Homeland Security, Lost in the Mail, and Your Genealogy

Do you remember after 9/ll,  there were all kinds of homeland security issues going on–from local bombs put in mailboxes to shutting down whole postal districts because of suspicious lumpy mail.

Linda and I had just completely re-written Family History for Fun and Profit that year. And I did a seminar in western Florida where I was so excited about the fact that the book was now in the press, that over 45 people at that seminar ordered this new version of our book.

As I often do, when I travel to give a seminar I include research projects that can only be done in that locality in my travel plans. So I was in Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, and a few other areas for a few weeks after the seminar.

I brought the orders home with me and picked up the books at the printer.  Linda and I packaged them up and shipped them to Florida. By the middle of the next month, our phone began to ring off the wall. Letters filled the mail box.  Inquiries about their missing books.

We shipped them. We did not insure them, nor did we ask for return receipts. The post office did not know what had happened to them. None had ended up in the “lost and found” bins. All we knew was that the books had been shipped.

Well, the government closed the post office district facility for Western Florida because of anthrax contamination. And as far as we know, those books were condemned along with every thing else. Since we had no proof, we had no proof.

We re-shipped all the books. We got return receipts.  And this time, we called everyone on the order list to determine that their books arrived.

Since we had no proof, we had no proof.

Genealogy is a lot like this. Many savvy genealogists will not accept your version of the lineage without proof. Of course, there are a lot who will take what you have anyway and then try to build on it. Especially if it is floating in cyberspace and gets indexed on a search engine.  And they may not cite you as the source or acknowledge your work in any way.

Did you know? Google has a service and the online device to index everything on your computer hard-drive and in all your programs. So that even if… you are waiting to document your stuff before posting it on some family tree site (and these are being added to the internet every month), it can appear for others to access. So that even if… you only share the information within close family contacts, their machine may be indexed, so your information and work can appear for others to access.

Through no-fault,  the stuff–good and bad–is out there for all the world to access and be led astray if they are not careful. “On the Internet” or from “online family trees” is considered by many to be documentation. After all, these sources are sited.

After all, these sources are cited.

Larry Jensen, a well-known German genealogist, distinguishes between records and sources. Records are those documents created by the government or the church in their official record-keeping capacity. Sources are compiled by genealogists and others from their own memories and experiences as well as the official records. These are physical entities we can touch and feel, read and study.

his difference appeals to me immensely. I much prefer it to original and compiled. Or original and copied. These other terms are problematical. They require definitions and discussions and qualifications and still, they can mislead us.

Primary and secondary are also problematical. These terms really apply to evidence, not the records, not the sources. These genealogy records and sources compiled from the records themselves, almost always contain both primary and secondary evidence at the same time.

In a future blog, I will discuss my own criteria for reliability. My use of evidence is much broader and I capture more evidence from the documents than most researchers do. And I save it and file it and consult it from time to time as my knowledge and understanding of the family lineage increases.

And frequently, I discover that something I set aside as a “no match,” turns out to fit after all. Your favorite genealogy evidence guru, Arlene Eakle. http://www.arleneeakle.com

PS What is a guru anyway?

PPS If you have thoughts or comments on what affects reliability, please email me. Genealogy is not a science–Genealogy is an art. We have few immutable laws that govern what we do and what we end up with. Although there are many genealogists that draft axioms and rules and judging criteria–including me.  Please share your thinking for the benefit of us all.

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2 Responses to Homeland Security, Lost in the Mail, and Your Genealogy

  1. arlene says:

    I LOVE the photo of your van with “Let Us Help You Discover Your Ancestors” on our website! “A picture is worth a thousand words” according to the Chinese. I agree.

    Your article of 14 March 2008 pertaining to Homeland Security, et al, was well written, and a nice example. However, it is problematic . You must not disregard (and I’m not suggesting that you have) the importance, and accuracy, of oral histories.

    I like the way Larry Jensen distinguishes between “records” and “sources”! This is a very important consideration when one makes footnotes and other references to information. This should be developed further.

    Don Martin

    Your point about oral histories is well taken. They are valuable and the transmittal of family data as well as lore is an essential facet of an oral history. I will do some in-depth coverage of oral transmission in future issues. Many thanks for this clarification. Arlene

  2. Roosevelt Wright says:

    I have found that oral histories are a good starting place, but should not be taken as fact. Memories get fuzzy, names are of juxaposed, and shameful details are blurred. But they are a good starting point.

    Roosevelt Wright, Jr.

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