AS IF: Authority and Evidence

People will accept your ideas much more readily if you tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first. David H. Comins

When I wrote my doctoral dissertation, accepted format required that each point, each fact, indeed–each paragraph–had a footnote referencing where the information came from. As if I could not think for myself and present a thesis based entirely on evidence from my sources and myself.

Quotations and borrowed facts still require this “documentation.” And if the data come from a copyrighted work, permission to quote and borrow are needed. This includes using information direct from records created and preserved by the English government. Did you know that the images from the original 1851 census of England and Wales bear a Crown copyright notice on each and every page? Did you know that images from the original Ontario (Canada) land papers bear a Crown copyright notice on each page?

In the quotation above, Benjamin Franklin is familiar to most people, excepting perhaps college students interviewed by Jay Leno when he is Jay Walking. So he is a “recognized authority.” But who is David H. Comins?

I googled David H. Comins and got 48,300 sites that mention his name–most of the ones I checked quoted this same quotation. When I looked for a bio statement about him–I got “There is no biography, can you contribute one?”

There is a truism in this quotation–people usually recognize the well-known. Sometimes, they even listen to the well-known. Although, they may or may not apply what they hear. And they may or may not understand what they hear.

At a family organization meeting where I recently gave a research report, a woman I had just met, informed me that she had heard me speak several years ago. She took avid notes and tried to apply my recommendations in organizing her genealogy files. As she described her records, I could see her files in my mind’s eye. She understood what I taught and applied it as I suggested. Imagine my surprise and my delight. Doesn’t happen often–and I have spoken at more than 500 workshops and seminars in the U.S., Canada, British Isles, and Germany!

Imagine–Arlene Eakle being quoted. As if what I think and what I know are worthy of recall and sharing with others!

That is the premise of a blog–sharing my own stuff without having to document it. Now here I tread on shaky sand. Especially in genealogy. All over the internet, in numerous books and articles in newsletters, even on videos made of conference sessions, genealogists are sharing their own stuff–as if there will be no challenge. As if it were written by Benjamin Franklin or even David H. Comins. Sometimes the documents are included in transcript or facsimile–without the citation. Where does the record come from? And without any description of why the document is important in the first place.

You see, the context of the life event contributes to the truth.

Forget whether the evidence is primary or secondary. These terms are merely organizational. Is it the truth? And how do I know the document refers to the correct ancestor?

A genealogist wants it all–the document, the citation, the description, the context, the assurance that these all fit and reflect the truth. A descent pedigree is not enough–ever. The pedigree is the beginning–only. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS My new highspeed internet is up and working now. I can respond by email. Phones to come later. And I will check on Afton later this week to determine how her move went and how to contact her.

The tech who came to connect the “self-install” kit, when we couldn’t do it ourselves, did not know how to connect the internet to the computer. “They always send another guy to do that because I am not trained to do it.” So he unblocked the cable and installed the kit. Then at my urging, between the two of us, we figured out how to connect the computer.

Same story connecting my floor-printer to the computer. One guy installs the software and ensures that the printer accepted it. The next guy connects it to the computer.

Remember the blond joke “How many blonds does it take to replace a light bulb?”

And you can quote my experience–as the authority of this silliness.

PPS Arlene H. Eakle, PO Box 129, Tremonton UT 84337-0129 is still a good address and will be for the rest of my business life.

PPSS Stay tuned this week–we have a lot to catch up on. And I want to share some thoughts on using reference books–that you know and trust–to shorten your dependence on a technology subject to the idiosyncrasies of weather, electricity, and other people’s ideas of what is efficient. Bye…

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