Monday, March 3, 2014

Methodology Monday: The questions we ask in genealogy

Most genealogical questions, according to Thomas W. Jones in Mastering Genealogical Proof, ask about relationship (R), identity (I), or activity (A). Of course we can think of much more tangled ones, but usually they are "supporting questions" enabling us to better answer one of the basic ones. (p.8)

After a Facebook discussion the other day, I wondered how this idea checked out at the top end of the field in 2013. Classifying articles this way turned out to be more difficult and more subjective than I expected, and I never found anything that quite fit "activity." Activity-type questions may end up in DAR applications more often than in published articles.

The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (NEHGR) and American Ancestors Journal: R 14, I 3, A 0, others 2.

The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record (NYGBR): R 10, I 1, A 0, and others 3.

The National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ): R 11, I 3, A 0, others 2.

The Genealogist (TG): R 6, I 1, A 0, others 0.

Totals: R 41, I 8, A 0, others 7. Roughly three-quarters ask about relationships. The "others" are generally individual life stories, or ask what would usually be supporting questions, such as, "Where was he buried?"

How does this play out in less formal publications like NGS Magazine, American Ancestors (NEHGS), and some state magazines? What questions do their articles answer? Your turn!

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday: The questions we ask," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 3 March 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Madaleine J. Laird said...

Perhaps questions about activities and events turn out to be "supporting questions" more often than not. Just out of curiosity, what were the questions you categorized as "others" in the Register, the Record, and NGSQ?

I yearn for an index or full-text database of scholarly genealogical literature with descriptors that include methodologies and other meaningful terms. Looks like you're off to a good start! Studying a larger sample and mapping the results would be fascinating, but where would one publish such a study?

For an example of such a map, see Figure 1 of this presentation by Jenna Hartel, part of the Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science held in August 2013:

Harold Henderson said...

Madaleine --

At the moment I can't locate my detailed notes on the others, but aside from a couple of supporting-type questions they were either individual biographies or wholesale family accounts with no burning research question at the core.

I also yearn for such an index or database. It is surprisingly hard to construct, because there are several levels of methodology that are of interest and I haven't managed to sort them out satisfactorily in my own mind. (IOW, seemingly satisfactory categories turn out to be slippery.) Mapping the results would be a marvelous way to summarize it. As for publication, there are always blogs if no one else wanted it. Hmmm...