illustrated. NGS members can check out the underlying article in NGSQ 91:19-30 on the National Genealogical Society site.

The lunch meeting of mentors, alumni, and current students in the ProGen Study Group educational program drew 15 to Jim & Nick's Bar-B-Q, enough to produce three or four separate lively conversation centers at our long table, following initial introductions all around. I was amazed that Group 12 has started (and that a member of it shares Licking County, Ohio, ancestry with me). When we had the first group we had no idea that it would produce additional groups, or that they would start having numbers!

After lunch, NGSQ co-editor Tom Jones gave a characteristically precise and systematic account of how evidence conflicts, why, and what what to do about it it in practice and in writing. Especially illuminating for me were his tables itemizing the disagreements and sources on each specific point, so that you can see potential patterns and analyze better how to resolve the contradiction insofar as possible.

NEHGR editor Henry Hoff's talk on errors took a closer-to-the-ground approach but also included Hoff's Theory of the Perversity of Ancestors, according to which same-name people are likely not only to settle in the same place, but also to interact! Among many other things, be advised that not all baptismal sponsors actually showed up in person.

In the evening, NGS Magazine editor Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens dramatized the difficulties and potentials of documenting women's activities even in the Civil War era with a case study from southeastern Michigan. Names are rarely found, but she did find records of exactly what supplies volunteers from now-disappeared hamlets sent to needy soldiers at the front (not only clothing that the women sewed, but also casks and barrels of food and "1 lb. of rags"). And some counties have records of aid given to destitute soldiers' families.

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