Friday, May 13, 2011

Live at NGS Charleston: Day 2

[During Blogger's lengthy outage this was first posted on Facebook.]

One of the best and least communicable things about a conference is meeting old friends and making new ones, starting with the folks chowing down on the free breakfast at my out-of-the-way motel. We recognized each other from the new FamilySearch t-shirts.

Living legend Helen Leary spoke on the early (1790-1840) censuses and demonstrated how to wring the maximum information out of them, spiking the instruction with deadpan humor. After showing how one can often estimate many things from ultra-minimal 1790 census, she made an interesting distinction between evidence for proof and evidence for use: "We know that 'close enough' in genealogy is not close enough, but this estimate will help you look for the record you want to look for."

Elizabeth Shown Mills packed several decades of real problems into an unreal will and deed, and took the audience through them line by line. "No skill is as important to a genealogist than the ability to analyze a document."

Laura Murphy de Grazia gave a stunning example of the kind of mistake you can make if you stop researching too soon, in the course of explaining as much as can be explained of the requirement that a genealogical proof include (among other things) a "reasonably exhaustive search."

Engineer Tim Cross of FamilySearch thought out loud with his audience about what is about to happen as cloud computing, mobile applications, geospatial computing, and social media converge -- and genealogical information begins to flow as easily and uniformly as electricity, regardless of its web site of origin. The audience was not entirely on board -- "You don't know if they're right." He surmised that ultimately in the genealogy cloud, there would be both fluid collaborative information changing with new contributions, and a well-document "historic" portion that would remain stable. "It's important to know what's right and can be audited," i.e. the path of evidence and reasoning to conclusion can be followed, "and to know what's false and why. We're still figuring that out." It does sound like documentation and good research practices will continue to be indispensable in the forthcoming faster, mobile-app-intensive, crowd-sourced, geotagged, and Google-Goggled world.

1 comment:

Kerry Scott said...

I wish I'd been there for the Helen Leary lecture (I mean, I wish I'd been there for all of it, but her lecture especially). She is my absolute favorite.