Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, June 25, 2017

LInk to Obituary for Ruth Ellen Maness



Here is the link to the obituary for Ruth Ellen Maness.

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/saltlaketribune/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=185904079


Race, Ethnic Communities, Genealogy and DNA


Throughout history, racial and ethnic disagreements have been a driving force in starting wars. During my lifetime, millions of people around the world have lost their lives as a result of "ethnic cleansing" and racial strife. In the United States, racial conflict is a constant and ongoing theme. Underlying this racial tension are beliefs based on supposition, speculation, and incomplete and inaccurate oral tradition. One outstanding fact that is starting to emerge from the widespread genealogical DNA testing procedures is that for almost everyone, both racial and ethnic purity are illusions.

The above chart has nothing at all to do with DNA testing. It is a chart showing the composition of my ancestors by country of origin taken from the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. Am I Engish? Am I Irish? Am I Danish? Or am I something else entirely? I can claim to be partly American back to the beginnings of European settlement, but does that make me a native American? What happens when I add DNA to the mix from MyHeritage.com?

How much "Italian blood" do I need to claim to be Italian? How did I get Italian DNA? Who are my Middle Eastern ancestors? What happened to my ethnic purity? If there is a racial conflict between any of these groups, whose side am I on? I have "white" friends who would have been subjected to intense segregation in the southern part of the United States if their DNA testing results had been known showing that they had more than "one drop of Black blood." Because I have Middle Eastern ancestors will I be subject "ethnic profiling" and questioned when I board and airplane in the United States?

Does the fact that I share over 98% of my DNA with chimpanzees make me a monkey? See "Animals That Share Human DNA Sequences" Perhaps the 90% of my DNA that I share with mice makes me a mouse.

In the past, genealogy has been used to "prove" racial purity. What we are learning today is that any idea that someone is "racially pure" is an illusion. We are all one huge human family and we only differ from our animal and plant cousins by very small percentages of our DNA. If there is one thing that comes out of the extensive genealogical DNA testing is should be that the concept of "race" is destroyed.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A tribute to a genealogical giant: Ruth Ellen Maness



The genealogical community has lost one of its giants. Ruth Ellen Maness was one of those whose expertise and dedication to the highest levels of genealogical research was unequaled.  Ruth passed away unexpectedly on June 22, 2017. It was my privilege to work with her as part of Family History Expos. My friend, Holly Hansen, wrote a memorial to Ruth in her latest Family History Expos Newsletter. Here is a quote from Holly telling about Ruth:
It is my privilege and honor to call Ruth a friend. She has been my friend for many years. I have watched her befriend and help so many others as well. I can’t remember when we first met, but I'm sure it was at the Family History Library, where she spent so many hours, weeks, months, and years. Even after retirement, she continued to volunteer there, to help patrons with their research questions. Ruth was the testing administrator for The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists. She held accreditation for multiple countries as well.

Ruth was a huge support for and encouragement to us as we contemplated holding that first Expo in St. George, Utah, so many years ago. She always supported family history events and the opportunity to share her knowledge with others.

Since retiring from FamilySearch a few years ago, she has traveled with us extensively throughout the United States. She has written and contributed to several Research Guide books for the benefit of researchers for years to come. Ruth was a pillar in the genealogy community and will be sorely missed.
There are always a few visible and highly acclaimed individuals in every profession and avocation. Ruth was quiet and modest but she spent almost her entire life helping others find their ancestors. Her knowledge of German and Scandinavian resources was encyclopedic. She was truly one of the greatest researchers I have every met or worked with. She will be sorely missed by those of us who knew of her greatness. I have found, over the years, that the real heroes of genealogy are usually the quiet, unassuming people who go about helping others without recognition. Ruth was certainly one of the greatest of these.

Genealogy and the Narrative Fallacy

The Flat Earth Model https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Why_Wikipedia_cannot_claim_the_earth_is_not_flat
One of the most important and influential books of our age was published in 2007. Here is the WorldCat.org citation to my copy:

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. 2010. The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.

Quoting from the book:
The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.
Genealogists are particularly susceptible to the narrative fallacy. The distinguishing feature of a narrative fallacy is its believability. Even without realizing it, genealogists tend to be selective in the sources they accept and reject those that do not fit within their preconceived narrative. Once the genealogist has made his or her selection of the facts, the narrative becomes the new reality and any other interpretations of the same factual background are rejected.

In the course of writing this post, I received an email containing an extended and classical example of the effect of the narrative fallacy in the form of a narrative justifying an erroneous conclusion about one of my own family lines. I am not going to repeat the entire email which I received, but here is one statement that illustrates the thought process:
Yes, I know there is a written record for Nathan Tanner showing Elizabeth as his mother. Also in his will, he mentions Elizabeth as "my beloved mother." This is obviously wrong and I might add, is a very common occurrence in the very early colonial records.
The writer of this email is trying to justify rejecting both a birth record and a written will in an attempt to establish a different mother for Nathan Tanner. In effect, the writer is ignoring two separate and independently maintained historical records in order to justify a preconceived conclusion. This is, in essence, the narrative fallacy.

How do we avoid being caught in the narrative fallacy? I suggest that this may be one of the most difficult intellectual attainments. Our worldview is to a great extent determined by our cumulative experiences. While doing genealogical research, we have a tendency to place more emphasis on the documents and records we find supporting our preconceived viewpoints and therefore use those to reinforce our ongoing narrative. Interestingly, the email writer cited above derives support by quoting from a book which he/she acknowledges has no supporting sources and wish exactly contradicts his/her conclusions.

We find ourselves in this predicament whenever we try to justify a continued support of a cherished family tradition when the narrative is contradicted by historical records and documents.

I will be coming back to this topic from time to time as I discover examples supplied by accommodating genealogical researchers.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Genealogical Isolationists and the Consequences


Genealogy is a solitary pursuit. In its traditional paper-based past, a genealogist worked as an individual researcher. Occasionally a family would cooperate and share some of their joint information, but even with this sharing, families remained isolated from each other. This genealogical isolation first began to break down with the establishment of the GEDCOM program back in 1984. During my first twenty or so years of doing genealogical research, I worked entirely on my own. None of my immediate family members were at all interested in what I was doing and I was entirely unaware of the efforts of any other living family members. Even sharing my files by uploading copies of my data to the Pedigree Resource File did not provide any collaboration or sharing opportunities.

Across my many family lines, the research was fractured and disjointed. Some lines seemed to be well researched as evidenced by a collection of surname books, but others had apparently been entirely neglected. Slowly, as computer technology advanced, I was able to obtain an overall view of my family lines, but I still had no contact with any other family members. On some of my lines, such as the Tanner family line, to this day I have still never encountered a serious, source-based, genealogist who is actively working on this family line.

The effect of this isolationist fragmentation was that there was no "feedback" and errors accumulated rather than being eliminated. With the introduction of the internet, individual online family trees became a possibility. The internet opened up a way to share information. Unfortunately, the "sharing" process that evolved consisted primarily of indiscriminate copying. Shortly after online family trees became available, I began to realize that my early uploaded copies of my family lines, including all my early wrong conclusions and errors, were being quickly and efficiently copied across the internet.

The seriousness of this situation became evident when FamilySearch introduced the new.FamilySearch.org program. Some of my ancestors had multiple hundreds and perhaps thousands of copies. Most of these copies originated as result of the isolated word of family members for over a hundred years. But a significant portion was also the result of copies made from online sources such as the Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File.

Because each "genealogist" or "family historian" had to have their "own" copy of "their family" the number of copies, with all the accumulated errors and wrong conclusions, proliferated at an extraordinarily fast pace. The solution was the introduction of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. This free, online, unified, collaborative program allowed everyone to cooperate and collaborate in fixing the problems generated by the years of isolation.

Guess what? Some individuals feel threatened by the unified program. There is still a huge core of isolationists who think they own their ancestors and that they somehow are right when all the rest of the world is wrong (sort of like some of the governments out there today). They not only fail to share their work, they become belligerent and protective to the point of refusing to cooperate with anyone. The tragedy is that they are very likely spending their lives duplicating research that has already been done. The Family Tree acts as a giant clearing house for genealogy. If you put your research in the Family Tree, then anyone else can see what has already been done and does not have to repeat your work.

But what about the issue of changes? Yes, the information in the Family Tree is in a state of flux. But that is the price we pay for over a hundred years of isolation. But what about the other online, collaborative family trees? Yes, there are some other collaborative family trees but FamilySearch is in a unique position due to its sponsorship by the worldwide organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church has far more than a mere economic interest in maintaining the integrity of the Family Tree. The Family Tree may evolve in the future, but it will be maintained in some fashion as long as is foreseeably possible.

But what about the isolationists? Too bad for them. They are condemned to spending a life duplicating the work of others and in the end having all their work lost to their posterity or anyone else for that matter.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Some Surprising Records on FamilySearch.org


A short time ago, I was asked to help a patron who had come from out-of-state to the Brigham Young University Family History Library with some genealogical research in the Philippines. I immediately accepted the opportunity because I simply assumed that FamilySearch.org likely had a large number of records from the Philippines for the reason that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a large number of members in that country.


I was not disappointed. There were a great number of records and I soon found some crucial ancestral names for the patron. The patron was obviously very happy. But what about finding records on the FamilySearch.org website from countries where there are few members of the Church? I learned from some of the other missionaries at the BYU Family History Library that the website had a large number of very useful records from India (see the screenshot above). 

Then I got interested to find out what other countries, outside of those usually associated with genealogical research, might be represented by records on the website. 

One key to answering the question is to start any search by using the FamilySearch.org Catalog rather than simply looking at the list of digitized records available in the Historical Record Collections. For example, there is a huge list of records from Italy. 




Granted, there are still places around the world where genealogical records are not easily obtained, but before you make such a conclusion, I would suggest that you do extensive online searches. The FamilySearch.org website has more than a hundred year's worth of accumulating records and I would not discount the fact that some records may have been obtained that are pertinent to most of the world's population. 

Another example comes from China. It seems that many researchers automatically assume that Chinese records are not available. However, FamilySearch has a huge and rapidly increasing number of records from both China and Taiwan. Here is a representative screenshot.



You will never know what you are missing until you look. One last example. This one is from Africa. 



If you keep clicking down in the places included links, you will see additional resources, but you can also search by looking for a specific country.




Monday, June 19, 2017

We Take A Break For a Family Reunion


When we have a family reunion, we all go camping. We will be camping in this lovely site in the Wasatch Mountains State Park. We will have about 40+ people all camping together for a couple of days. Hmm. Real internet connection. I might not have any posts for a couple of days. :-(

Meanwhile, take this opportunity to read some of my thousands of previous posts or watch some of the almost 300 videos on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel. :-)