Friday, August 29, 2014

Canoes, Kansas farmers, and the infinity of genealogy

Some folks argue that genealogy is limited because there are only so many records, only so much information to be found about the past; unlike people working in the experimental sciences, we can't create new data by conducting experiments.

I don't buy it, for two reasons:

One, this opinion rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of genealogy. Even if information about the past is finite, there is no limit to the available evidence about the past, because there is no limit to the number of ideas people can have. New evidence is not just found by finding new records or new information. Evidence is also discovered is by seeing the same old information in a new light. (And yes, this subject will come up in Kimberly Powell's and my course in January at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy.)

Two, there is more information out there than I can imagine, even after taking into account that there is more than I can imagine. Two from today:

(1) Kansas State University librarians are digitizing old agriculture magazines like crazy, benefiting from grants in the thousands, not millions. To be available in 2015 are Kansas Farmer (1863-1954), and after that Kansas 4‐H Journal (1955-1988), Kansas Future Farmer (1929-1979), and five additional newsletters and magazines.  (Hat tip to ResearchBuzz.) I believe it would be professional malpractice if I failed to disclose that one of the librarians involved is surnamed Farmer.

(2) What did your ancestor do at the canoe factory? If he (she?) worked at Old Town Canoe Company in Maine during much of the 20th century, you may be able to see when his hands touched a particular canoe keel. Check out these "canoe build sheets" and the associated discussion forum.

Harold Henderson, "Canoes, Kansas farmers, and the infinity of genealogy," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 August 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.] 

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