Monday, November 12, 2012

We Can All Teach Something . . . Within Reason

When I was a more serious chess player, I often ran into guys (almost always guys) who had learned the game well enough to routinely beat everyone in their extended family, school, or neighborhood. Then they showed up at a regular chess club or rated tournament, and lost every game. At the other end, although I was never in any position to judge, I had it on good authority that there were both "weak grandmasters" and "strong grandmasters." There were just more rungs on the chess ladder than I could have imagined.

Genealogy is similar (although we don't really have a ladder, it's more like a maze). No matter how little we think we know, each of us probably knows plenty to answer some newbie questions. And no matter how much we think we know, there are questions we find it wise to leave to others.

Two things to watch out for, though:

(1) The temptation to give advice that takes the form of "I don't know much about X, but . . . " Make sure that what follows the "but" is actual knowledge.

(2) The temptation to reinvent the wheel, as when we find ourselves about to

* pontificate about citation without mentioning Evidence Explained;

* talk about sources, information, and evidence without knowing that sources are original or derivative, information primary or secondary, and evidence direct or indirect; or

* discuss proof without understanding the five-part Genealogical Proof Standard.

None of these are sacred cows -- they can all be critiqued and improved, or just milked. (And amateurs are free to disregard them altogether, as long as they don't complain when they get no respect.)

But 9999 times out of 10,000, it makes no sense to disregard these tools. We grow as genealogists when we use them to build.

Besides, nobody really enjoys being the neighborhood champion who goes 0 for 4 in the tournament.

Picture cropped from Ed Yourdon's photostream per Creative Commons:

Harold Henderson, "We Can All Teach Something . . . Within Reason," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 12 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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